Archive for the ‘URANIUM’ Category

Australia’s Aboriginal people stopped a huge uranium mining project

July 18, 2019

Leave it in the ground: stopping the Jabiluka mine, Red Flag Fleur Taylor, 15 July 2019  “…… The election of John Howard in March 1996 marked the end of 13 years of ALP government…..

Australia’s giant mining companies – major backers of the Coalition – got their wish list. Howard immediately abolished Labor’s three mines policy, and the business pages crowed that “25 new uranium mines” were likely and possible. And in October 1997, then environment minister Robert Hill blew the dust off an environmental impact statement from 1979 that said mining at Jabiluka was safe. Approval of the mine quickly followed.

The Jabiluka uranium deposit, just 20 kilometres from the Ranger uranium mine, is one of the richest in the world. The proposal was to build a massively bigger mine than that at Ranger, which would be underground and therefore more dangerous for the workers. It was projected to produce 19 million tonnes of ore over its lifetime, which would be trucked 22 kilometres through World Heritage listed wetlands.

The Liberals hoped to make a point. After all, if you could put a uranium mine in the middle of a national park in the face of Aboriginal opposition, what couldn’t you do?

The fight immediately began. The traditional owners of the area, the Mirarr, were led by senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula and the CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Jacqui Katona. They were supported by anti-nuclear campaigners around the country, most notably Dave Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Foundation, as well as a network of activist groups.

The most important objective was to delay construction of the mine, scheduled to begin in 1998. To do this, the Mirarr called on activists to travel to Jabiluka in order to take part in a blockade of the proposed mine site until the onset of the wet season would make construction impossible.

The blockade was immensely successful. Beginning on 23 March 1998, it continued for eight months, attracted 5,000 protesters and led to 600 arrests at various associated direct actions. Yvonne Margarula was one: she was arrested in May for trespass on her own land after she and two other Aboriginal women entered the Ranger mine site.

The blockade also attracted high-profile environmental and anti-nuclear activists such as Peter Garrett and Bob Brown. This helped signal to activists that this was a serious fight. The sheer length of time the blockade lasted created a fantastic opportunity for the campaign in the cities. Activists were constantly returning from Jabiluka with a renewed determination to fight.

The Jabiluka Action Group was key to building an ongoing city-based campaign in Melbourne, and the campaign was strongest there of any city. It held large – often more than 100-strong – weekly meetings, organised endless relays of buses to the blockade and  took the fight to the bosses and corporations that stood to profit from the mine.

We were determined to map the networks of corporate ownership and power behind the mine. But in the late 1990s, when the internet barely existed, this wasn’t as simple as just looking up a company’s corporate structure on its glossy website. It took serious, time consuming research.

A careful tracing of the linkages of the North Ltd board members showed that they were very well connected – and not one but two of them were members and past chairmen of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) – one of Australia’s leading bosses’ organisations. So our June 1998 protest naturally headed to the Business Council of Australia. We occupied their office, and the two groups of anti-uranium protesters, 3,800 kilometres apart, exchanged messages of solidarity, courtesy of the office phones of the BCA.

We were also staggered to learn that the chairman of a company that owned two uranium mines and was Australia’s biggest exporter of hardwood woodchips was also a member of the Parks Victoria board, the national president of Greening Australia and the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board president!

The EPA, and corporate greenwashing in general, thereby became a target for the campaign. Another target was the Royal Society of Victoria, which made the mistake of inviting Sir Gus Nossal, a famous scientist and longstanding booster for the nuclear industry, to give a dinner address. We surrounded its building, and the organisers, somewhat mystified, cancelled the dinner. This action once again made headline news, helping to keep the issue of the Jabiluka mine in people’s minds.

We held regular protests at the headquarters of North Ltd on Melbourne’s St Kilda Road. On the day that Yvonne Margarula was facing court on her trespass charge, a vigil was held overnight. When we heard she had been found guilty, the protest erupted in fury. Cans of red paint – not water-based – materialised, and the corporate facade of North Ltd received an unscheduled refurbishment. The Herald-Sun went berserk.

The leadership of the Mirarr people gave this campaign a different focus from other environmental campaigns of the time. It was fundamentally about land rights, sovereignty and the right of Aboriginal communities to veto destructive developments on their land. In Melbourne, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation appointed long-time Aboriginal militant and historian Gary Foley as their representative. Gary worked tirelessly to provoke and educate the many activists who turned up wanting to “support” or “do something” for Aboriginal people.

At a time when “reconciliation” was strongly supported by liberals and much of the left, Foley told us that reconciliation was bullshit. He argued native title (supposedly a key achievement of Keating) was “the most inferior form of land title under British law”, and that the ALP was every bit as racist as One Nation – if not worse. He insisted activists must educate themselves about sovereignty and the struggles happening right here, not just those happening 3,800 kilometres away. The way the Jabiluka Action Group activists approached this challenge was an example of how people’s ideas change. Many came into the campaign primarily as environmental activists, but almost all left as committed fighters for Aboriginal rights.

