Traditional owner: don't mine our land

Issue 

A multinational mining company that has been exposed for leaking uranium into Lake Ontario in North America is now exploring uranium deposits only a few kilometres from a significant Alice Springs water supply.

Canadian resource giant, Cameco, has entered a joint venture with Australian Paladin Energy to explore and potentially mine the Angela Pamela uranium tenement 25 kilometres south of Alice Springs near the old outstation of Owen Springs.

Last year, Cameco was forced to admit to leaking uranium, arsenic and fluorides into Lake Ontario, one of the biggest lakes in North America. On May 23, ABC Alice Springs reported that the Port Hope refinery plant was closed when contaminated soil was discovered, but during the "clean-up" it is likely that tailings found their way into the harbour.

Moreover, the company has been ordered to pay a C$1.4 million settlement to the state of Wyoming for failing to comply with environmental standards at its uranium mine. Among the charges were problems with the pace of ground water restoration, according to Canada's Calgary Herald.

Traditional owner Raelene Silverton from Urana Potara community — located on the West Waterhouse station near Owen Springs — told Green Left Weekly in December that mining the site would create serious risk to local and Aboriginal communities.

"There are a lot of people saying not to mine in there", Silverton said. "There's a bore there and Alice Springs communities get their water from there, it would be too dangerous."

Cameco-Paladin were granted an exploration permit by the Northern Territory government in 2007. A May 27, 2008 media release from the Central Land Council (CLC) said that negotiations were being conducted with traditional owners, yet local owners such as Silverton, who do not want the plans to go ahead, say they have been excluded from the process.

"That's all my father's dreaming gone through there, around Owen Springs area", Silverton told GLW. "That's a big story. We are related to that place … There is uranium there and they're going to mine there. I don't want that to happen.

"It belongs to Central Arrernte people."

Silverton, who worked as a councillor for the CLC, said that consultation with the Aboriginal population has been either limited or non-existent.

"Nobody has talked to us properly", she said.

Alice Springs is surrounded by Aboriginal settlements, previously pastoral outstations. Environmental groups and anti-nuclear campaigners have expressed grave concerns over the proposed site, with adverse environmental impacts set to affect these groups the most.

The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) in Alice Springs has organised against uranium mining, nuclear energy and waste dumping in central Australia since it began in 1980 and has formed the Alice Springs Angela Pamela collective in response to the government's and Cameco-Paladin's plans.

In the collective's mission statement, the group argues that exploration and mining will pose a significant threat to water security, human health and the environment.

"Workers, nearby communities and the environment will all be exposed to radioactive materials", it says.

"Mining uranium is the first step in a nuclear chain which includes: unsafe, expensive, water-intensive energy production; risk-prone transport of radioactive materials; inadequate safeguards against sale of uranium for nuclear weapons and production of radioactive waste which will remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years."

Silverton is also facing challenges under the federal government's intervention, with her home community one of the 500 being considered for its "economic viability" at the end of last year. The federal government discussed closing smaller communities and moving the Aboriginal residents to larger stations and towns. Unsurprisingly, all communities that were considered sit on land rich in uranium.

Since federal Labor abolished its "no new mines" policy in April 2007, uranium mining ventures in the NT have increased sharply. According to ALEC's website, between January 2007 and April 2008, the NT government granted 386 exploration licences, 193 of which were to companies specifically interested in the exploration and mining of uranium.