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Submissions due: NZ Nuclear
Free Zone Extension Bill

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Nuclear Free Zone Update

26 January 2001

Kia ora,

the two ships carrying nuclear waste from France to Japan, and the ship which has just left Sydney on its way to France carrying radioactive rods from the Lucas Heights reactor - all of which will pass through the Tasman Sea - have highlighted again the problems with the NZ nuclear free zone. As many of you are aware, there is a bill currently at Select Committee stage to extend the NZ nuclear free zone from 12 miles to 200 miles from the coast and to prohibit the transit of high level nuclear waste, nuclear weapons and nuclear-power ships through that extended zone. As you may also be aware, the government has clearly stated they will not allow that bill to pass into law.

You can still make submissions on the proposed legislation, the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill (2000) - the deadline has been extended again to 15 February 2001. This is the absolutely final extension of the deadline for submissions. If you haven't already sent yours in (or you wish to add to a submission you have already made), you need to act on this quickly - see 'To make a submission' section below.

For more information about the Bill, and suggestions for some points you could make in your submission, you can check out the PMA briefing below.

For more detailed material, including existing domestic law which gives a precedent for excluding vessels from the Exclusive Economic Zone, check out the WILPF submission.

To make a submission:

  • send twenty copies of your submission to David Sanders;

  • if you wish to appear before the Committee in person to speak to your submission later in the year, you should indicate that in a covering letter to be sent with your submission, together with your daytime telephone number.

  • to send supplementary information to add to your original submission - you need to send twenty copies to David Sanders with a covering letter stating it is supplementary material to your submission (and clearly identifying your original submission!).

    All correspondence, submissions, and supplementary information should be sent to David Sanders, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, Bowen House, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand. If you wish to check anything about the submissions process with David , you can fax him on 04 499 0486. If you are faxing from overseas, the number is + 64 4 499 0486.

    Peace Movement Aotearoa Briefing on the Bill

    20 September 2000

    * Information on the Bill

    The aim of the Bill is to extend the NZ nuclear free zone from 12 miles to 200 miles from the NZ coast and to prohibit the transit of high level nuclear waste, nuclear weapons and nuclear-power ships through that extended zone. It was put forward by the Green Party.

    The General Policy Statement which accompanies the Bill reads as follows: "The Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act 1987 is severely limited in its ability to protect NZ from possible nuclear accidents which would devastate our waters and coastline. [The] legislation controls only up to 12 miles from the NZ shore.

    [It] is primarily concerned with controlling nuclear weapons and nuclear testing within the NZ nuclear free zone, and prohibiting nuclear powered ships from entering NZ ports. It does not prevent the transit of nuclear powered ships or ships carrying radioactive wastes. International shipments of high level nuclear waste and reprocessed fuel have greatly increased in frequency and size. Reprocessed fuel can be adapted for use in nuclear weapons.

    NZ has the right and duty to protect the marine environment and its living resources in its exclusive economic zone, up to 200 miles from shore. Under the Law of the Sea, ships have some rights of navigation through this zone; yet if those ships carry a cargo which could contaminate marine resources for centuries, this creates a conflict with the purpose of the exclusive economic zone. This bill resolves that conflict, for NZ, in favour of environmental protection, and brings NZ into line with the practice of other concerned states and developing international law.

    This bill extends the NZ nuclear free zone up to 200 miles and specifically prohibits the passage through it of nuclear propelled ships or ships carrying radioactive wastes, or reprocessed nuclear fuels."

    * Provisions of the Bill by clause

    ~ Clause 4 inserts into the principal Act definitions of 'exclusive economic zone of NZ' and 'radioactive waste'. ~ Clause 5 extends the nuclear free zone to coincide with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). ~ Clause 6 extends the prohibition on transport of nuclear weapons from just inland and internal waters to the full nuclear free zone. ~ Clause 7 extends the prohibition on nuclear powered ships from just internal waters (ie harbours) to the nuclear free zone. ~ Clause 8 prohibits the passage through the zone of ships carrying radioactive wastes or the types of highly radioactive materials which are destined for, or produced by, nuclear fuel reprocessing. Radioactive waste has been defined in terms of the International Atomic Energy Code for Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Waste. The Code exempts low level wastes of the type produced by medical and scientific uses of radionuclides by providing for countries to set exemption levels. NZ has not yet done so, but the National Radiation Laboratory is equipped to set radiological limits and has done so for other purposes. ~ Clause 9 repeals the right of innocent passage for ships carrying prohibited materials but allows the Prime Minister to grant approval for a ship in distress where this will avert a potential accident.

    * Comment and points you could make

    A letter from Matt Robson (28 June 2000) states that the government will not support this bill for two reasons: i) that "it would set NZ law in conflict with international law"; and ii) "The Bill would also create conflict in relationships of importance to NZ, with governments that we try to persuade to our point of view. We cannot hope to achieve priority goals for NZ, for example to negotiate for nuclear disarmament, or for a Southern Hemisphere free of nuclear weapons, if we are attempting at the same time to force our will upon the same governments." Phil Goff has made similar statements.

    Point i: international law - it seems he is referring to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Although UNCLOS establishes the right of 'innocent' passage, it is not clearly defined and it seems there is a certain amount of leeway for coastal states to decide whether or not a ship's passage is 'innocent'. The UNCLOS Preamble states the desirability of "a legal order for the seas and oceans which will ... promote the peaceful use of the seas and oceans" - that statement would, it seems, exclude 'innocent' passage for vessels carrying nuclear weapons.

