Archive for the ‘National’ Category

Corporate irresponsibility – that’s one thing that Energy Resources of Australia is good at

April 17, 2014

handsoffhttp://www.mirarr.net/media_releases/held-to-ransom-rio-tinto-s-radioactive-legacy-at-kakadu hTHThe Mirarr Traditional Owners of Kakadu National Park (Australia) have accused mining giant Rio Tinto of holding the World Heritage area to ransom by revealing it will not guarantee the rehabilitation of the controversial Ranger uranium mine unless the company’s plans to expand operations at the site are approved. 

ERA, 68% majority owned by Rio, has revealed in its annual report that funding for 
rehabilitation, despite being legally required, is now likely contingent on securing approval for the proposed ‘Ranger 3 Deeps’ underground expansion of the mine. 
…if the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful 
development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area. (ERA Annual Report p.17) 
At its London AGM this week Rio Tinto boss Sam Walsh attempted to distance the parent company from Ranger’s rehabilitation, saying it was an issue for ERA. However, Mirarr Traditional Owners said the company has failed in its obligations despite profiting massively from mining the area for the past 30 years. 

“The attitude of Rio and ERA demonstrates little has changed in the more than three decades since Galarrwuy Yunupingu described talks over the Ranger mine as ‘like negotiating with a gun  to my head’,” CEO of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation Justin O’Brien said. 
“The mining giants have made enormous profits at the expense of Mirarr traditional lands and are now holding the Word Heritage listed area to ransom.” 

This comes just months after the spill of 1.4 million litres of toxic slurry, while the mine is shut down and under investigation and while ERA develops its proposal for further mining at Ranger. 
“Rio Tinto is a tenant on Mirarr land. They come and they go. If a tenant told you they weren’t  prepared to fix the damage they caused to your house unless you agreed to give them a longer  term lease, you’d laugh them out of the building – what does this type of announcement say  about these tenants?” asked Mr O’Brien. 

“It is inconceivably thoughtless and arrogant of any mining company to manage its corporate  social responsibilities in this way and regrettably brings to mind the comment made by Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula in 2003: ‘The promises never last, but the problems always do’”. 

For further information or comment: Justin O’Brien on 08 8979 2200 or 0427 008 765

Yeah – let’s mine in radioactively polluted nuclear test site – says Australian Labor Party

April 17, 2014

TweedleDum-&-DeeLabor pushes for more mining in South Australian nuclear weapons test range Australian Mining, 16 April, 2014 Ben Hagemann Labor has renewed calls to allow more in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), urging the Coalition to pass a bill that will facilitate easier access.

Earlier this month a bipartisan committee recommended that the Senate should not support Labor’s WPA amendment bill, raising doubts about access arrangements……..

Mining is currently allowed in the Woomera Protected Area, however the applications process is difficult, and mining companies have been easily rejected on grounds of national security, as was the case in 2009 when a Chinese investor was rejected on those grounds……. The WPA is a military testing range used by Australia and its allies for long range and experimental weapons, and is notorious as the site of nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War.

The site is 450 kilometres from Adelaide with an area of 124,000 square kilometres. …..http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/labor-pushes-for-more-mining-in-south-australian-n

Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam urges Australia to face the facts on Climate Change

April 17, 2014

Ludlam-in-SenateGreens senator Scott Ludlam says global warming will kill and Australia will cook http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/news/politics/greens-senator-scott-ludlam-says-global-warming-will-kill-and-australia-will-cook/story-fnkerdda-1226887324936 APRIL 17, 2014

AUSTRALIA is going to cook and people will die through global warming, West Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam says.

Senator Ludlam said Australia needed to stop giving climate sceptics airtime and just get on with the job of responding to climate change.

He said the weather had become a political actor.

“We are swinging back into an El Niño cycle, this country is going to cook and people are going to die. It will be, I think, much harder to sustain the argument that nothing unusual is going on,” he said.

Senator Ludlam rejected suggestions that he was being alarmist or extremist.

