greenies trying to win membership on uranium lol

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    Uranium mining — dollars for death

    Kathy Newnam

    Radioactive dollar signs lit up in the eyes of mining and resource company executives on August 4 when federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane declared the Northern Territory’s uranium deposits “open for business”. Indigenous communities and environmentalists have vowed to fight the government’s plans.

    Rio Tinto chief executive Leigh Clifford commended the government for its “common sense” approach to “sensible and environmentally sensitive mineral development”. Neil Biddle, director of Batavia Mining, which is currently exploring a large tract of Central Australia for uranium, is looking forward to a “prolonged uranium boom”.

    There are three uranium mines in Australia — Ranger in the NT, and Olympic Dam and Beverley in South Australia. The NT Environment Centre believes that just under 1 million hectares of the NT are currently under exploration for uranium by about 12 companies, and around 1.8 million hectares are under application for exploration.

    Malcolm Humphreys, director of Compass, which is exploring for uranium near Batchelor (100 km south of Darwin), told the August 6 Courier Mail he expects to be mining in about five

    years. Australia is the world’s second largest producer of uranium (after Canada) and has up to 40% of the world’s known uranium deposits.

    The mining industry is itching to take advantage of a global uranium market opening. China alone plans to build 30 new nuclear reactors by 2020. New reactors are also being planned in India, the US, Britain, South Korea, Russia, Ukraine and Chile.

    On August 9, foreign minister Alexander Downer announced he was negotiating uranium sales with China. But his assurances that “Australian uranium supplied to China is used exclusively for peaceful purposes” were described by NT Environment Centre co-ordinator Peter Robertson as “nonsense”. He told Green Left Weekly that Downer “could not give any real guarantees” that Australian uranium would not end up in weapons programs. “We know that of the 60 countries with nuclear programs, at least 20 subsequently expanded into research and, in some cases, the use of nuclear weapons.”

    Robertson also criticised Downer’s assertion that the greater use of uranium would alleviate the greenhouse effect, saying that the argument “doesn’t stack up”. “They want to have their cake and eat it”, he said, pointing to the government’s relentless promotion of coal.

    Robertson pointed out that for nuclear power to have any impact on the greenhouse effect, output would have to be doubled from the current 15% of global electricity. This would require 400 new nuclear reactors, each costing between $US2-10 billion. Robertson said that a small fraction of this put toward energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies would go a long way to finding a solutions to the greenhouse problem.

    The Howard government claims control over the mining approvals process in the NT. But Robertson said that the Commonwealth doesn’t have this power; it would need to introduce new legislation or amend current legislation to get it.

    Despite this the NT minister for mining, Kon Vatskalis, was quoted in the August 8 NT News saying the NT government had never had control over the approvals process, and that the federal government’s move was a “political stunt” to distract attention from its unpopular proposal to locate a radioactive waste dump in the NT.

    Vatskalis’ response mirrors that of federal ALP leader Kim Beazley who has preferred to play up the Howard government’s bullying of NT government rather than take a clear position against the expansion plans. A number of Labor leaders want to scrap the party’s 1984 three-mine policy (including shadow resources minister Martin Ferguson, former NSW Premier Bob Carr and SA Premier Mike Rann), which is due for discussion at its national conference in 2007.

    However Beazley has backed plans for an increase in uranium exports to China, and on August 11, the ALP joined with Coalition senators to vote against a Greens motion, 54 to eight, which called on the federal government to abandon plans to expand uranium mining in the NT.

    The mining lobby wants the federal government to go beyond opening up the $12b of uranium reserves in the NT. It wants to be able to skirt state governments’ opposition to new mines and is urging the Coalition to take complete control.

    As Summit Resources chief executive officer Alan Eggers said, “We only hope [the NT news] filters through to other states, particularly Queensland and WA, where there are large, high-grade uranium resources waiting to be developed”. Summit Resources has staked out three deposits near Mt Isa.

    On August 11, Macfarlane launched the Uranium Industry Framework an industry group which he says will “identify the opportunities and remove impediments” to the expansion of uranium mining. The group includes BHP Billiton, which recently succeeded in its $9.2b takeover of the South Australian Olympic Dam mine, the world’s biggest uranium deposit, and Heathgate Resources, which owns the Beverley uranium mine. The group will formulate a three-year plan, expected to become the government’s blue-print for the industry’s planned expansion.

    Mining companies are also using the parliamentary inquiry into uranium resources to push for the industry’s expansion. on August 11 The world’s largest uranium producer, CAMECO, the first witness, called on the federal government to take control of the industry.

    In a indication of the propaganda push that can be expected from the uranium industry, Southern Cross chief executive Mark Wheatley told the Diggers and Dealers mining forum in Kalgoorlie on August 11 that, “Given the price increases of late, I think there’s renewed interest from the miners to make money from the uranium business and I think we can get better at helping the politician and the mums and dads understand the risks and rewards of uranium mining as opposed to other forms of power generation”.

    While the uranium industry may have an easy time “helping the politician” to “understand” the virtues of it expanding, it will have an uphill battle to convince the rest of us.

    Many Indigenous communities are also flatly opposed to the move. The Carpentaria Land Council has declared its opposition to uranium mining in Queensland’s gulf country with its spokesperson Murandoo Yanner saying on August 8 that local people would not shy way from taking direct action, as they had in their fight against Pasminco Century’s zinc mine.

    “I would take far greater steps”, he stated. “That’s what I’m warning John Howard and anyone else. The leather gloves were used on Century. We’re using knuckle-dusters when it comes to uranium mining. We will not take a backward step.”

    From Green Left Weekly, August 17, 2005.
    Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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