**********

When the blockade wound down at the onset of the wet season, it was an opportunity to fight on some other fronts. Representatives of the UN World Heritage Committee visited Kakadu in late 1998 and issued a declaration that the World Heritage values of the area were in danger. They called on the government to stop the mine. Yvonne Margarula and Jacqui Katona travelled to Paris to speak to the European Commission about the mine.

John Howard, at the time mired in ministerial scandals and resignations, had called an election for September 1998, and there was hope in some quarters that Labor might win and stop the mine. But Howard scraped back in on only 48.3 percent of the vote, and it was clear that the fight on the ground would have to continue.

In the meantime, an important legal loophole had been identified. North Ltd had failed to secure agreement for the Jabiluka ore to be trucked to the Ranger mine for processing. It turned out the Mirarr did have the right to refuse this, and by exercising this right they would increase the cost of the project by $200 million (the cost of building a new processing plant at Jabiluka). This, combined with the ongoing protests, became a huge problem for the company.

Something we enjoyed doing at the time was monitoring North Ltd’s share price. It started out high when the Liberals took power. But after a year of protest and controversy, it had started to sink. The slump world uranium prices were going through didn’t help. But what the share price correlated to most closely was the major protests – it showed a drop after every single one.

Fund managers everywhere had absorbed the simple message that Jabiluka meant trouble, and early in 1999 this formerly prestigious blue-chip mining stock was described as one of the year’s “dog stocks”. Encouraged by this, the campaign launched its most ambitious action to date – the four-day blockade of North Ltd, from Palm Sunday until Easter Thursday 1999. This was the beginning of the end for the mine. In mid-2000, Rio Tinto bought out the struggling North Ltd. With no appetite for a brawl, the new owners quietly mothballed the Jabiluka project, signing a guarantee with the Mirarr to that effect. The campaign had won.

**********

The Jabiluka campaign was one of those rare things – an outright victory. It was a win not just for the Mirarr people, but for every community threatened by a devastating radioactive mine. And it was a win for humanity as a whole, protected from more of this deadly substance. Our chant – “Hey, North, you’re running out of time! You’re never going to get your Jabiluka mine!” – for once came true.

The victory inspired a neighbouring traditional owner, Jeffrey Lee, single-handedly to challenge the development of the Koongarra uranium deposit, resulting in the cancellation of that entire mining lease. In Melbourne and other cities, the Mirarr resistance inspired sustained and creative campaigning from a wide variety of participants – from vegan Wiccans and revolutionary socialists to doof-doof rave organisers and corporate-philanthropist Women for Mirarr Women. The campaign was chaotic and argumentative, but united by a commitment to challenging corporate power and standing up for Aboriginal sovereignty.

It still serves as an inspiration for anti-nuclear and anti-mining campaigns, such as the brave and determined opposition of the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners to the Adani mine. It stands as a great example of how blockades on country can nourish and inspire actions in the cities.  https://redflag.org.au/node/6839

 

Advertisements

BHP’s OLympic Dam Uranium Mine – open slather on water, Aboriginal rights, environment

March 9, 2019

Initial Scoping – Olympic Dam Expansion Issues 22 Feb 2019 David Noonan B.Sc., M.Env.St., Independent Environment Campaigner The BHP Roxby ‘Major Project’ Copper & Uranium Mining Proposal: ‘Olympic Dreams: Major step for $3 billion, 1800-job North mine expansion’ (15 Feb, p.1 promo The Advertiser) as SA Gov. grant’s “Major Project” status to assess BHP’s latest expansion plan, to:

  • Increase copper production from 200,000 tonnes per annum to 350 000 tpa, with an increase in ‘associated products’ – uranium oxide: from 4 000 to approx. 6 000 tpa;
  •   Use the outdated 1982 Roxby Downs Indenture Ratification Act to control this EIS assessment under the Mining Minister, with the Indenture over-riding other SA legislation and subjecting Aboriginal Heritage to a constrained version of a 1979 Act across BHP Olympic Dam operations in the Stuart Shelf Area (covering 1 per cent of SA) – rather than the contemporary standards, process and protections in the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988;
  • Use a since replaced 1993 Development Act and “Major Project” status Sec. 46 (1) that excludes Appeals regarding the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) process and outcomes;
  • Use a ‘one stop shop’ Bilateral Assessment Agreement leaving the SA Gov. to conduct the assessment, including on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES)under the Commonwealth Environment Protection legislation (EPBC Act 1999), on nuclear actions and on the fragile Mound Springs Endangered Ecological Community – reliant on GAB waters;
  • Use the SA Gov. Declaration to “Exclude” existing mining and “enabling activities” up to 200 000 tpa Cu & associated products and resultant impacts from this EIS assessment, “such as: waste treatment, storage and disposal, including but not limited to, Tailings Storage Facility 6, Evaporation Pond 6, additional cells for the contaminated waste disposal facility, and development of a low-level radioactive waste storage facility”;
  • And to increase extraction of Great Artesian Basin fossil water “up to total maximum 50 million litres a day annual average” (above the volumes last assessed in 1997 and set at a max of 42 Ml/day) and give BHP rights to take GAB water – potentially up to 2070, with “any augmented or new water supply pipeline from the GAB along with any other wellfield”;…………. . https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Noonan-Olympic-Dam-Expansion-2019.pdf

At long last – a remediation plan for Ranger Uranium Mine within Kakadu National Park, but will it work?