“We are in steep trouble here. I don’t think I am being an extremists in just stating the bleeding obvious. The weather is turning violent on us because we have left this for decades,” he said.

Senator Ludlam, re-elected with an increased vote in a re-run of the West Australian senate election, said the solution, renewable energy, was available, but that Prime Minister Tony Abbott was trying to decapitate the industry.

“That’s why people are responding to the sense of urgency that the Greens bring to the table,” he said.

Australia’s “Environment” Minister, Greg Hunt is but a puppet of the coal and nuclear industries

April 17, 2014

Hunt commits to ‘cleaner’ coal, as renewables despair deepens,REneweconomy,  on 16 April 2014 Australian environment minister Greg Hunt, the man most likely to be sympathetic to renewable energy in the current conservative Coalition government, has effectively thrown his lot in with the coal industry. In an interview with the Murdoch-controlled Sky News, Hunt said coal would be a fundamental part of the energy mix for decades and decades, and added algae and coal drying technologies would be the focus of the government’s emissions reduction efforts. Not so much “clean coal” as “cleaner coal”. He also said nuclear energy could provide “relatively low-cost, low emissions or zero emissions energy”, although he said it would not occur in Australia without bipartisan support. Hunt-direct-action The comments from Hunt – once considered a relative moderate in a hard right conservative Coalition government – came as the renewable energy industry reports that large-scale developments are at a standstill, with no new projects committed in Australia during the first quarter of 2014, despite the need for some 8,000MW of new capacity by 2020 to meet the renewable energy target as it now stands. However, the industry is convinced that this target will be diluted following the completion of the current RET review headed by climate change sceptic and pro-nuclear advocate Dick Warburton. The industry is increasingly pessimistic about its prospects. Insiders say recent meetings with various ministers and advisors have increased the gloom, with promises only made that projects already built would not be affected by any changes. Hunt, when pressed on the issue in the Sky interview, said only that the government would be able to offer the renewables industry “certainty” – which could, of course, mean that the target will be less, with no further review for another four years…….. No mention of renewables – or a carbon price – despite new data (quietly) released by Hunt’s department on Tuesday showing that electricity emissions fell 5 per cent in the last calendar year – a fall no doubt due to the combined impacts of the carbon price, renewable energy and falling demand. As this graph below shows, Australian electricity emissions are down nearly 20 per cent from their peak in 2009 (coincidentally the time that solar began booming and demand started to fall).  The big increases have come in transport (53.5 per cent) and fugitive emissions (43 per cent) from coal mines and gas extraction. (The Abbott government’s policies on these sectors are to build more roads and to “extract every molecule of gas” that it can). (graph) Asked specifically about the IPCC’s recommendation of a four-fold increase in renewables, Hunt talked only about cleaning up brown coal power stations. He implicitly dismissed carbon capture and storage (CCS), but embraced coal “drying” – see this story from Crikey’s Paddy Manning for an assessment of this – and repeated his long-held fascination for algae technology, which has yet to move beyond a few small pilot projects. Pressed again about renewables, Hunt said “the extraordinarily prospective technology is about cleaning up the coal fired power stations and Australia is right at the forefront of this.”Australia is also at the forefront of deploying rooftop solar, and in South Australia is at the forefront of integrating high levels of wind and solar energy into the grid. As the energy market operator and statistics have shown, not only has this reduced emissions dramatically, and lowered wholesale electricity costs, it has also forced the early closure of two of the dirtiest power stations in the country – and elsewhere too. Asked again if renewables could reach 80 or even 100 per cent of Australia’s electricity requirements, as AEMO has said is possible, and how various energy research institutes have also pointed out would be lower cost than business as usual, Hunt said:

“Look, I don’t want to make predictions about 2100. What I do think is that we can have a dramatically lower profile for our energy sector. Now, that will be a combination of reduced cost renewables over time. I think that some areas will reduce cost, others may not. It will also be a combination of energy efficiency and then the other part here is cleaning up the existing sources.”

