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Speech: A Key Role in Test Ban Monitoring

Nuclear Test Monitoring Station

Chatham Islands

Tuesday, March 7, 2000

A Key Role in Test Ban Monitoring



I always feel special coming to the Chatham Islands as the local Member of Parliament, but today is even more special for two reasons.

The first, of course, is that it is my first visit as a Minister. And the second, and more important reason, is that the opening of this Nuclear Test Monitoring Station is a genuinely special event for the Chathams.

I was, of course, supposed to be here yesterday, along with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Disarmament, Matt Robson, but fog has a mind of its own, and the planes didn't fly. Matt is disappointed he could not make the trip today, but is a strong supporter of the Comprehensive Nuclear Testing Ban Treaty, and New Zealand's monitoring role in it.

For the second time this millennium, the Chathams is in the international spotlight. The first occasion was the dawn of the millennium itself, but while that was a significant and emotional event in itself for most of us, I suggest today's event is even more significant still.

In fact, the opening of this station symbolises what I hope most of the world wants from this new millennium, greater international co-operation, and a safer and more peaceful world.

I think it is somehow fitting that the Chatham Islands, one of the more remote parts of the world, should be among the first places in the world to play a role in making it more likely that this safer and more peaceful world becomes a reality.

I am involved in this opening as Health Minister because the National Radiation Laboratory, a specialist business unit within the Ministry of Health, has been the lead agency worldwide in implementing the design of the nuclear test monitoring stations, and in constructing and commissioning them.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the lead policy agency for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but the Ministry of Health has had the task of translating policy into practical application and operation.

While much of this work has fallen to the NRL, other parts of the Ministry have also been involved, including the legal and finance sections.

The NRL deserves the bulk of the credit, however. There is a high level of local knowledge content in these stations, which will be the first in the world to enter dedicated CTBT operation.

New Zealand can take great satisfaction from the fact the design, development, construction and commission of these stations illustrate this country's ability to contribute successfully on the world stage in terms of the knowledge industry. The NRL has more than simply contributed, of course. It has performed successfully at a highly technical level.

The level of technical expertise is something I do not as Minister have to come with grips with fully. I am grateful for that. What I can come to grips with fully, however, is the notion that nuclear disarmament and an end to weapons testing have huge and significant implications for long-term global health.

At a regional level, of course, weapons testing in the South Pacific has caused substantial health concerns during the last fifty years.

Those health concerns remain. There is no doubt the weapons testing programmes carried out by the United States, France and Britain caused considerable hardship to some Pacific communities, with attendant health effects, even if these may not be directly attributable to exposures to radiation.

The effective implementation of the CTBT should mean that the region never again has to worry about the impact of nuclear weapons testing upon personal and community health, be it through direct exposure or contamination of the environment or food chain.

I say should, because there is no guarantee as yet. Some of the nuclear weapons states, including Russia, the United States and China, have yet to ratify the CTBT treaty. New Zealand will be working hard to persuade them to do so quickly. New Zealand has a respected voice internationally on nuclear issues, and will continue to speak out.

Taking off my hat as Health Minister, and putting on my hat as MP for the Chathams, I am also pleased there is some small positive economic impact for the Chathams from the construction of this station, especially in terms of the power line to the airport.

That power line is now half-owned by the Chathams and half by the Preparatory Technical Secretariat and the CTBT Organisation. When the installation contract for the station is completed after certification in June, the assets will be gifted by the CTBTO to the Crown, and I will work on behalf of people here to have ownership transferred in turn to the Chathams.

The Chathams station is of significant strategic importance to the overall effectiveness of the entire CTBT monitoring programme. It has been well documented that the Southern Ocean is considered to be a high-risk area for clandestine testing because of its remoteness, weather and small population.

Between the Chathams and South America there is 10,000 km of uninhabited ocean. This means the installation here has necessarily become one of the most complex of those that are to be commissioned worldwide.

The Chathams can be proud of its important new international role, and New Zealand can feel proud to have contributed so strongly in terms of knowledge and expertise to the monitoring programme. I am delighted to be part of such a notable occasion.


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