Public inquiry slams uranium industry

December 10, 1997

Sam King

ADELAIDE — "In view of the negative health, environmental, social, cultural and economic effects arising from the uranium industry, the select panel of the Public Inquiry Into Uranium recommends that the uranium industry be phased out as quickly as possible." This was the key finding of a public inquiry launched at Adelaide's Tandanya Aboriginal Arts Centre on December 5.

The inquiry, organised by the Nuclear Issues Coalition, focused on South Australia's uranium operations and used these to make recommendations about the uranium industry nationally.

Dennis Mathews, Tim Doyle and Sandra Kannck addressed the audience of 45 people and numerous media in attendance. The timing of the launch was superb, as 700 workers struck at the Olympic Dam expansion of Roxby Downs the day before. This was triggered by workers being exposed to poisonous sulphuric dioxide, the third time in a month this has occurred.

Doyle and Mathews both commented that while this was not radioactive exposure, it was a reflection of the careless way mining is carried out across the industry.

A large part of the inquiry report focused on occupational health and safety for uranium miners. Doyle commented, "There is no national register which traces the occupational health and safety of workers in the uranium industry".

Speakers also criticised the effect uranium mining has on the environment and the rights of Aboriginal people.

Sandra Kannck pointed out, "Western Mining Corporation has been allowed to expand its water usage to 42 million litres per day" from the Great Artesian Basin, water "which takes 2 million years to travel down" from Queensland.

Dennis Mathews told Green Left Weekly, "This is to allow WMC to expand its operations from 200,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes of uranium per year". This water becomes contaminated by radioactive tailings. The report pointed out that "tailings remain dangerously radioactive for 500,000 years". In February 1994, WMC reported 5 million cubic metres of (radioactive) water leaked from Roxby.

Kannck told the launch, "Western Mining's tailings expansion will destroy between 60 and 70 Aboriginal sites".

Doyle commented that it's "important to connect nuclear issues with Aboriginal rights", pointing out that a bill presently before the SA parliament "allows WMC to decide which Aboriginal groups they will negotiate with".

Doyle went on to slam the "collusion between state and federal governments, major parties and big business".

Mathews described the government's pandering to the uranium industry as the norm when he stated, "The government's 10-point plan and greenhouse policy are really mining industry policy".

To obtain the report of the Public Inquiry Into Uranium, contact the Conservation Centre, 120 Wakefield St, Adelaide, phone 8822 5155.

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