The protection of the Australian coal industry is now the clear policy priority of the new government. Australia’s coal-fired generators, already with nearly one-tenth of their capacity sidelined and the rest with much lower usage – have been pushing back against both the deployment of large- and small-scale renewables, and policies that encourage energy efficiency: both policies that groups from the IEA, the UN, and numerous research institutions have stated are the most cost effective. But, as we have mentioned before, the emergence of solar as a common energy currency, and a potential voter issue means the government needs to tread carefully. As the Australian coal industry has found out to its embarrassment, campaign slogans like “Save our coal” don’t have quite the same ring as, say, “save the reef”. And, as the Guardian and others have pointed out, is open to ridicule. http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/hunt-commits-to-cleaner-coal-as-renewables-despair-deepens-7583

Rio Tinto won’t bail out ERA’s Ranger uranium financial mess?

April 16, 2014

Ranger-uranium-mineRio chief tight-lipped on Ranger mine, SMH April 16, 2014 - Peter Ker Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh has refused to guarantee that his company will cover the cost of rehabilitating the Ranger uranium mine near Kakadu, building on uncertainty that was created last month by the Rio subsidiary in charge of the mine.

Energy Resources of Australia – which is 68 per cent owned by Rio – raised eyebrows when it revealed it may need to find new sources of money to meet its rehabilitation commitments for Ranger, which is entirely surrounded by Kakadu National Park.

Under the Ranger permit, ERA must have rehabilitated the site by 2026, and a review of the rehabilitation strategy in 2013 found the cost would be $603 million on a net present cost basis. ERA has $357 million on hand and has ceased mining at Ranger, with the company now exploring for more uranium underground in a bid to find future revenue streams.

In an unusual move, ERA appeared to link the success of that exploration project – known as Ranger 3 Deeps – to its ability to pay for the rehabilitation of the site. “If the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area,” the company said in its annual report.Such an outcome would be unusual, as miners are typically compelled to pay for the rehabilitation at the end of a mine’s life through provisions that are made each year.

In ERA’s case, some rehabilitation is already underway and it maintains a trust with the Australian Government which was holding $63.9 million at December 31.

When asked at Tuesday night’s annual meeting of Rio shareholders in London, Mr Walsh indicated he was in no mood to pick up the tab for ERA, particularly after Rio took part in a $500 million equity raising for the company in 2011. “There was a rights issue at ERA to fund the rehabilitation work and those funds are still sitting within that business,” said Mr Walsh.

”(ERA) is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them.

“We are clearly shareholders, but it’s a matter for all shareholders and a matter for the ERA board.”

Environmental sensitivities of another kind were also raised at the AGM, with Rio executives forced to defend the company’s continued involvement in coal mining.

Mr Walsh said Rio did accept that “man made emissions” were responsible for changes in the climate, but the company believed the challenge could be resolved through technological developments rather than by ceasing coal production………

Rio’s Australian AGM will take place on May 8. http://www.smh.com.au/business/mining-and-resources/rio-chief-tightlipped-on-ranger-mine-20140416-36qfi.htmlSMH 

Australia’s top 10 Anti Climate Action activists – named and shamed

April 16, 2014
The Dirty Dozen: Australia’s biggest climate foes, part 1 CRIKEY, CLIVE HAMILTON | APR 15, 2014  Who are the 12 people doing the most to block action on climate change in Australia? With a new government in place, and Australia’s emissions stubbornly high, we name and shame a fresh Dirty Dozen …

Who has been most responsible in recent times for preventing progress in the reduction of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? The Dirty Dozen — which I originally named in 2006 and updated in 2009  —  are the people who have most effectively denied the science of climate change, lied about its implications, lobbied to water down laws, or provided cover for weak policy.