June 6, 2018

Northern Land Council, 5 June 2018     The Northern Land Council and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation welcome today’s public release of the Ranger Mine Closure Plan by Energy Resources of Australia. The plan is decades overdue and critical to the company meeting the objectives of rehabilitation.

The NLC and GAC, representing the Mirarr Traditional Aboriginal Owners of the mine site, will now review the plan and engage with stakeholders as part of the approval process. While not part of a public environmental impact statement process, the public release of the plan does provide the broader community with an opportunity to comment on the plan to the Australian government.

The Mine Closure Plan is of a very high level and even though Ranger’s closure is imminent, a significant amount of detailed planning and supporting studies remain outstanding. ERA and its parent company Rio Tinto must clearly demonstrate that they have sufficient resources devoted to mine closure to provide stakeholders with confidence that the objectives outlined in the closure plan can be met.

The Ranger plan remains unenforceable until it is approved by the federal Minister for Resources. The mine’s operational life must cease by January 2021, ahead of five years’ rehabilitation. The future of Aboriginal communities downstream of the mine and the World Heritage listed values of Australia’s largest national park are at stake.

ERA and Rio Tinto’s rehabilitation obligations include remediation of the site such that it can be incorporated in the surrounding Kakadu National Park. The final determination as to whether the area can be incorporated into the World Heritage area sits with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, on advice from its expert advisory bodies the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

NLC contact: Martha Tattersall 0427 031 382 GAC contact: Kirsten Blair 0412 853 641

http://gac-v3.katalyst.com.au/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMTgvMDYvMDQvM3plYWpidjJ1al8yMDE4MDQwNl9HQUNfTkxDX3JlX0VSQV9SVU1fTUNQXzVfSnVuZV8yMDE4LnBkZiJdXQ/20180406%20GAC%20NLC%20re%20ERA%20RUM%20MCP%205%20June%202018.pdf

Uncertainty about the clean-up of Ranger uranium mine in Australia’s Northern Territory

June 12, 2017

Environment and Communications Legislation Committee 23/05/2017 Estimates
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO
Clean Energy Regulator

Full Transcript: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=Dataset%3AcomSen,estimate%20Dataset_Phrase%3A%22estimate%22%20CommitteeName_Phrase%3A%22environment%20and%20communications%20legislation%20committee%22%20Questioner_Phrase%3A%22ludlam,%20sen%20scott%22;rec=5;resCount=Default

CHAIR: I welcome the Office of the Supervising Scientist.

Senator LUDLAM: I understand that ERA is in the process of starting to get on with closing the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu and have notified stakeholders—presumably including yourselves—that they are intending to vary the way that they are depositing the tailings back into pit 3, and that they are proposing to change from an aerial tailings deposition to subaqueous deposition. For the non-specialists, could you describe maybe in plain English the difference in technique they are proposing.

Mr Tayler : The previous tailings deposition methodology had tailings being dredged from the tailings dam and tailings coming from the mill being deposited onto a beach, essentially. The new methodology that ERA is proposing involves depositing tailings through water; hence the subaqueous versus subaerial. Essentially, it was being put onto a tailings beach; the new method will be depositing it through the water column itself.

Senator LUDLAM: Is the decommissioning of the mine being treated as a nuclear action under the EPBC Act?

Mr Tayler : No.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you describe for us why not?

Mr Tayler : I would prefer that questions specific to the EPBC Act were directed to the Environmental Standards Division, or we could take it on notice if that is okay.

Senator LUDLAM: I think that is fair enough. If you can take it on notice, but I guess the answer is not going to come from you, is it? I think we have already let these people go.

Mr Tayler : Yes, it is a legal point, and I would not want to comment on that in case I got it wrong.

Senator LUDLAM: That is fine. I understand there is an interception trench, which intersects the saline plume coming out from under the tailings storage facility. We have been asking your predecessors in this office for years about this. My understanding is that ERA is currently monitoring that plume of saline water. There is a certain amount of dewatering that is being done. How long is it expected that monitoring and dewatering operations would continue beyond 2020?

Mr Tayler : In relation to the seepage—

Senator LUDLAM: In 2026, I beg your pardon. In relation to the monitoring of that saline plume and the dewatering.

Mr Tayler : Specifically related to the tailings dam?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes.

Mr Tayler : That is not information that we currently have. It is on ERA’s work program to conduct some detailed groundwater modelling of the TSF footprint. The TSF will not be decommissioned for several years yet, so I could not give you a specific answer to that question at this time.

Senator LUDLAM: When is the expected decommissioning date for the tailings storage facility?

Mr Tayler : I would have to take that on notice for the exact date. I believe it was towards the end of the rehabilitation process, which would put it in the 2024-25 period, but I will confirm that for you.

