The Green Party of New Zealand has released a statement expressing their dissatisfaction with American space company, Rocket Lab’s, performing space launches from New Zealand soil. In their statement, the Greens express their deep concern “that […] launches by Rocket Lab may be breaching [the country’s] long standing nuclear-free position.”
New Zealand has been nuclear-free since 1984 when the then-prime minister, David Lange banned nuclear-powered and/or armed ships from entering New Zealand waters. Three years later, in 1987, the country became an official nuclear-free zone with the passing of the “New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act.” With The passage of this act, New Zealand not only declared itself a permanent nuclear-free zone, but also dedicated itself to the process of international disarmament and arms control.
While these policies have now been firmly in place for over thirty years, according to the New Zealand Greens, the country’s new relationship with Rocket Lab puts its nuclear-free status at risk.
“The government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries’ to wage war” stated Member of Parliament and Green Party representative Teanau Tuoino.
Rocket Lab has gone on record stating that “the company does not launch weapons or payloads that contribute to weapons programs or nuclear capabilities.” Despite this, a March 7th open letter to PM Jacinda Arden written by ‘The Peace Foundation International Affairs and Disarmament Committee’ and backed by seventeen international peace groups expressed concerns that Rocket Lab’s launches out of Mahia, New Zealand would turn the peninsula into a “launch pad [for] the US military.” Furthermore, the PM has been warned on two separate occasions by the country’s ‘Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Weapons Control’ (PACDAC) that launches by Rocket Lab could “break nuclear law.”
According to Tuoino, Arden and her government are taking advantage of a lack of clarity in the country’s laws to allow Rocket Lab to continue with its launches. “Our outer space legislation has […] many gaps and grey areas, [and] foreign military powers are literally launching rockets through [them],” Tuoino states.
In addition to putting New Zealand’s status as a global peacekeeper at risk, Tuiono claims that the launches have also begun to negatively affect Mahia’s local fauna. “When we visited Mahia, [the locals] told us about the absence of local birds and kaimoana (local seafood).” In depth studies on this matter have yet to be carried out. Nonetheless, a 2016 investigation by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment revealed that launches were “expected to result in the deposit of some material on the seabed.” However, that “most marine risks [could] be considered low level – compared to major financial gain.”
While a lack of clarity remains with regard to both the environmental and legal impacts of Rocket Lab’s presence in New Zealand, the Greens are prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that the country remains nuclear-free. Thus, Tuoino recently brought forth a newly proposed Members’ Bill that would “address and affirm [the country’s] nuclear stance”, by “[prohibiting] the launch of all military hardware from […] New Zealand’s shores.”