They are doing most to help turn Australia from a reluctant leader into a proud laggard in responding to the most dire threat to the world’s future. Some are well-known — even if their links and tactics are not — while others do their dirty work behind the scenes. Here is my Dirty Dozen for 2014, in no particular order …

Chris Mitchell

Where to start with The Australian’s editor-in-chief? How about herehere,hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere,herehere or, if you can’t be bothered clicking on all of those, look here or here………

Tony Abbott

What to say that everyone does not already know? ……

Ian McNamara

For too long the presenter of ABC Radio’s Sunday morning program Australia All Over has flown under the radar. When not chatting about the weather in Nuriootpa, Macca’s huge cohort of two million listeners (enough to make other shock jocks weep) is prone to debunking climate science and ridiculing renewable energy. He draws in his salt-of-the-earth listeners with a kind of folksy bush wisdom that has little time for eggheads with PhDs in atmospheric physics. Periodically, listeners complain to the ABC about McNamara’s “pot shots“ at global warming and his penchant for inviting on his right-wing mates……..

….The influence of Bolt on the landscape of climate denial has been exhausted.

Gina Rinehart…….Rinehart is a major funder of the Institute of Public Affairs, the primary conduit of denier talking points in Australia. The IPA’s 70th birthday partylast year was a love-in for the nation’s most powerful climate deniers; Murdoch, Pell, Bolt, Rinehart, Abbott, all co-ordinated by IPA executive director (and former Rio Tinto employee) John Roskam.

Innes Willox……The Australian Industry Group ……Willox has made himself into the enforcer of the greenhouse mafia, pushing the hardest line against measures to limit emissions…….

Ian Plimer

Plimer is the chief ideologist of climate denial in Australia. ….

*Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra and author of Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change. For the second instalment of the Dirty Dozen, read Crikeytomorrow … http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/04/15/the-dirty-dozen-australias-biggest-climate-foes-part-1/

Australian government pretends it doesn’t know about Israel’s nuclear arsenal

April 15, 2014

hypocrisy-scaleAustralia still denies Israel’s open secret of a nuclear arsenal, SMH, April 15, 2014  Phillip Dorling  
Secret government files reveal that Australian governments, diplomats and spies have known for more than 30 years that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, while continuing to deny any knowledge of its existence to the point of misleading Parliament.

Previously secret diplomatic files declassified by the National Archives reveal a longstanding policy to turn a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Last week the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade again declined to comment on whether the Australian government thinks Israel is an undeclared nuclear weapons state.

Foreign Affairs Department briefing papers prepared for former Labor foreign minister Bill Hayden in 1987 state that ”intelligence assessments are that Israel has a small arsenal of nuclear weapons (possibly about 20). Israel’s technological capabilities would enable it confidently to deploy such weapons without recourse to a nuclear test.”

 In a confidential exchange with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Hans Blix on September 22, 1987, Mr Hayden ”commented that there appeared no doubt that Israel had nuclear weapons”.

Mr Hayden and Dr Blix were talking against the backdrop of the treason trial of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who in 1986 disclosed detailed evidence of Israel’s nuclear weapons production. The Foreign Affairs Department advised Mr Hayden to publicly deny knowledge of Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Mr Hayden told Parliament on September 17, 1987: ”We have no information to corroborate these allegations.”

However, Foreign Affairs’ files, declassified in response to applications by Fairfax Media, reveal that Australia had been monitoring Israel’s nuclear program from its beginnings in the 1950s………

Australian policy remains unchanged, with the Abbott government deciding last October not to support a UN General Assembly resolution on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East – 169 countries voted for the resolution. Only five – the US, Israel, Canada, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia – voted against. Australia abstained……..http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australia-still-denies-israels-open-secret-of-a-nuclear-arsenal-20140414-36nr4.html

Polluting, premature, and under investigation – Western Australia’s Toro uranium mining projects

April 15, 2014

Toro uranium expansion plan: premature and polluting   http://www.ecovoice.com.au/toro-uranium-expansion-plan-premature-and-polluting/    | April 7, 2014 Western Australia’s peak environmental group has condemned a move by uranium mining hopeful Toro Energy to expand their unrealised Wiluna mine plan into a much larger uranium mining precinct spanning 100km and two ecologically sensitive lake systems in the East Murchison region.

