Nuclear-free NZ still here by lunchtime

Last updated 14:52 13/04/2010

Am I missing something? Here's John Key back on the world stage, and posing for pictures with American President Barack Obama.

Apparently he received a personal invitation from Obama to attend the Washington summit on nuclear proliferation.

New Zealand is, according to Key, happy to lend its anti-nuclear credentials in support of Obama's bid to stop nuclear arms from falling into the hands of terrorists.

It's possibly a bit late for that, and possibly a little hypocritical, given that the US is the only country in the world ever to have used nuclear weapons against other people.

But putting that to one side, it's wonderfully ironic to see that the one thing that has been such a stumbling block to US-NZ relations for the past 14 years - our nuclear-free stance - is now being used to bring the two nations closer together.

Which brings me to my question. What was Sir Geoffrey Palmer doing at the weekend, calling for US navy ships to be allowed back into New Zealand ports? Can we really have our anti-nuclear cake and eat it, too?

The part of me that always felt proud at our nuclear-free stance and the speech David Lange delivered so beautifully all those years ago to the Oxford Union (you remember, the one about "uranium on the breath") blanched at Sir G's suggestion.

The nuclear-free legislation was a defining moment in our history, and in our sense of nationhood. At least it was for my generation.

So I was interested to see that a recent poll on The Press website found that a narrow majority of respondents (51 per cent) were in favour of resuming ship visits.

Just 22 per cent said it would undermine our nuclear-free status, while another 26.5 per cent said visits should be permitted only if America guaranteed that their vessels were nuclear-free.

So even adding these two together, a slender majority favours a resumption of ship visits.

I reckon five years ago that number would have been quite different. I'm not sure whether it's the warming of US-NZ relations that's responsible, or the fact that the US has made such efforts to reduce its nuclear arsenal - or, most likely I suspect, that people in their early 20s weren't born when Lange made his big stand.

A straw poll around the office tends to bear that out. The younger ones couldn't give a toss about our nuclear-free status, despite it being such an article of faith for those aged 40 and over.

So was Sir Geoffrey right after all? As one of the architects of the legislation, it was a big call for him to say it's time to let bygones be bygones.

But I suspect that such a policy change would be difficult to implement without changing the nuclear free law. For us to accept ship visits we would need to ascertain that they were nuclear-free and to do that they would need to tell us - and I'm pretty sure they never will.

Eventually of course it will become academic because the way things are going, the US will sooner or later have no nuclear-powered or -armed vessels anyway.

But I can't see the law changing, even if National has traditionally been opposed to it.

Don "gone by lunchtime'' Brash might have been a fan of scrapping it, but John Key can see it's worth more to New Zealand in place than it is off the statute books.

Palmer's timing was therefore interesting. Was it a wind-up for Key on the eve of his moment at the nuclear summit? It seems strange to raise it just when it seemed both sides had finally agreed it was not something to allow the relationship to founder on.

I thought Key put it pretty well at the summit today when he said: "While everyone understands New Zealand's history in this field, I think it's important, I can allude to it, but I don't think the argument at this point is to argue everybody should follow the same pathway that New Zealand has, but to point out that I think that a world free of nuclear weapons is a world that we should all want to see and that the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands."

Who'd have thought a National prime minister would say such a thing?

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Response Ability   #1   03:00 pm Apr 13 2010

Dirty nuclear energy and weapons are pretty nasty things, and expensive to clean up. What might be acceptable is a Fusion power plant. No nasty byproducts, no nasty fuel, no potential for the thing to explode or leak. Admittedly the fusion chamber itself would become radioactive over time, but that's pretty small potatoes on the face of it.

Shame it's so expensive at the moment though.

Being somewhere between "In their twenties" and "in their fourties" I personally think our non-nuclear stance is great.


Cullen's Sidekick   #2   03:04 pm Apr 13 2010

What happened Colin? Have you been nuked? Why suddenly some affection towards Emperor? You have praised Emperor at least 2 or 3 times in this blog. Is it because Emperor for once acting in the way you want him in a subject that is close to your heart? I am disappointed that you have not come up with another topic where you can have a go at National.

damon   #3   03:22 pm Apr 13 2010

I keep remindng myself that Key is there representing a nuclear free nation, not as some chancer keen to rub the flesh with Obama.