Senator LUDLAM: I will tell you what the purpose of these questions is: we have a plume of saline water that ERA was a bit reluctant to concede even existed, seeping out from under the dam, carrying goodness knows what other processed chemicals and radionuclides and whatever with it. We have the company with interception trenches, possibly bores, trying to get a sense of how much water is falling out the bottom of the TSF. We have an interception trench which is allowing them to remove some of that water and presumably process it and clean it up. That is a very active process of maintenance. How long is it anticipated to last?

Mr Tayler : Yes, I understand the question. At this stage, I do not have sufficient information to answer that question.

Senator LUDLAM: In terms of a yes/no. Is that because you do not have it at the table or you do not think that knowledge exists at this time?

Mr Tayler : I do not think that knowledge exists at this time. We need ERA to complete some proposed groundwater modelling. That will model the movement of that plume. That will give some indication of how long that plume will take to move, how long it will take to dilute and what management, if any management, will be required. That work has not yet been undertaken.

Senator LUDLAM: It is 2017. How does the ERA not know that already? I have been asking about this for about eight years, and this was an issue way before I came along.

Mr Tayler : Operationally, I think the issue has been quite well managed. We can provide an update on that if that would be helpful. From a long-term closure sense, the focus has been on looking at the groundwater impacts from the pits. Further work is still required on quantifying exactly what is beneath the TSF and what that may look like in the future.

Senator LUDLAM: So they still do not really know what is coming out from underneath the dam?

Mr Tayler : In an operational sense, we know very well exactly what is moving now. How that will behave over the long term into the future is not yet quantified.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you provide us with an estimate of how much water is seeping out from under the TSF every year? We have had order of magnitude estimates going back a couple of years.

Mr Tayler : For the whole dam? I would have to take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. What I am trying to find out is whether that process is still going to be underway beyond 2026 or if it is within the company’s work plan that it is all well and truly done.

Australia: nuclear law to avoid legal challenges quietly passed by Liberal and Lanor

November 30, 2016

Tweedle-Nuclear

Major parties push a losing uranium sector to India at great risk http://www.smh.com.au/comment/major-parties-push-a-losing-uranium-sector-to-india-at-great-risk-20161128-gszld4.html  Dave Sweeney , 29 Nov 16 

With little fuss or fanfare, Australia’s two major parties have this week agreed to fly under the radioactive radar and pass an innocuous enough sounding law with some very far reaching implications.

The Indian Civil Nuclear Transfers Act exists to provide “certainty to Australian uranium producers” who want to sell the controversial product to India.

In 2015 a detailed investigation by Parliament’s treaties committee found there were serious and unresolved nuclear safety, security and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. It also found a high level of legal uncertainty.

Expert witnesses including Australian National University Professor of International Law Don Rothwell and former senior DFAT officer John Carlson also highlighted that the plan was in conflict with both Australian domestic law and existing international treaty provisions, most notably the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty.

Given the severity of the inconsistencies and the significance of the issues involved, the government-controlled treaties committee took the unusual step of voting against the clear direction of the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister – and the political run of play – and recommended that the Indian sales deal not be advanced unless these outstanding issues were addressed.

This decision was welcomed by many. But not by Julie Bishop. A terse response to a measured and bipartisan report said the government was “satisfied” that steps had been taken to address each condition, and did not agree that exports to India should be deferred.

The commercial interests of an underperforming industrial sector were given priority above parliamentary process and evidence-based, prudent public policy.

But this favouritism was not enough to paper the deep cracks in this dangerous plan, and now the government has moved to rush through the new laws to close the door on legal challenge and scrutiny.

The declared intent of the new law is to protect uranium mining companies in Australia from domestic legal action that challenges the consistency of the safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency in India and Australia’s international non-proliferation obligations. It will also protect any future bilateral trade in other nuclear-related material or items for civil use.

A recent truncated review of the new law said the bill “provides the certainty required to give effect to the Australia-India Agreement”.

So Australian uranium miners, who supplied the product that directly fuelled Fukushima, are now to be legally covered from any challenge over a highly contested plan to sell to India.

This move highlights the extent and the risks of the federal government’s preoccupation with ending civil society access to legal recourse. Further, fast-tracking legal favours to provide industry certainty simply highlights how profoundly uncertain this industry is.

Following Fukushima, the global uranium market has crashed, as has the value of uranium stocks. Uranium operations are on hold; extended care and maintenance are well behind planning schedules, and prices, profits and employment numbers have gone south.

IBIS World’s March 2015 market report said only 987 people are employed in Australia’s uranium industry. Few jobs and dollars, considerable damage at home and escalating risk abroad.

The fragile economics of the uranium sector make it understandable that the industry is pushing for every potential market but fail to explain why our federal government is so intent on trying to pick winners with a sector that is clearly losing. Sadly, and unreasonably, the India uranium deal has become seen as a litmus test for bilateral relations.