The state EPA has released details of the expansion plan while the company is under investigation by the Australian Securities Exchange for a second time over claims they have released misleading information to shareholders and the market. (See background below).

“Toro have never successfully mined anything before and have a long way to go to get their original single-mine project approved – let alone any new expansion,” said CCWA Nuclear Free campaigner, Mia Pepper.

“Contrary to their statements to shareholders, the company needs to complete additional environmental management , mine closure, tailings management and transport plans for assessment before any mining can commence at the Wiluna site.”

The company has struggled to find investors and currently needs $300 million in start-up costs and a further $300 million in upfront bonds.

“This new plan to attract investors is likely to draw further scrutiny from both regulators and the wider community who will be looking at the cumulative impacts of a regional uranium precinct covering 100km and two arid zone Lake Systems.”

“Toro plans to double its water consumption and store radioactive mine waste from several mine sites in a Lake bed. This idea lacks credibility and the company lacks capacity, experience and financial backing.”

Toro’s new plan involves four deposits over one hundred kilometres – Lake Way, Centipede, Millipede and Lake Maitland, with the company’s long term plans including mining an additional three deposits Nowthanna, Dawson Hinkler and Firestrike – covering a hundred kilometres in the other direction.

Also in the region is WA’s largest uranium deposit – Yeelirrie, which is now owned by Cameco. Traditional Owners have consistently opposed this project for forty years.

CCWA is partnering with a range of public health, union and faith groups to call for a public inquiry into the Toro mine plan.

ASX investigation

The Mineral Policy Institute and the Conservation Council of WA received formal notification that the Australian Securities Exchange is investigating Toro Energy for the second time over the release of potentially misleading information.

On Friday 21st February 2014 Toro energy released an ASX announcement about the referral of two newly acquired uranium deposits to the West Australian EPA, stating:

“Toro already has the necessary approvals from both the Western Australian and Federal Governments to establish a processing facility at Centipede and commence mining Wiluna’s Centipede and Lake Way deposits.”- Toro ASX release.

Whilst Toro would dearly love this to be the case, it simply is not. As part of the 35 conditions made on the federal environmental approval for the Wiluna uranium project Toro must submit a complete Environmental Management Plan which includes management plans for groundwater, surface water, mine closure, rehabilitation, Aboriginal heritage and more. These must be submitted to and approved by the Federal Environment Minister before any works, land clearing or construction can begin at the site.

The conditional approval granted in April, 2013 by then federal environment Minister Tony Burke   explicitly states that until these management plans are submitted, assessed and approved by the Federal Minister Toro cannot carry out any “preparatory works undertaken as part of the action including clearing of vegetation and use of heavy equipment for breaking ground for mining and infrastructure”.

This conditional federal environmental approval explicitly precludes Toro from doing any preparatory works let alone permitting it to ‘establish a processing facility’ or ‘commence mining.’

EPA review

On the 24th of February Toro Energy referred two additional deposits as an extension to the Wiluna uranium proposal. The deposits are known as Millipede and Lake Maitland.

The new proposal includes plans to mine uranium ore from Lake Maitland and Millipede and to process and store the radioactive mine waste in the Lake bed of Lake Way.

On 25th March 2014 the WA EPA made the Toro Wiluna uranium expansion project open for public review. This comment period is happening whilst the project proponent is the subject of an active ASX investigation.

Wiluna community response

The Central Desert Native Title service released a statement on the Wiluna Martu response to the uranium project. It is interesting to note some comments within the release:

“The Wiluna Martu People’s previous experience with uranium exploration in the Wiluna region has left them with serious and genuine concerns about the health effects of radiation. It also raised questions for the about the government’s capacity to properly regulate uranium exploration and mining on their traditional lands.”