Rangi   #4   03:27 pm Apr 13 2010

Kia Kaha John Key, We all know hes a red man in a blue jacket. I don't find it ironic that the US is softening its stance, indeed since 911, they've had more reason for nuclear proliferation, I think the US is approaching a maturity in their world view whereby their view is not the only view, or indeed, the righteous view. We've had that maturity since Lange's days. (I wish Lange hadn't released those 2 french terrorists who bombed the rainbow warrior, we had every reason to execute the buggers). I thank God Brash didn't ascend to power, he just would not get on with Obama. I reject the notion that nuclear ships should visit here, I mean, what do they represent? Skill? Power? Justice? Freedom? Arrogance? Fear?, Im all for it if they want to put on a display with a mock battle scene or something, or refuelling, but just for visits?? Seems expensive, self engrandising & pointless. Imagine the carbon footprint! Pomp & ceremony are on their way out, meaningful displays of power are in. Sir Geoff's flip flop is not suprising, he always was a bureaucrat, never a true leader. Rangi.

BATMAN   #5   03:51 pm Apr 13 2010

I think nuclear POWERED ships are here to stay as they are more planet friendly than diesel-powered ships, and the whole nuclear stance here was based on nuclear weapons and testing anyhow. allowing ship visits is not backing away from our nuclear free status, as the US govt has already said its ships do not carry nuclear weapons (they have ballistic missiles for that!). we already have plenty of nuclear material in NZ for scientific research and hospitals etc; so if its safe for 3000 sailors to live next to two reactors on a Nimitz aircraft carrier then its safe enough to make a visit here!!

good to see we are being taken more seriously by the US these days. could we be in store for a multi-lateral trade deal AND apples into Aust? crazy stuff!!

Kat   #6   03:54 pm Apr 13 2010

Keyboy's game-plan is to say and do anything to appease anybody at anytime anywhere. He is the ultimate walking talking nodding political marionette. It will not be in keyboy's game-plan to comment on Israel's nuclear proliferation for example. Given keyboy's limited programming and consistent mangling of the English language it is probably best that he doesn't say anything serious.

Ken   #7   03:55 pm Apr 13 2010

The nuclear-free legislation is no big deal, hence keeping it 'on the books' is no big deal to a National government. NZ was nuclear-free before the legislation and it's part of the world's perception of our country. However I don't think it makes a big difference towards people's decisions about visiting or buying products from NZ unless they are lefties or greenies but I doubt it. As someone in their mid-forties I just feel 'meh' about it as the current saying goes. The younger generation are right.

Peter Metcalfe   #8   04:01 pm Apr 13 2010

I think you are ignoring the fact that the legislation was never meant to deter US ship visits (and that similar countries around the world have such legislation and had ship visits without problems). What caused the rift was that Lange worked out a deal with the US (the USS Buchanan proposal), didn't tell anybody else about it and buggered off to the Tokelaus before the proposal was officially made because he couldn't handle Helen Clark.

Palmer, not knowing what the hell had happened, turned down the request, publicly slapping off the US in the process. By the time he figured out what had happened, the US was having our name printed on its toilet paper. That's why Palmer was calling for their return.

Dan   #9   04:15 pm Apr 13 2010

Ok, so I'm 28, and also think our anti-nuclear stance is long past it's use-by date. There is a big difference between nuclear powered and nuclear armed too, to my way of thinking. Nuclear power is not the big green eyed monster a lot of people would make it out to be, and is definitely something NZ should be looking at. Nuclear power is also in a lot of ways the silver bullet for climate change.

Did you know more nuclear radiation is emitted from Auckland Hospital in a single day than is emitted by the entire US Navy in a whole year? That a tennis ball size piece of nuclear material produces as much energy as 28 million tonnes of coal?

There are 436 reactors operating around the world with a further 47 under construction, 133 planned, and 282 proposed. In the 50 year history of civil nuclear power generation, there have been only two major accidents, the last one 24 years ago. If you actually care to find out about it, and compare it objectively with alternative options, nuclear power is a very sensible and viable option. But for decades NZ has been indoctrinated to believe it is inherently evil, so we keep our heads buried in the sand. It produces irrational fear and hysteria, which the media are only too happy to play on, and which is even reinforced by our education system. Come on NZ, get with the times.

samm   #10   04:24 pm Apr 13 2010

"Eventually of course it will become academic because the way things are going, the US will sooner or later have no nuclear-powered or -armed vessels anyway".

I doubt it. All of their aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear powered, and they aren't getting rid of them anytime soon. Coincidentally, these are now the only US navy vessels that are potentially nuclear armed (missile submarines excepted, since they are always nuclear armed). It seems to be a little known fact that aside from missile submarines the USN hasn't rountinely embarked nuclear weapons since 1991.

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