Talk of a massive surge in exports is fanciful, and promoting Australian uranium as the answer to Indian energy poverty is more convenient than credible. Political proponents of the trade are driven less by substance than style – the symbolism of Australia and India on the same page and open for business.

In a telling reference, the recent review of the new law highlighted the importance of the “foreign policy backdrop to Australia’s nuclear trade with India”.

Sending political signals through trade is not unusual, but to do so by ignoring substantive warning signals is unwise. When those warnings and that trade relate to nuclear materials, it is deeply irresponsible.

Buttressing flawed trade deals with bolt-on legislative exemptions is poor policy and practice. This law may be civil by name, but it is desperately uncivil in nature.

All trades have trade-offs but this one risks far too much.

Dave Sweeney is a nuclear free campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Australian uranium miner with Russian funding, set to increase radioactive pollution in Karoo, South Africa

January 19, 2016

dust from mining

Already today, the environment around Beaufort West is contaminated close to the previous mine sites. First field studies by the author show unprotected nuclear wastes with 10 to 20 times the background radiation.

Dust and Radiation – Two Deadly Impacts…… a particular direct relationship between occupational exposure to uranium and its decay products and lung diseases.Mining uranium ore in the Karoo will invariably create huge plumes of contaminated dust. Dust clouds are unavoidable during drilling, blasting and transporting.

Dust suppression by spraying water is only partially effective and creates new problems with contaminated slimes, adding to the environmental cost of groundwater abstraction

Uranium Mining Threatens the Karoo, Karoo Space, 18 Jan 16  By Dr Stefan Cramer  [Excellent] Images sourced by Dr Stefan Cramer Just as the threat of fracking seemed to recede in the Karoo, the danger of uranium mining has arisen – and it is even more frightening and more likely than shale gas extraction.

The Karoo has long been known to harbour substantial sedimentary uranium deposits. Now an Australian company [Peninsula Energy , through it’s wholly owned subsidiary Tasman Pacific Minerals Limited] with Russian funding is planning to get the radioactive mineral out of the ground on a major scale.

The company has quietly accumulated over 750 000 hectares of Karoo properties and concessions around Beaufort West and plans to set up a large Central Processing Plant just outside that town.

While the nation is still debating the pros and cons of fracking, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as the precursor to mining licences is nearing finalisation. During 2016 the Department of Mineral Resources will make a decision on the industry’s application……….

extensive studies on the risks of uranium mining over many decades are available today….yet so far there is no public debateno strategic assessment process in place in the Karoo.No advocacy groups balance the glossy claims of the industry against sobering experiences on the ground…..

According to its documents, Tasman RSA Mines today controls exclusive prospecting rights over more than 750 000 hectares in a circle of nearly 200 kilometres around Beaufort West.

About 32 000 hectares are directly owned under freehold by the company. Local farmers find it hard to resist purchase offers, as farming in this part of the Karoo is particularly difficult due to low rainfall and poor soils.

Unlike in fracking, farms are permanently damaged by uranium opencast mining………

So far the company has not indicated whether they would use in-situ-leaching’, a particularly dangerous but low-cost method. Here, large quantities of leaching agent are injected underground. The uranium is dissolved and recovered in well fields……

Already today, the environment around Beaufort West is contaminated close to the previous mine sites. First field studies by the author show unprotected nuclear wastes with 10 to 20 times the background radiation.

Dust and Radiation – Two Deadly Impacts

The devastating impacts of uranium mining on people, especially the mine workers, and the environment have been well research and documented. Several studies of large number of cases and with exposure over many years (Wismut AG in the former East Germany, theColorado-Plateau in the USA, and Saskatchewan in Canada, have established  particular direct relationship between occupational exposure to uranium and its decay products and lung diseases.

Mining uranium ore in the Karoo will invariably create huge plumes of contaminated dust. Dust clouds are unavoidable during drilling, blasting and transporting.

Dust suppression by spraying water is only partially effective and creates new problems with contaminated slimes, adding to the environmental cost of groundwater abstraction……..http://karoospace.co.za/uranium-mining-threatens-the-karoo/

 

Want a massive radioactive trash pile? Try BHP’s Olympic Dam uranium mine

November 19, 2015

Map-Aust-Olympic-Dam

Dennis Matthews, 19 Nov 15, In the 1980’s we were repeatedly told not to worry about uranium mining at Roxby, that Roxby was a copper mine and that uranium was incidental. Now we are being told that Roxby has the world’s largest deposit of uranium.

Despite strong public opposition, mining at Roxby got the nod from politicians. Soon radioactive water started leaking through the un-sealed base of the tailings dam, and now BHP is building an ever-expanding man-made stockpile of radioactive waste.

Paul Starick (The Advertiser, 13/11/15) downplays the fact that we have a nuclear reactor, stating that Australia has no nuclear power reactor, a distinction that has little to do with the issue. Using the “nuclear medicine” mantra, Starick downplays the main role of a nuclear waste dump, namely to deal with highly radioactive waste from Australia’s nuclear reactor, which will open the door to international waste.

