Tour exposes radioactive racism

Saturday, April 26, 2014
Radical Exposure Tourists at Roxby Downs, home of Australia’s largest uranium mine, Olympic Dam. Photo: radioactivetour.com

Forty people travelled over 6000 kilometres as part of an anti-nuclear educational trip from Melbourne to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory and back from April 12 to 27.

The annual “Rad Tour" weaved its way through Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory to educate people about the dangers of the nuclear industry.

The Rad Tourers came from across Australia and several international guests took part. The tour visited Roxby Downs in South Australia, had a tour of the Olympic Dam mine and finished by visiting the community opposing a national radioactive waste dump on their land at Muckaty, 100 km north of Tennant Creek in the NT.

Tour organiser Gemma Romuld told Green Left Weekly: "The tour was a great success. We had 40 people participating from Australia, India, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, England, New Zealand and France. It assisted the campaign to stop the waste dump at Muckaty, by helping people understand the Muckaty story, and [giving them] the confidence to take the message back home and share the experience with Indigenous elders whose country they are from.

"I thought the highlights were drawing the connections between uranium mining, atomic energy, racism and radioactive waste. It was great hearing from the most important defenders of the country on their own land. Really, we can't talk about uranium mining and dumping radioactive waste without talking about the NT Intervention, racism, colonisation and corporate capitalism."

The first Radioactive Exposure Tour was organised in 1990, six years after the Roxby Blockades of 1983 and 1984 in which hundreds of people blockaded and hindered the establishment of Olympic Dam. During these blockades people had the powerful experience of seeing a uranium mine and listening to Aboriginal people who opposed the mine. Blockaders also had the opportunity to show their opposition to uranium mining in creative, colourful and sometimes dramatic ways.

It was in this tradition that the idea of Radioactive Exposure Tours evolved. The Anti-Uranium Collective at Friends of the Earth organised the tours with the aim of letting people witness and experience the nuclear industry first-hand. People would be able to see and walk on the country affected, to hear what Aboriginal people had to say, learn about the anti-nuclear movement and strengthen opposition to the nuclear industry.

Adam Sharah, an activist in Australian Nuclear Free Alliance spoke to GLW as he was helping construct a humpy.

"This tour is poignant as it allows people to experience the Aboriginal story behind apartheid policy in the NT,” he said.

“It is an education against the global nuclear movement and imperialist militarism and how the government willfully attacks land rights.

“It also highlighted to me the ineffectiveness of Native Title. In terms of the Muckaty waste dump, the Radioactive Waste Management Act, introduced by ALP minister Martin Ferguson, overrides Native Title. Like the BHP Billiton mega mine up in Lake Eyre on Arabunna land — Aboriginal rights are overridden.

“Elders that travelled from Muckaty to Melbourne to talk to Ferguson about the legislation were refused a meeting — he literally shut the door on them.

"The French connection is important as France will be the first government to export radioactive waste to Muckaty if waste dumping is approved. France has 1.5 million cubic meters of radioactive waste that is awaiting transport, and an extensive nuclear power and weaponry. This is about the capitalist military complex — they want to dump waste on the most marginalised Aboriginal community.”

Noor Alifa Ardiamimgrum is an Indonesian environment postgraduate student in environment studies at Melbourne University who was on the tour. She said: “Indonesia has a nuclear plan – but the geology is not stable, we have areas that have been hit by earthquakes – and the plans for nuclear expansion on an energy front have been rejected by the community.

“There was a survey of people in the area about a nuclear plant and 70% were pro-nuclear — that was in 2004 or 2005 — they felt we needed the energy. But they have never surveyed people living in the areas.

“Then in East Java we had a big earthquake and they stopped the plan. In Indonesia there is no uranium mining — they are not consciously extracting uranium, but they are probably taking uranium out when they mine copper. Australian mining companies are very active in Indonesia — especially gold mining in the east Indonesia region. The largest gold mine in Indonesia is in East Java and the Australian company mining it is taxed really low.

“There is no strong law, no strong environmental risk management assessment and law enforcement is weak. There is a terrible power imbalance between the company and the local community. It’s very hard. If the local community does not give permission, then the companies just come in anyway.

“This tour has helped me get the context with the environment struggle — in Indonesia, the indigenous people have also been fighting the companies. The alliances we need to build are with Indigenous people. West Papua is also an area of exploitation — not so much of mining companies but of agribusiness — it’s a land grab off indigenous tribes and it is hard to help as West Papua is very closed. The tour inspired me to recognise the importance of the indigenous and environmentalist connection."

Kumar Sundaram, who is the international campaigner for the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, in India was also on the tour. He told GLW: "The CNDP is an umbrella coalition of anti-nuclear organisations across India. There are 10 to 12 places that are protesting nuclear reactors across India.

“Elections in India take place on May 12 and we are organising a nation wide conference of anti-nuclear campaigners in Delhi, so we can come out of the election period with a clear statement. CNDP organises protests, conferences and works on a college student program. The city-centres are quite pro-nuclear — in the urban centres people have swallowed a pro-consumption, pro-development argument and they think that involves nuclear energy.

“In 1998 the coalition against the nuclear cycle was strengthened because India conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The movement is still strong. We are able to organise big rallies with several hundred people in attendance.

“The Indian and Australian governments have a nuclear agreement, which seeks to open ways to supply uranium to India. We oppose this, because the supply of uranium would fuel newly proposed reactors — pushed by a government which brutally overrides community opposition, environmental concerns and safety issues while the international community moves away from nuclear energy since the Fukushima accident in Japan.

“Secondly, we oppose the agreement because of the brutal oppression meted out against fisherfolk, agricultural workers, tribes and petty traders. This is not a small amount of people in India. Lots of people have been forced to give away their land and there have been large grassroots protests.

“The southernmost tip of India is Koodankulam — at this place 30,000 people protested against a proposed reactor. Two people were killed and several hundred people were kept in jail for three months. Ten thousand people face charges from police, fictitious charges of murder and sedition. This is a human rights crisis. If you oppose the nuclear industry then you are a traitor. Farmers and local community land is owned by half a dozen people — the government uses the carrot and the stick and then re-takes the land.”

“A major concern is that an Australian uranium expansion will fuel the expansion in contempt of a worldwide turn away from nuclear energy post Fukushima. The expansion taking place in India is being pushed through in a brutal fashion. Also, Australian uranium will fuel the arms race in south-east Asia. As part of the tour I met with the officials of the uranium mine in Roxby Downs.

"This tour has been about learning about the context of the nuclear industry expansion and seeing the parallels. India's anti-nuclear movement is not just about a choice of technology, about what we do and don't want. It's about control of land. There are parallels between Aboriginal Australia and Indian indigenous struggles. These issues are class and social justice issues.

“We saw this most acutely on the tour when we met Yami Lester, an Aboriginal man now completely blind due to being exposed to atomic weapon tests at Maralinga. In India and Australia, whether it's the fight against dangerous nuclear energy or the fight by tribal people over losing land, the fight against radiation poisoning or being deprived of basic immunities — it is all because the local elites decided their priorities are profits. We must resist. This tour was a wonderful exchange of information."

Tour participants will provide ongoing solidarity with the Muckaty battle. Tour spokeswoman Emma Kefford said: “We are travelling all the way from Melbourne to Tennant Creek to show our support to the Muckaty Traditional Owners saying no to a radioactive waste dump on their land. They are taking their case to the federal court in June and we hope they get the justice they deserve after seven years of struggle.”

[See photos and more information from the tour at radioactivetour.com.]

From GLW issue 1006