    As well, the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice said that, "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law" (paragraph 105 2E). It could be argued that this rules out any notion that the passage of vessels carrying nuclear weapons is 'innocent'. [1]

    There is a conflict of interest within UNCLOS between the right of 'innocent' passage and the sovereign right of a nation to protect its EEZ and coastline from harm. The Preamble also states the desirability of "a legal order for the seas and oceans ... [which will promote] "the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment".

    As well, UNCLOS Part V deals with the rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal state in its EEZ; Article 56.1 states that the coastal state has sovereign rights within its EEZ for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources (living and non-living), the waters and the sea bed etc, and 56.1(iii) specifies the sovereign right of "the protection and preservation of the marine environment".

    Surely each of these points allows for the banning of not only nuclear armed vessels, but also those which are nuclear powered or transporting nuclear waste, because of the risk they pose to the marine environment.

    There have been any amount of accidents at sea involving nuclear weapons, nuclear waste shipments and nuclear powered vessels - the recent sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk (with the death of all on board) was a timely reminder of the risk of such accidents, the impact of the release of radioactivity from the vessel into the Barents Sea may not be known for some time.

    There have been 10 major reactor accidents and 4 major fires on board US and Russian nuclear submarines alone - and 8 have sunk (these are conservative figures).

    On the transshipment of nuclear wastes, other governments have not been hesitant to make their views known on the dangers they pose. Last year the Caricom [2] governments "vowed to take all necessary steps to protect their people and the fragile ecology of the Caribbean Sea from this highly dangerous threat" (BBC, 19-07-99). They obviously see the protection of their marine environment as more important than the right of 'innocent' passage.

    Point ii: creating conflict - "The Bill would also create conflict in relationships of importance to NZ, with governments that we try to persuade to our point of view." It is not at all clear here which governments Matt Robson is referring to - the nuclear weapons states ? Surely not, they have never shown the slightest interest in being persuaded to NZ's point of view. Quite the opposite in fact, the US government is continuing with its Ballistic Missile Defence system, in the face of global opposition to it!

    Perhaps he means the other governments of the New Agenda Coalition [3] which are promoting total nuclear disarmament. It seems unlikely that they would object to a practical demonstration of how to eliminate nuclear weapons from one part of the globe at least.

    In the same way that Belau's nuclear free Constitution contributed to the creation of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ) and to the first NZ nuclear free legislation, perhaps this extension of the nuclear free zone will also be a positive example and in turn lead to a long overdue strengthening of the SPNFZ.

    * Putting words into action

    That's really the whole point of this Bill - putting words into action. The Labour Party's policy on Foreign Affairs and Defence states "The Labour Government will ensure that New Zealand takes a leadership role in the drive for disarmament. Labour will: keep New Zealand and its waters free of nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and nuclear power" (first point under disarmament).

    The Defence Policy Framework (June 2000) states "The government will continue to maintain a nuclear free NZ and protect the integrity of the nuclear free policy. It will also promote a nuclear free South Pacific" (point 18).

    There are repeated statements by Labour and Alliance politicians, here and abroad, of their deep commitment to nuclear disarmament - an example being Helen Clark's speech to the State of the World Millennium Forum in New York on 8 September. Her speech included the following statements: "NZ will continue to play a leadership role on these issues. Disarmament and arms control initiatives must be constantly pushed, and we will keep pushing." and;

    "In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, NZ took a number of unilateral initiatives for nuclear disarmament. We went so far as to declare ourselves a nuclear free nation. We did so because of our belief in the immorality of nuclear weapons and because we knew that nuclear war would be a catastrophe for a planet. Perhaps as a small nation without enemies, in a benign strategic environment, we have a greater freedom to raise these issues."

    Stirring stuff, we wonder how many of those who stood to give Helen Clark a standing ovation knew her government has stated it will not support the extension of NZ's nuclear free zone ?

    For more information see the WILPF (Aotearoa) Submission.

    * What you can do

    ~ make a submission - this can be a simple statement of your support for the Bill, or as detailed as you like. If you wish to appear before the Committee to speak to your submission, you should indicate this in a covering letter, together with your daytime telephone number. Twenty copies of your submission must be forwarded to reach David Sanders, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee Secretariat, Bowen House, Parliament Buildings, Wellington to arrive by 2 October.

    ~ contact your local MP and any list MPs in your area and urge them to vote in favour of extending the nuclear free zone. You could also write to Helen Clark as Labour Party leader and Jim Anderton as Alliance leader and urge them to support the extension of the nuclear free zone, and to ensure all Labour and Alliance MPs support it too. All letters should be addressed to the relevant person and posted (no stamp needed) to Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

    [1] For an easily read summary of the illegality of nuclear weapons, see Angie Zelter's paper 'Putting nuclear weapons on trial', which is also available from the Peace Movement Aotearoa office (see order form);
    [2] Caricom is the Caribbean equivalent of the South Pacific Forum.
    [3] South Africa, Ireland, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt and NZ.

    Stop press - "At a time when some 30,000 nuclear weapons remain, NWFZs offer one of the few activities open to non-nuclear-weapon States not just to quarantine themselves from the nuclear contagion, but to pool their efforts to resist it." keynote speaker Jayantha Dhanapala (UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament) at the International Seminar on Nuclear Weapons Free Zones), 1 to 4 September 2000, Sweden.

    Outline of the Provisions of the Bill

    WILPF (Aotearoa) Submission on the Bill

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