The small amounts of relatively benign low-level waste being safely stored in institutions around Australia is trivial compared to BHP’s massive stockpiles of waste at Roxby and Australia’s nuclear reactor waste.

Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) advises against uranium sales to India: more security needed

September 9, 2015
India-uranium1India uranium red-light a test for Tony Abbott, SBS News, 8 Sept 15, While Prime Minister Abbott and Foreign Minister Bishop have been strong supporters of selling Australian uranium to India, many others, including key Australian diplomats and insiders, remain far more circumspect. By  Dave Sweeney
  The plan has drawn sustained opposition and concern, most recently from the federal Parliament’s influential Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), which has unambiguously stated that much more work is required before any Australian uranium makes a passage to India.

The JSCOT report followed a detailed examination and expert testimony and states that while the federal government can ratify the deal it must not advance uranium sales or supply to India before key checks and balances are put into practice and proven to work.

In short, the committee charged with advising the government on Indian uranium sales has reached the unambiguous conclusion that the government can sign but not sell.

The question now is whether the Abbott government will follow due parliamentary process and act in the public interest or will it ignore these concerns and JSCOT’s advice and seek to fast-track the agenda of the under-performing uranium sector?

When Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed a uranium deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in September 2014, he praised India’s “absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record”. Yet India’s record on nuclear proliferation tells another story. India acquired its nuclear arsenal by breaking a promise not to use a Canadian reactor for military purposes. It remains outside the globe’s key non-proliferation frameworks and the region remains on nuclear high alert amid tensions with nuclear rival Pakistan.

Instead of addressing real questions about India’s nuclear weapons program and inadequate nuclear safety standards Mr Abbott resorted to cricketing clichés, declaring that Australia and India trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards because of “the fundamentally ethical principle that every cricketer is supposed to assimilate – play by the rules and accept the umpire’s decision”.

The JSCOT process received strongly critical submissions from a who’s who of nuclear arms control diplomats and experts including John Carlson (former long serving Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office from 1989 to 2010), Ron Walker (former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Prof. Lawrence Scheinman (former Assistant Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency). These are veteran players in global nuclear diplomatic and regulatory regimes, not anti-nuclear activists.

Nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere noted that “this treaty appears less like the deepening of a bilateral partnership and more like one of a client state being dictated to in an expanded Indian empire. It is a major display of weakness on the part of the Australian Government, and a failure to stand up for Australia’s national interests in this area”.

8 SEP 201…….As it currently stands, the government has inked an agreement that puts absolutely no constraints on India’s nuclear weapons program, fails to advance non-proliferation outcomes and doesn’t even provide effective scrutiny of Australian uranium.

One thing we can all agree on is that Australia has a key role to play in supporting India’s legitimate energy aspirations, but this cannot be advanced by a retreat from responsibility on nuclear safeguards and security. The government must read and heed the JSCOT report and Australia’s uranium must remain away from India’s nuclear reactors and weapons – to do otherwise would be profoundly irresponsible.

JSCOT has just clean bowled this dangerous and deeply deficient sales plan. Mr Abbott must now heed his own words, “accept the umpire’s decision” and start the long walk back to pavilion for a serious re-think. http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/09/08/comment-india-uranium-red-light-test-tony-abbott

Australia’s uranium mining companies leave a toxic trail in Africa

July 12, 2015

[Paladin’s] Langer Heinrich Uranium mine[Namibia] … 

Craton Mining and Exploration [copper] is a subsidiary of Australian-based International Base Metals…..

Rio Tinto owns Rössing Uranium Mine…

[Australian] Deep Yellow Limited (DYL)  the Aussinanis uranium project.

Aussies in toxic trail By Shinovene Immanuel, Ndanki Kahiurika 10 July 15  http://www.namibian.com.na/indexx.php?id=28936&page_type=story_detail&category_id=1#sthash.TJSxEgQV.P3bN2nwk.uxfs&st_refDomain=blogs.icerocket.com&st_refQuery=/search?tab=buzz&fr=h&q=uranium+Australia      NAMIBIA, a mining frontier for decades, continues to struggle with mining companies which subject workers to dangerous working conditions.

Among the alleged culprits are Australian multinationals. Well-established Australian companies face allegations of treating Namibian workers differently by subjecting workers to health risks which would be deemed unacceptable back home.An International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) investigation, in collaboration with The Namibian, found that Australian mining companies have been implicated in instances of death, disfigurement, and the displacement of people across Africa. They have also been responsible for environmental destruction.That mining in Africa provokes controversy, even violence, is not new. Chinese companies receive regular criticism. Canada, too, has been forced to confront allegations of violence and even slavery linked to its mining companies.

The ICIJ investigation looked at Australia’s increasing role in exploring and developing mining projects on the African continent because it has been less examined.

TROUBLING

What ICIJ uncovered and pieced together suggests a troubling track record on the part of Australian companies in the rush for Africa’s minerals, including practices that would be impermissible, even unthinkable, in Australia and other parts of the developed world. 

ICIJ found that, at the end of 2014, there were more than 150 Australian-listed active mining companies with recorded properties in Africa. Other estimates, using different criteria, put the number even higher.

