Nuclear Free New Zealand

Page - December 14, 2006
New Zealand became Nuclear Free in 1987, with the passing of a strong anti-nuclear law.

Our legislation encompasses our stance as a nation opposing weapons of mass destruction, supports nuclear disarmament and contributes significantly to the international discussion.

It is also the legislation by which we implement our regional and international obligations under different treaties with regards to nuclear disarmament.

The 'kiwi disease' which is how our legislation was sometimes referred to, was seen as threatening by some countries but also as a powerful example by others because… it could spread - and it has.

Our nuclear free legislation is certainly not out-of-date, but a new generation of New Zealanders may need to be educated about why it's still relevant.

New Zealand's legislation is a way of eliminating the risk of nuclear accidents for all New Zealanders while at the same time demonstrating our global commitment to nuclear disarmament. In other words it's safer for the world and New Zealand to be nuclear free.

Having nuclear powered vessels or nuclear weapons in New Zealand raises the risk of an accident, makes us a target and also means we 'buy-in' to the philosophy that you need nuclear weapons to be 'safe'.

As David Lange, the Prime Minister in 1987 said, "There is only one thing more dangerous than being attacked by nuclear weapons and that is being protected by them."  They make the world a more dangerous place.

Nuclear weapons and warships

In 2003 the G8 (the eight most powerful countries in the world) called the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons the single most important threat to peace and security today. However, following this meeting the US government called for new, more usable nuclear weapons, which sparked a whole new arms race. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapons of terror. It is against them, that a 'war' should be waged. Most countries, including the US, have legal obligations to get rid of their nuclear weapons, not to develop new ones.

Accidents happen, no matter how advanced your submarine and ship designs are. According to the International Maritime Organisation, 80% of accidents at sea are because of human error.

As of 1996 the US navy is known to have experienced at least 380 nuclear weapons incidents on board its ships, seven US warheads and 2 reactors have been lost at sea. And this is from information that is known. As with most things military there is a lot of secrecy surrounding accidents on board its ships, nuclear powered or otherwise.

Also, since the September 11, 2001 attack, US ships have unfortunately become more of a target, and when in port more likely to be a target for terrorists. And let's not forget that radiation has not become any safer since our legislation came into force.

Nuclear power

Nuclear power is often cited as a solution to climate change, but it would just result in swapping one environmental nightmare for another. Nuclear is never safe. The deadly legacy of nuclear power will be left for future generations to deal with in the form of radioactive waste that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. There is still no solution to the nuclear waste threat.

Every step of the nuclear cycle is dangerous and polluting. Everyone is all too familiar with the 1986 Chernobyl accident that affected thousands of people and continues to do so today.

In 2005, there was an accident at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in the United Kingdom. The area that the waste leaked into was so highly radioactive that no human could enter. It was so dangerous that new robots and remotely activated technologies had to be developed just to repair the damage.

Our legislation, which bans nuclear propelled vessels in our waters and nuclear weapons, has unintentionally become a symbol of our belief in our right to determine our own foreign policy.

It just so happens, it remains a very relevant piece of legislation. And let's face it, we all know that nuclear weapons are not for the good of all humankind and have not ended all wars.

Apart from all the environmental problems associated with nuclear energy, New Zealand does not have the infrastructure or expertise to deal with nuclear energy and the smallest commercially viable nuclear reactor is just too big to fit into our electricity system.

Trade and our clean green image

The US has not liked our anti- nuclear policy since it came into being in 1987, yet we have continued to trade and do business with the US and many NZ businesses have successfully traded with the US for years without our nuclear policy getting in the way.

NZ has a reputation for being a clean, green, country. It is what sells our country as a destination and what sells our products overseas. In 2001 the Ministry for the Environment commissioned some research to estimate what our clean green image is worth, surveying the key export customers.

The results were that, "Our clean green image does have a significant export value. Our environmental image is a key driver of the value of goods and services in the international market place".

If NZ were to lose its clean green image it would have an enormous effect on its economy. Part of that clean green image is to do with our being a nuclear free nation.