ICAN: Why the ETU backs the nuclear weapons ban

Nicholas McCallum

'These weapons will solve nothing.'

In Brisbane in July, officials from the Electrical Trades Union of Australia were given the privilege of holding a Nobel Peace Prize.

The medal was brought to the ACTU Congress by its recipients, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – otherwise known as ICAN.

ICAN began in Australia and was launched globally in 2007, its focus being on the catastrophic threat nuclear weapons pose and their indiscriminate and their potential to destroy all human life and the environment.

Its founders are attempting to replicate the success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which led to the 1997 international treaty to abolish the anti-personnel mines, known as the Ottawa Treaty.

ETU Assistant National Secretary David Mier and WA State Secretary Peter Carter show off ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize.

Hiroshima one month after the atomic bomb was dropped on it in 1945.

For ICAN, the fight is much larger, and one the Electrical Trades Union of Australia is getting behind.  

“The ETU is already opposed to the use of nuclear energy and uranium mining,” said ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks. “So, it’s given that we are dead-set against the nuclear weapons too.”

“Nuclear power starts with uranium and the world has already seen enough of the damage this industry can cause, with the 2011 Fukushima being a recent reminder. That’s why the ETU has firm stance against mining the radioactive materials.


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“But nuclear weapons create a whole new level of world-ending destruction that can and must be avoided and we commend ICAN for its work fighting to prohibit them entirely,” Mr Hicks said.  

The consortium was awarded the Nobel Prize in October 2017 for its work in drawing “attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons".  

The medal made the stop in Brisbane on its way to Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the city on August 6. That was followed by the dropping of a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9.

Those two bombs killed upwards of 128,000 people, most of them civilians. Their destructive power gave birth to the Atomic Age and an everlasting fear of “the bomb”.

ICAN hopes to see an end to that fear with its push for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which will become international law once it is ratified by more than 50 countries. So far 57 nations have signed but only 12 have ratified the document.

Australia has not signed the treaty, but there is a push led by ICAN and supported by several trade unions and other organisations have been campaigning for the Australian Labor Party to get behind the ban.

ETU officials (L t o R) Nicholas McCallum, Assistant National Secretary David Mier, WA State Secretary Peter Carter and National Apprentice Officer Mark Burgess with ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize. Source: ICAN

The ETU has given in-principle support to the push ahead of the ALP national conference to be held later in the year.

“The ETU has a solid stance against the destructive power of nuclear energy – in all its forms,” said ETU Assistant National Secretary David Mier.

“Other than in very specific medical uses, we say radioactive materials should be left in the ground where they can’t harm humans or our environment.

Backing the ban: National Apprenticeships Officer Mark Burgess (left) and Carter (right) with the Nobel Peace Prize medal.

“And we’re not the only ones coming to this conclusion. More countries are moving away from nuclear power as it’s becoming too costly and more people are coming around to the fact that it is just not that safe.”

Mr Mier said it was time Australia got behind the nuclear weapons ban because humanity should no longer have to live in fear of the bomb 73 years after the first atom bombs were dropped.

“These weapons will solve nothing and the global community should sign on and ratify this treaty – and we hope Australia is one of those signatories, not the last,” he said. 


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