“The issue of uranium mining is not something that Martu have invited. Rather under the current policy and state regulatory environment it is something they are forced to confront in order to ensure that their traditional lands and their people are sufficiently recognised and protected.”

The statement goes on to say:

“The Senior Lawmen acknowledge that there are divergent views about uranium mining within the wider Martu community and these divergent views have to be accommodated in this negotiation.”

Toro is experiencing significant and sustained financial and capacity constraints in relation to the Wiluna project and it is welcome that the company’s public representation of its project approval status is again the focus of public, market and regulatory scrutiny and attention.

Australia’s hypocrisy on nuclear disarmament is showing through

April 14, 2014

Australian policy on nuclear weapons hopelessly conflicted http://www.smh.com.au/comment/australian-policy-on-nuclear-weapons-hopelessly-conflicted-20140410-zqt9l.html  April 10, 2014   At a meeting in Hiroshima of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a group of 12 countries led by Australia and Japan, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made much of Australia’s supposed commitment to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

But Australian policy on nuclear weapons is hopelessly conflicted. With one hand, it promotes nuclear disarmament, yet with the other, it clings anxiously to US nuclear weapons for national security. Australia wants to get rid of nuclear weapons and keep them too.
There is no secret about this: Bishop wrote in February that Australia “has long and actively supported nuclear disarmament … and worked tirelessly toward the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” and also that Australia “will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence” for its security as long as nuclear weapons exist. She is the latest custodian of a bipartisan policy that has been passed down through consecutive governments for decades.
As long as nothing much was happening with nuclear disarmament, Australia could safely advocate it. But the emergence of a global movement to examine the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and a related push for a treaty banning them, has put Australia on the spot.

International conferences held in Oslo last year and in Nayarit, Mexico, in February concluded that any nuclear detonation would completely overwhelm humanitarian and disaster response capabilities, and cause unacceptable long-term harm worldwide.

Australia cautiously participated in these meetings, but clearly with misgiving. And at the United Nations last October, when 125 countries, including Japan and five other NPDI members, made a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, Australia baulked – and weaselled out.

Pressed to explain why Australia could not join the statement, officials said the sentence, “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” was incompatible with Australia’s reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Calls for a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons have further exposed the contradictions in Australia’s policy. There is no legal reason Australia could not join such a treaty tomorrow: Australia has no nuclear weapons. As a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) it has sworn off them.

The official response, however, has been to oppose such a ban because it would not “guarantee” nuclear disarmament. This is a ludicrous excuse, given that none of the approaches Australia and the NPDI advocate will “guarantee” disarmament either (in fact most of them are hopelessly bogged down).

That a polished performer like Bishop would field such a flimsy rationalisation only shows how bare the intellectual cupboard at the Foreign Ministry is. They can’t find a better argument, because there isn’t one.

Despite the increasing visibility of its inherently contradictory policy, the government blithely continues to seek a high profile on nuclear disarmament.

The people of Hiroshima will surely welcome Bishop’s earnest undertakings to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and pursue nuclear disarmament. They will be less impressed by her extraordinary statement that “the horrendous humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are precisely why deterrence has worked” – in other words, that Australia depends for its security on the very humanitarian consequences it claims to be working to avoid.The contradictions emerge even within the NPDI. The purpose of the NPDI is to support implementation of the 64-point “action plan” on non-proliferation and disarmament agreed by the 189 members of the NPT. Australia is a prominent proponent of the plan. But the very first of these 64 actions requires Australia to “pursue policies that are fully compatible with the treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons”. How is relying on nuclear weapons compatible with the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons?
The circle simply cannot be squared. Follow the tortuous reasoning to its conclusion and it reduces to “Australia supports nuclear disarmament, just as soon as it has happened”.
As the humanitarian initiative gathers momentum, and as a ban treaty looms closer, Australia’s policy will become increasingly untenable. It will soon have to choose: nuclear weapons – yes or no. If the answer is yes, the only honest course is to drop the pretence of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons and leave the NPT. If the answer is no, then there are policy challenges ahead – but overcoming them would put Australia on the right side of history.
Richard Lennane is a former United Nations disarmament official and Australian diplomat.

