4 days ago
Australian uranium fuelled the Fukushima nuclear disaster yet our governments have just approved the world’s largest uranium project in BHP Billiton’s proposed new pen pit mine at Roxby Downs.
“We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors – maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them; almost all of them”.
This frank smoking gun admission by Dr Floyd, the Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade came some seven months after the Fukushima crisis had started to unfold. It is quite likely this Australian uranium came from Roxby Downs in SA.
Denial runs deep in the nuclear industry. The nuclear utility TEPCO and the Japanese government lacked capacity and preparedness to respond to the inherent nuclear risks that reactors imposed on their society. Fire fighters from Tokyo had to risk their lives and health to try to control the failing Fukushima nuclear reactors as they exploded and burnt and the reactor cores melted down spewing radiation over nearly 10 percent of Japan.
Uranium mining companies in Australia are in denial. They cited “commercial in confidence” so as not to disclose their contracts and not to reveal which reactors were fuelled with their uranium.
The radioactive tailings produced by uranium miners need to be isolated from the environment for far longer than recorded human history – in effect forever.
However, Olympic Dam mine is a dam designed to leak an average of three million litres of liquid radioactive waste a day from the tailings storage facility through decades of mining up to 2050.
The federal and SA governments agreed to surface dumping of the tailings rather than to require best practice disposal into the pit.
They agreed that the company does not have to rehabilitate the proposed one kilometre deep pit that will be left to form a hyper-saline contaminated lake of some 350 metres in depth as a permanent scar on the landscape. Some 3.5 million litres a day of saline groundwater will be lost to the pit in perpetuity as it cuts through the local aquifers.
The world’s largest and richest mining company has been allowed to avoid paying for environment protection measures and mine rehabilitation costs of some many hundreds of millions of dollars.
The federal government gave election policy commitments that they have failed to deliver:
“Labor will accordingly only allow the mining of uranium under the most stringent conditions”.
And: “Ensure that Australian uranium mining, milling and rehabilitation is based on world’s best practice standards”.
How did the SA government perform in exercising their responsibilities after Fukushima?
Indigenous people bear a disproportionate burden of impacts from uranium mining and this will certainly continue to be the case in SA under the Roxby Indenture deal “negotiated” by the state with BHP Billiton that is being pushed through Parliament with bi-partisan support.
BHP Billiton is not bound by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 in the “Stuart Shelf Area” of some 1.5 percent of the area of SA around the Olympic Dam mine.
Aboriginal heritage obligations that apply to every other miner or developer do not apply to the Big Australian for the 70-year extended period of the Roxby Indenture, and the state further agreed that this can only be changed in future with the agreement of the company.
In response to a question by Mark Parnell, Greens MLC in the Legislative Council, a Minister acknowledged that:
“I have been advised that BHP insisted that the current arrangements continue and they were not prepared to consider changes to that ... and the government did not consult further than that”.
Olympic Dam has an option to produce and trade in copper and gold and leave the uranium and the rest of the radioactive wastes at the mine site and not fuel further nuclear risks around the world.
The state owns the minerals but chose to approve a project that seeks to lock in uranium sales. In 2007, BHP Billiton proposed a switch from processing a copper product on the mine site, as has been the case at Roxby since 1988, to the new open pit mine producing a uranium-infused bulk copper concentrate for direct sale to China.
This precedent sale of uranium in concentrates is not sanctioned under any of Australia’s nuclear treaties and bilateral uranium sales agreements and BHP Billiton’s plan requires a new or amended nuclear treaty with China that would further undermine our so-called “nuclear safeguards”.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke signed off on the company’s plans and granted approvals for the proposed infrastructure, processing and transport for the concentrate, pre-empting the negotiation and signing of a nuclear treaty, its presentation to the Federal Parliament and a required inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and a subsequent decision on whether to ratify, to amend or to reject the treaty.
Commercial vested interests of uranium mining companies are writing the script for Australia’s uranium sales deals under both Liberal and now ALP federal governments.
Now Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants to write down Australia’s commitments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the NPT) to sell uranium to India – locked in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan and facing the rise of nuclear terrorism.
India has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, has failed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and reserves a right to further test nuclear weapons, and its so-called civilian nuclear sector has extensive military links.
A nuclear deal with India would suit BHP Billiton’s interests in potentially providing a second market country for the uranium-infused bulk copper concentrate from their proposed new open pit mine, and to allow them to lay off some of the increased uranium yellowcake production from the pit onto one of very few remaining potential nuclear markets in the shadow of Fukushima.
The illusion of protection in uranium sales will further unravel as the book-keeping exercise in ASNO’s so-called “nuclear safeguards” may fail to track uranium in concentrates in non-transparent China, as the developing world struggles with nuclear risks that Japan was unable to contain, and as Australian uranium continues to fuel nuclear insecurity across the world.
It does take some five to six years to dig the pit just to reach the radioactive ore at Roxby.
South Australia should come to its senses and recognise our society’s responsibilities to get out of the uranium trade and not be made complicit in nuclear risks for BHP Billiton’s vested interests.