Australian companies have 49 mining licences in Namibia; two of those companies are operational.

Even though Australian firms run successful mining companies which contribute to Namibia’s economy and workplace conditions have improved compared to two decades ago, there are still questions about the safety of workers.

Thousands of people, including village chiefs, former employees, human rights defenders and government agencies across Africa have taken Australian companies, their subsidiaries and their contractors to court for alleged negligence, unfair dismissal and eviction or pollution, according to court submissions and judgements unearthed from more than a dozen countries.

LANGER HEINRICH

Examples include Langer Heinrich Uranium mine, which was investigated in 2013 after a leading trade union, the Mine Workers Union (MUN), called for a probe into claims that pregnant employees were required to work in radiation-exposed areas.

The Langer Heinrich is owned by Paladin Energy. The Chinese state-owned nuclear firm bought shares in the company last year.

Workers’ concerns centre on the safety and health of expectant mothers and the conditions under which they work. According to them, there were cases of women going into premature labour, pregnant mothers having to travel long distances, as well as the alleged disregard of orders issued by doctors.

Even though the medical records of three women who lost unborn babies concluded that two were abortions, a recent report by the office of the Prime Minister also pointed fingers at the Australian mine.

The Prime Minister’s report, obtained last month, said there is a lack of safety at Langer Heinrich and that the workers are not aware of policies, rules and procedures as outlined in the radiation management plan.

It was also found that the company has been tardy when it comes to submitting reports to government. The 2011 annual report was submitted only in April 2013 and the 2012 exposure result provided in July 2013.

The 2011 dose results reviewed by the investigators found some discrepancies that needed to be explained.

“By implication, if it becomes known that a female worker is expecting, the working conditions must be adapted to avoid occupational exposure to ensure that the annual dose remains below ,” said the report.

The report also said that there is minimal information exchange with the workers and their representatives.

According to the investigators, the mine should have a radiation safety officer and assistant dedicated to radiation-related work only. They should be assisted by an appropriate number of assistants based on the work load and the extent of the activities related to radiation safety.

“This is a matter of concern which must be addressed with urgency,” the report said.

Spokesperson of the company Ratonda Katjivikua said the alleged “lack of safety culture” cited in the report mainly related to policies, rules and procedures concerning radiation management, while the section on general safety makes it clear that safety should be the concern of all involved – individual employees, their immediate supervisors, the company, trade unions and indeed the regulatory authorities.She said LHU started a voluntary onsite pregnancy testing programme.LHU said a radiation monitoring programme has been operating for some time to determine radiation characteristics around the mine site.

“This monitoring programme also generates data for the annual radiation report, enabling LHU to meet its reporting obligations in a timely manner,” she said.

CRATON MINING
Exploration company Craton Mining and Exploration is a subsidiary of Australian-based International Base Metals. Last year, Craton received a 20-year mining licence to explore the proposed Mitiomire copper mine 140km north-east of Namibia’s capital city Windhoek.

Daily newspaper Namibian Sun reported in 2013 that farmers living close to the mine accused the company of not consulting them over the environmental risks of the project.

Craton Mining’s country representative Karl Hartmann said they held public meetings about the project at which farmers made suggestions on mitigating the social and environmental impacts to their community.

“These suggestions have been considered and many of these have been incorporated into the development and planning of the project as well as the updated social and environmental impact assessment,” he said.

Hartmann said the proposed mining methods have a relatively low impact on the environment and, together with mitigating measures, the aim is to minimise the effect on the daily lives of the local community.

RÖSSING

Rio Tinto owns Rössing Uranium Mine. An investigation found that some employees who worked at Rössing in the 1970s are dying of cancer.

This is included in a report released last year by Earthlife Namibia and the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRi). It said ex-Rössing miners who dug uranium ore to supply raw material for bombs and civil nuclear power to the British and US military in the 1970s are reported to be dying of cancer and unexplained illnesses.

“These workers started working in the mine in the 70s and early 80s when safety conditions were non-existent or very poor,” the report said. The researchers recommended a large-scale epidemiology study by independent medical experts to examine workers who started working in the 1970s or early 1980s.

The Namibian government holds a 3% stake in the mine, which produces around 7% of the world’s uranium. The Iranian government has a 15% shareholding.

A year after that report, Earthlife Namibia said Rössing had not allowed them to inspect the mine as requested. “We tried a couple of times but they did not want,” said Bertchen Kohrs, the director of Earthlife Namibia. Instead, they were referred to another ministry for an environmental assessment of the mine, she said.

Rössing managing director Werner Duvenhage said they commissioned a study to understand the potential impact, if any, of occupational radiation exposure at the mine on workers’ health by using their medical and radiation exposure records that date back to when mining operations began.

“The process of identifying a suitable external service provider with the required credentials for the execution of the study started early this year and the University of Manchester has been identified as the provider to conduct this epidemiological study which is expected to be completed in 2016,” he said.

Duvenhage said safety remains their priority.

