Battle is on to keep WA uranium free

September 16, 2011

Toro Energy has submitted an application to build Western Australia’s first uranium mine, at Wiluna, the start of WA’s iconic Canning Stock Route.

The debate over the proposed mine has far-reaching ramifications. The construction of WA’s first uranium mine is likely to be the “thin edge of the wedge”, whereas a strong show of public opposition can significantly increase the likelihood of keeping WA uranium-free.

That, in turn, is important in the context of the national debate over uranium mining.

The WA Labor opposition reaffirmed its opposition to uranium mining at its state conference in June.

Recent legal advice says an incoming Labor government may not need to pay compensation to uranium miners if it wins the 2013 election and reinstates the uranium mining ban lifted by the Colin Barnett Liberal government in 2008.

The position of anti-uranium Labor Party members has been bolstered by a strong community campaign led by groups such as the WA Conservation Council and the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of WA.

The August-October “Walk Away From Uranium” walk from Wiluna to Perth, organised by Footprints for Peace, is drumming up further support for the anti-uranium cause.

Public opinion also supports a ban on uranium mining in WA and nationally.

A poll of 400 voters in four marginal Liberal-held WA seats in April found 46% opposed uranium mining, 34% were in favour and 20% undecided.

The poll also found that among swinging voters, support for uranium mining was only 28%. Voters strongly opposed to uranium mining (32%) exceeded those strongly in support (8%) by a factor of four.

At least two WA uranium projects have been delayed this year.

In June, Mega Uranium delayed a feasibility study for uranium mining at Lake Maitland, and BHP Billiton put the environmental approvals process for its Yeelirrie uranium project on hold because it did not meet “internal standards”.

The West Australian reported in June that Toro’s Wiluna project “will have to overcome weak investor sentiment in the face of a depressed uranium price and opposition to uranium mining”.

Toro is also notorious for peddling junk science. As nuclear radiologist Dr Peter Karamoskos noted in The Age this year: “There seems to be a never-ending cabal of paid industry scientific ‘consultants’ who are more than willing to state the fringe view that low doses of ionising radiation do not cause cancer and, indeed, that low doses are actually good for you and lessen the incidence of cancer.

“Canadian Dr Doug Boreham has been on numerous sponsored tours of Australia by Toro Energy, a junior uranium explorer, expounding the view that ‘low-dose radiation is like getting a suntan’.

“Toro must have liked what it heard because it made him a safety consultant for the company in 2009.”

Dr Karamoskos went on to note that Toro’s claims do not stand up to scrutiny: “Ionising radiation is a known carcinogen. This is based on almost 100 years of cumulative research including 60 years of follow-up of the Japanese atom bomb survivors.

“The International Agency for Research in Cancer (linked to the World Health Organisation) classifies it as a Class 1 carcinogen, the highest classification indicative of certainty of its carcinogenic effects.”

Lake Way (one of the two deposits near Wiluna that Toro wants to mine) holds a number of sacred sites.

Toro has not completed archeological and ethnographic studies and does not have a comprehensive Aboriginal Heritage Management Plan.

Remarkably, Toro’s application says the company has relied on information provided by third parties and said: “Toro has not fully verified the accuracy or completeness of that information except where expressly acknowledged.”

The application goes on to say the company “gives no warranty or undertaking, express or implied, in respect of the information contained in this Environmental Review and Management Plan”.

Second-hand car dealers inspire more confidence.

There are many specific, local concerns with Toro’s application to mine uranium at Wiluna.

These include inadequate water supply plans and transport plans, and long-term radioactive tailings management.

But the greatest problem with uranium mined from Wiluna — or anywhere else — is that, at best, it will end up as high-level nuclear waste.

At worst, it will end up as fissile material in nuclear weapons or spewing from a nuclear disaster such as that unfolding in Fukushima, Japan.

To submit a response to Toro’s application visit the WA Conservation Council website.

[Mia Pepper is the Nuclear Free Campaigner with the Conservation Council of Western Australia. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.]

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