WASHINGTON, February 25, 2012
India’s weapons programme not deterrent to Australian uranium exports
Commenting on its decision to allow uranium exports to India the Australian government this week said that if India hypothetically diverted its domestic uranium into weapons uses following such exports that would be “very upsetting and very bad,” but that development nevertheless “would not alter the direction of the Australian government’s policy.”
Responding to a question from The Hindu on whether resistance to nuclear trade with India in certain international institutions was problematic for this policy decision by Australia the country’s Ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley explained that Australian policy in this regard was driven by two considerations.
The first, Ambassador Beazley said during a media interaction organised by the National Press Club’s International Correspondents Committee, was a statement of principle: “Yes, we are prepared to sell uranium to India. Previously our position was [that we were] not prepared to sell uranium to India.”
Second, he added, the question of the fungibility of the uranium supplies in India had been addressed in the context of the agreement between India and the U.S. in that “The Americans had... got themselves a set of provisions that gave them a tracing capacity to make sure that [the uranium] they supplied India [with], they could trace it to the point where they could be certain that wasn’t itself going into the manufacture of weapons. The same would apply to us.”
The Ambassador also supplied details explaining why Australia had shifted its stance on the matter, outlining several broad issues.
First, Mr. Beazley noted, the Gillard administration believed that so long as Australia had a nuclear agreement with India that was similar to what the U.S. had, that relationship would be “roughly within fingertip-touching distance” of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Second, he said, Australia “went down and signed that agreement with the Indians basically not because we need the sales. We sell enough uranium... So that’s not important to us. What is important to us is the character of the relationship we have with India, that’s why we made the changes.”
India had clearly conveyed to Australia that it “found us selling to the Chinese and us selling to the Russians and not selling to them to be something of an insult and that had to be dealt with.”
The Ambassador said that it had then become evident to their administration that Australia could not have the sort of relationship with India that it desired if it were operating on a basis that the Indians felt insulted by. “That policy had to change,” Mr. Beazley noted.
Australia sells uranium to India, will Pakistan be next?
Nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney writes: Uranium is both common and controversial in resource rich Australia. It is tricky stuff as it can be used to produce electricity or to fuel nuclear bombs. And India has both.
The PM’s support for moves to overturn federal Labor’s long-standing, prudent and sensible policy of not supplying uranium to countries that will not sign the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) would undermine and further stress the already under resourced and under-performing global nuclear safeguards regime.
The NPT, while imperfect, remains a key international legal mechanism in restricting the spread of nuclear weapons technology and enjoys widespread acceptance. It is currently the world’s best way to halt the spread of the world’s worst weapons and it should not be discarded lightly.
A recent high level UN report makes the nuclear power and weapons connection clear and has a special relevance against the current backdrop of pro-sales positioning.
In the shadow of the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis the September 2011 UN report plainly states: “Nuclear science and technology can also be used to develop nuclear weapons. Compliance with international legal instruments, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, other bilateral and multilateral non-proliferation agreements and safeguards agreements with the IAEA, is therefore an essential element of the responsible use of nuclear power.”
Australia, as a significant global uranium supplier, has a responsibility to act responsibly. Different rules should apply to uranium supply than to other less destructive and divisive exports.
A first step would be to drop the pretence that the Indian nuclear track record is “exemplary” and instead acknowledge that India is a nuclear-armed state that obtained its weapons capacity in breach of international commitments via the misuse of Canadian supplied research reactors.
The responsible course of action would be for the ALP to continue to not supply bomb fuel to a country that has repeated stated it will not agree to or accept international treaty obligations. Like Dr Strangelove, those Labor figures like Resource Minister Martin Ferguson and Paul Howes who support sales to India are straddling a time bomb.
India’s nuclear armed neighbour Pakistan is hardly likely to be happy with any such policy change. They will be aware of the remarkably candid policy assessment provided to the Times of India by the former chair of India’s National Security Advisory Board, Mr. K Subrahmanyam, in 2005 that “..it is to India’s advantage to categorize as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons grade uranium production.”
Like India, Pakistan is a nuclear armed state that refuses to sign the NPT. There is no doubt the Islamabad will be keeping a close eye Canberra and on Darling Harbour come Labor’s National Conference in December.
Inevitably, if Labor moves to sell uranium to India then Pakistan will make a political and diplomatic point of being the next cab in the radioactive rank. Hot on the heels of the PM’s comments was a call from Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Australia confirming that Pakistan would now seek to access Australian uranium and Julia Gillard’s defence that India is a special case is hardly likely to cut much ice in Islamabad.
The choice for Australia is clear: we can stand with the vast majority of nations in upholding and attempting to strengthen the fragile nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, or we can join with those whose actions actively undermine it.
Adding Australian uranium to the mix would not ease the long standing tensions between India and its nuclear-armed neighbours or improve the effectiveness of the global nuclear safeguards regime.
While there is no convincing reason for Labor to change its policy — as with many aspects of this contested trade — there is a compelling case for caution.
April 9, 2009
"greeney2" wrote: So Austrailia is the sourse of possible Nuclear terrorism?
You call it Nuclear Terrorism, but you could also call it Political reform.
All five members of the UN Security council are nuclear powers, & all five are have been in economic turmoil for years an years.
replace the week with the strong.
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