Leave uranium in the ground

August 5, 2011

The NSW government was evasive for several days on whether it would allow uranium exploration and mining, banned since 1986.

This followed the call by federal resources minister Martin Ferguson in May for NSW and Victoria to rethink their uranium mining bans.

Premier Barry O’Farrell and resources minister Chris Hartcher finally said on August 5 they would not overturn the uranium mining ban.

In mid-June, Hartcher met the chief executive of the Australian Uranium Association Michael Angwin, who is lobbying to overturn the ban, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

In an August 3 opinion piece on ABC Online, Angwin slammed the eastern states’ uranium bans as “authoritarian”.

He said: “The Northern Territory and South Australia have encouraged the uranium industry for a long time. So it is not surprising that uranium development there proceeds without much fuss, despite the occasional hiccup.”

The “occasion hiccup” includes contaminating underground aquifers with radioactive tailings and the spread of radioactive dust.

Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and South Australia suffer some of the worst effects of this radioactive contamination.

And far from enjoying the spectacular economic benefits that Angwin claimed were being denied residents of the non-uranium mining eastern states, these communities are among the poorest in Australia.

The Northern Territory intervention, perversely justified as a response to this terrible poverty, includes many measures that further take away Indigenous communities’ rights to control their ancestral lands.

This is to the direct benefit of billionaire mine-owners, including the uranium mine-owners Angwin represents. These measures include attempts to shut down smaller Indigenous communities and herd Aboriginal people into “hub towns”.

Radioactive waste, which cannot be stored safely, is inseparable from the uranium industry.

Countries with nuclear power also have growing nuclear waste stockpiles. Unsurprisingly, they are pressuring Australia, as a major uranium supplier, to host a nuclear waste dump.

The Australian government wants to force Aboriginal communities to host such a dump at Muckaty Station. The affected Aboriginal communities are resisting, supported by environmentalists.

In 2004, plans for a similar dump at Kupa Piti (Coober Pedy) in South Australia were abandoned in the face of a long campaign led by senior traditional women.

They called their campaign against the uranium industry Irati Wanti, which means “leave the poison alone”. This is also an appropriate response to the push to expand uranium mining.

Over the past week, new revelations have emerged that the extent of radioactive contamination from Japan’s nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima has been vastly under-reported.

Radioactive water, rice and cattle have been found far from the crippled reactors.

Fukushima has caused people to rethink nuclear power even in the countries that use it heavily.

In Europe, Germany’s conservative government has committed to phasing out nuclear energy, reversing its previous policy.

In Japan, a campaign to abolish nuclear power is being led by the mayors of atom-bombed cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nuclear power also fuels nuclear weapons proliferation. Today, there is no guarantee that products from Australian uranium won’t end up in weapons.

Angwin claims “nuclear power is one of the world's cleanest sources of electricity and comparable to renewables”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Uranium mining should not only stay banned in NSW and Victoria, it should cease in the states where it currently takes place. Irati Wanti.


This half baked piece does not substantiate any of its claims with credible facts. It is an opinion that hopes to play on emotion not truth or logic. It is an unfortunate reality that when the science is not understood, emotion drives our opinion and decisions. I would urge readers to take an objective view and look at some the real statistics: 1) Death rate per terawatt of power produced (for difference energy sources) 2) Land sterilisation per hectare per unit energy (for different energy sources) 3) The expected fatality rate from Fukushima - Zero 4) The true, attributable number of fatalities from Chernobyl - less than an aircraft crash (<50) 5) The regulation standards on all sectors of nuclear fuel cycle. By the way, Germany is not going non-nuclear; it is just planning on importing nuclear power. The truth is that nuclear energy has risks, but it is extremely regulated and the risks are mitigated. Personally, I dream of a world with renewable energy, but I am not too ignorant to realise that we need an energy source to bridge the time gap between now and when renewable energy technology is able to provide base load power. But please, don’t listen to the rants of either this journalist or me. Do the research, criticise it and form an informed opinion. Be sure to read both sides of the argument, not just the side that you want to hear or the one that has the highest soap box on the day.
If you really do dream of a world with renewable energy, then you should check out Beyond Zero Emission's ZCA stationary energy plan - a fully costed plan to switch Australia's grid to renewable energy. http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org/ Trick.
I like the way that your Fukushima fatality stat doesn't incorporate any of the kids who will dies from bone cancer because the Japanese government lied about how far people would need to stay away from the reactor in order to be safe. I also like the way that this "tranisition" fuel needs its waste to be dealt with for tens of thousands of years. That's a heck of a long time to deal with something whose benefits will only last a little while. Also, on regulation, the Ranger u-mine in Kakadu national park is the most regulated mine on the planet. This wet season, its tailing dam came within centimetres of overflowing and leaking radioactive contaminants into the water table. This would have been devastating for locals. I think it's okay to get "emotional" about these things.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.