Nuclear power industry on the wane, though there’s plenty of uranium

April 14, 2014

reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history


scrutiny-on-costsEnough Uranium, but Nuclear Power Is Still Shrinking http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/enough_uranium_but_nuclear_power_is_still_shrinking_20140412   By Paul Brown, Climate News Network 
This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

LONDON—There is enough uranium available on the planet to keep the world’s nuclear industry going for as long as it is needed. But it will grow steadily more expensive to extract, because the quality of the ore is getting poorer, according to new research.

Years of work in compiling information from around the world has led Gavin M. Mudd from Monash University in Clayton, Australia to believe that it is economic and political restraints that will kill off nuclear power and not any shortage of uranium, as some have claimed.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that renewables do not have the disadvantages of nuclear power, which needs large uranium mines that are hard to rehabilitate and which generates waste that remains dangerous for more than 100,000 years.

In addition, research shows that renewable technologies are expanding very fast and could produce all the energy needs of advanced economies, phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear.

Mudd, who is a lecturer in the department of civil engineering at Monash, has compiled decades of data on the availability and quality of uranium ore. He concludes that, while uranium is plentiful, mining the ore is very damaging to the environment and the landscape.

 It is expensive to rehabilitate former mines, not least because of the dangerous levels of radiation left behind. As a result many of the potential sources of uranium will not be exploited because of opposition from people who live in the area.

‘Too cheap to meter’

His paper examines the history of uranium mining and its wild fluctuations in price. These have little to do with supply, but rather with demand that is badly affected by nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by the political decisions by governments to embark on new nuclear building programmes, or to abandon them.

“Despite the utopian promise of electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, nuclear power remains a minor source of electricity worldwide”, Mudd writes. In 2010 it accounted for 5.65% of total primary energy supply and was responsible for 12.87% of global electricity supply. Both contributions have effectively been declining through the 2000s.

“Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have effectively slowed or stopped the growth of nuclear energy in many Western countries since the 1980s.”

The Fukushima accident in Japan has accelerated the trend away from nuclear power. The growth in projects in some countries, notably China, Russia and India, does not offset the fact that many more nuclear power stations will reach retirement age over the next 15-20 years than will be constructed.

Among the factors Mudd considered in the fluctuation of supply was the conversion of Russian and American nuclear weapons into power station fuel supplying 50% of American needs since the mid-1990s, and 20% of global uranium supply.  This has not materially affected the long-term supply of uranium.

Mining blighted

Another issue that is more politically contentious is the high cost of rehabilitating mines, notably in Germany and the US. In many of the countries where uranium has been mined and no rehabilitation attempted, the prospect of further mining is blighted. Mudd gives the examples of Niger, Gabon, Argentina and Brazil, where there has been considerable public opposition to opening up fresh deposits as a result.

If these resources and other uranium deposits elsewhere in the world are to be exploited, Mudd argues, the issue of rehabilitating existing and future mines needs to be addressed.

“There is a critical need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the success (or otherwise) of global U mine rehabilitation efforts and programmes; such a review could help synthesise best practices and highlight common problems and possible solutions,” he says.

The paper also examines in detail the quality of the ore and the difficulty of extracting uranium from various rocks. Mudd concludes that as time passes the richer ores in the rocks that are easiest to extract are becoming scarce.

As a result, for each pound of uranium extracted more greenhouse gases are generated, adding to the CO2 emissions of nuclear power. However, he believes, in the overall comparisons of various energy systems the increase is only marginal.

“The future of nuclear power clearly remains contested and contentious — and therefore difficult to forecast accurately. While some optimists remain eternally hopeful, reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history.

“Overall, there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power. The actual U supply into the market is, effectively, more an economic and political issue than a resource constraint issue,” Mudd says.


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