2015 – Nuclear Free Australia: highs, lows and observations

Sweeney, Dave 1

Dave Sweeney, 24 Dec 15 


·         Uranium: the sector remains actively contested and deeply under-performing. Production rates, company value and exploration expenditure are all down. In WA no new uranium mines have been fully approved, in Qld the state prohibition on uranium mining was restored and Rio Tinto advised subsidiary ERA that it would not finance further mining at Ranger – a major step towards the end of uranium mining in Kakadu.


·         Politics and policy: Against the run of play the cross party Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommended no uranium sales to India at this time or under the terms of the current Agreement. WA Labor reaffirmed a strong anti-uranium policy, Queensland Labor were returned to office and shut the door on uranium mining while federal Labor’s national conference saw moves to weaken policy on domestic nuclear power and international nuclear waste headed off. The Australian Greens kept the industry under active scrutiny through public profile and effective Parliamentary action.


·         Indigenous collaboration: The nuclear free movement’s foundation platform of green-black cooperation continued and grew through a series of initiatives. The Walkatjurra Walkabout linked communities and country in the West, there was extensive regional outreach in South Australia – especially in response to the state nuclear Royal Commission and Adnyamathanha positioning on radioactive waste, public recognition saw Karina and Rose Lester share the SA Conservation Council’s Jill Hudson prize while Jack Green received ACF’s Rawlinson award for his work highlighting the impacts of the Macarthur River mine, the Mirarr people’s sustained resistance was heard loud and clear by Rio Tinto and continues to inspire, Aboriginal presenters took their stories to global forums and there was a powerful and positive Australian Nuclear Free Alliance national gathering in Quorn.


·         Radioactive waste: the revised federal approach acknowledges the principle of community consent and keeps the door open to consider other management options. There is clear community concern/opposition at each of the six sites currently under consideration for a national facility. Reprocessed spent nuclear fuel waste was returned and is now in storage at ANSTO – without major incident or calls for it to be moved ‘out bush’. Information materials and outreach sessions have gone widely.


·         International connections: the year saw strong and growing global connections and included active engagement in the US walk and other activities based around the NPT Review, the World Uranium Symposium in Quebec and subsequent Canadian nuclear communities road trip, ICAN’s extensive international work and forums in Taiwan, Europe, Japan and the Nuclearisation of Africa gathering in Johannesburg.



·         South Australian nuclear Royal Commission: with a surprise announcement in February this initiative has opened the door to all sorts of unfounded and unhelpful pro-nuclear talk. There is a clear need for industry review, but not framed around industry expansion. At best it is a dangerous distraction from the real energy challenges we face – in practise it is a cause for massive community stress and a platform for the promotion of domestic nuclear power and the toxic Trojan horse of international high level radioactive waste dumping.


·         Indian uranium sales: despite a unanimous JSCOT recommendation against any sales at this time due to severe and unresolved safety and security concerns the federal government moved swiftly into override mode with Andrew Robb and Julie Bishop fast-tracking a deal. This dismissal of Parliamentary process and evidence based policy is a shameful retreat from any pretence at nuclear responsibility.


·         Resource curse: Generally this refers to the situation where nations with extensive natural resources find these a constraint rather than an aid to equitable development. In relation to the Australian nuclear free movement it more relates to the fact that we swear and gnash teeth over how little cash and resources we have to cover so many issues. Our movement’s appetite, vision and ideas are not matched by our capacity. That we do so much so well is a profound tribute to people’s passion, smarts, tenacity and generosity – but this planetary benefit for all comes at a personal cost to many.


·         Lack of evidence based assessment: Still no review of the Australian uranium sector post Fukushima as requested by the UN Secretary General, incomplete project applications routinely accepted for fast tracked assessment by state agencies while the federal government talks ‘one stop shop’, no public release of long overdue accident and incidence assessments, JSCOT’s India concerns overridden, absurd and unsubstantiated industry claims re economic benefits and the prospects for future nuclear power accepted and rehashed by politicians and commentators, critics misrepresented or derided as emotional or ill-informed – the nuclear industry’s tiresome pattern continues……



Looking ahead:

2016 is shaping up as a very significant year. A federal election always provides colour and movement along with opportunity and threat. Against this backdrop some of our key work will include:


·         SA Royal Commission: the Commission’s interim report is expected on February 15 with a final report by May 6. It is likely that this will be largely supportive of nuclear expansion plans with a chorus line of industry boosters. We need to prepare for a media blitz and ensure there is public contest, support those communities – especially Aboriginal people – most directly affected, and buttress federal Labor’s opposition to domestic nuclear power and international nuclear waste.


·         National radioactive waste: the community comment period around the six current sites closes on March 11 (Fukushima’s fifth anniversary). We will continue to support affected communities and provide information and access to resources – including the film Containment.  We need to keep finding ways to advance the long standing civil society call for a detailed, public and independent review of responsible waste management options.


·         Uranium: maintain pressure to help ensure ERA transitions from creating to cleaning radioactive mine mess in Kakadu, hold the line against any full project approvals in WA ahead of the March 2017 state election by taking this story from Cottesloe to Canada, track heap leaching plans at Olympic Dam and support calls for action on BHP’s failings in Brazil.


·         Federal election/policy: ensure no nuclear policy retreats and oppose moves to fast-track state and federal project approvals through changes to environmental laws and the ‘one stop shop’ At election time we need to remind all politicians that no one has a mandate to radiate.


·         Lest we forget: 2016 is a big anniversary year – 5 years since the Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima crisis, 30 years since Chernobyl and 60 years since the creation of the flawed International Atomic Energy Agency. All provide opportunities to reflect and revisit.


·         Braid the pieces and tell the story:  join the dots nationally and internationally about how Australian uranium drives local damage and division and fuels global insecurity in the form of risky reactors, nuclear weapons and forever wastes.


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