Call for a 'no mines' uranium policy


SYDNEY — The scrapping of the Labor Party's three mines policy for an open-gate approach would be a serious misjudgment of the international uranium market and an unwise political decision which would be remembered at the next federal election, a coalition of anti-nuclear groups said on August 16. The only acceptable uranium mining policy is a "no mines" policy.

The coalition, which called on the Centre Left faction of the ALP not to overturn the current policy in favour of an unlimited mines policy, includes: Greenpeace; Friends of the Earth; Australian Conservation Foundation; Wilderness Society; Movement Against Uranium Mining (NSW); Northern Territory Environment Centre; the Queensland Conservation Council; Conservation Council of South Australia; Conservation Council of West Australia; Nature Conservation Council of NSW; People for Nuclear Disarmament, Queensland NSW and WA; Medical Association for the Prevention of War; Urban Ecology Australia; Senator John Coulter (Australian Democrats) and Senator Dee Margetts (Greens WA).

The coalition argues that Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Research Economics' predictions of a bullish market in uranium sales are unduly optimistic. One year ago ABARE predicted that the spot price for uranium would rise from its level of $US10.30/lb to $US11.13/lb by the end of 1994. However, the current price of uranium has dropped to $9.35/lb.

ABARE also predicts a threefold increase in the uranium spot price up to the year 2000, from a price of around $9/lb at present. This scenario lacks credibility as the release of highly enriched uranium from military stockpiles over the coming decade will be a major restraint on price increases.

Uranium broker, Nuexco, claims that current inventories could supply the world demand for uranium until the year 2005 without the need for any uranium production from existing or new mines.

There is no rational basis for opening up a new uranium mine in Australia, the coalition said. The world's largest uranium mine, the Rossing mine in Namibia, is presently working at only one third capacity. The Ranger mine in the Northern Territory operates at 35% capacity. Olympic Dam in at Roxby Downs in South Australia's far north stockpiles a significant proportion of its uranium ore production and is currently only profitable because of its copper and gold.

An report in the August 18 Advertiser announced Western Mining Corporation's plans for a $1 billion expansion at Olympic Dam. The expansion, subject to a $7 million feasibility study, would lift the current production of 65,000 tonnes of copper ore a year to 150,000 tonnes by the end of the decade. Gold and silver output would also increase. Uranium output would soar from its present level of 1100 tonnes a year. The expansion is expected to create just 300 jobs.

Energy Resources Australia (ERA) had invested $125 million in the purchase of Jabiluka knowing that it was unable to mine under the present ALP policy. Now ERA is keen to make a return to its shareholders.

The coalition has called on the ALP's Centre Left faction to recognise that Australian uranium directly contributes to international nuclear proliferation. The scrapping of the three mines policy would escalate the risk of proliferation in the Asia Pacific region, it said.

Australia has a lot to gain from peace and stability in the region, and a lot to lose from the political instability that can ensue from nuclear capability. The end result of uranium mining is a highly dangerous radioactive waste which must be stored and managed for many thousands of years. There is still no safe, permanent method of disposal. The economic, social, and environmental costs are incalculable and are an unacceptable burden on all societies.

The ALP's Centre Left faction are said to be holding a meeting this week to decide their position. Letters and faxes should be sent to: Rodney Sawford MP, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600. Fax 08 240 0018, 06 277 8553 and Senator Nick Sherry at the same address. Fax 004 248 555, 06 277 8553.