“Our goal remains zero harm- the solid establishment and maintenance of an illness and injury-free workplace, where everyone goes home safely each day,” he said.

NOMADS THREATENED

Australian company Deep Yellow Limited (DYL) has been in the news for environment – related concerns in their development of the Aussinanis uranium project.

The deposit is about five kilometres from the Gobabeb research centre, and about one kilometre from the Topnaar village. The Topnaars, located on the fringes of the Namib Desert, are one of the oldest Namibian tribes. The area also accommodates a research and conservation centre, Gobabeb.

Environmentalists fear that constructing a mine in the area will affect the centre as well as conservation in the Namib Naukluft Park – the largest nature reserve in Namibia, spanning an area larger than Switzerland.

Since 1997 Gobabeb has been a regional centre of promoting management of natural resources in arid environments.

DYL’s operations in Namibia are run by a subsidiary, Reptile Uranium Namibia. Its country manager, Peter Christian, insisted that any possible future mine development at Aussinanis will have to undergo environmental scrutiny.

He said the community was consulted prior to exploration. “Relations with both Gobabeb and the Topnaar community remains amiable and transparent,” he said.

NUMBERS

According to accessible records, more than 380 people have died in on-site accidents or off-site skirmishes linked to Australian Securities Exchange-listed mining companies since the beginning of 2004.

ICIJ included people killed away from mine sites in incidents, protests and military interventions linked to these companies, even in cases where companies deny liability.

“Mining is a risky and dangerous business, but in Australia we have the protection of trade unions and robust laws to prevent the risk of fatalities, violence and conflict,” says Serena Lilywhite, mining advocacy coordinator at Oxfam Australia. “This is not the case in many African countries.”

Exact comparisons are difficult. Factors such as the type of mineral produced and the level of mechanisation in different countries influence fatality numbers.

The mining industry has treated the continents very differently. Starting salaries for Australian mine workers is around US$60 000 (N$750 000), while the median minimum mining wage in South Africa, the best-paid jurisdiction on the continent, is about US$5 500 (N$68 000).
This story is part of the series by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The article is also supported by African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting. – See more at:http://www.namibian.com.na/indexx.php?id=28936&page_type=story_detail&category_id=1#sthash.TJSxEgQV.P3bN2nwk.uxfs&st_refDomain=blogs.icerocket.com&st_refQuery=/search?tab=buzz&fr=h&q=uranium+Australia

Many decades to cleanup Ranger uranium mine. Taxpayers to cop these costs?

July 1, 2015

as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

Ranger-pitERA faces closure after uranium miner’s expansion plans shelved by Rio Tinto, ABC News, 30 June 15  By business reporter Stephen Letts Sorry history, uncertain environmental legacy Apart from the discharge of a million litres of radioactive slurry in 2013, Ranger has a sorry history of accidents with more than 200 environmental incidents being reported to government agencies since 1979.

Just how much Ranger’s clean-up will cost is open to question. Under existing legislation, once the lease expires early in 2021, ERA has five years to complete the rehabilitation program.

Gavin Mudd, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University with a long standing interest in Ranger, argues there are problems calculating the final cost as it depends on a number of choices, including how long is an adequate period of monitoring radioactivity levels.

The level of radioactivity around the site is unlikely to be safe any time soon given the half-life of uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. The half-lives of other principal radioactive components of mill tailings, thorium-230 and radium-226, are shorter at about 75,000 years and 1,600 years respectively, but it’s a rather academic distinction.

Currently there is not a stipulated period for monitoring levels of radiation at the site once the rehabilitation is completed. However, Dr Mudd said a monitoring program should be run over decades rather than years.

“Fifty years would be a good start,” he said.

“The $500 million is the basic truck and shovel number, just the earthworks part of the rehabilitation.

“Sufficient money needs to be put in a fund that will pay for on-going monitoring and I haven’t seen that done yet.”

That leaves a big question mark over what will happen if ERA runs out of cash according to Dr Mudd.

“If ERA ran out of money before the rehab was finished and went bankrupt, who picks ups the tab?” he asked. Dr Mudd argues that the existing rehabilitation fund has always been a small fraction of the total cost, because ERA maintained it was a profitable company and could cover the costs.

The mounting losses and depressed prices bring that argument into question.

Dr Mudd said, as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

“A lot of the day-to-day regulatory stuff is handled by the

Northern Territory Government, so it’s difficult to say where the liability lies (if ERA was bankrupt),” Dr Mudd noted.

“I’d much rather have cash in a trust to cover it, rather than have taxpayers potentially foot the bill,” he said.

If there has been one constant at Ranger, Dr Mudd said it has been that ERA has failed to invest in good processes as decisions were constantly delayed “waiting for the next big thing”.

“A new water treatment plant would have only cost $10 to 15 million back in 2002,” Dr Mudd said.

“The cost of mine closures, clean-ups and retrofitting other technology since then is probably more than a billion dollars.”

“Mining stopped in Pit 1 back in 1994, but has only now been finally closed, about two decades later.”

Traditional owners demand ‘comprehensive clean up plan’

The traditional owners – the Mirrar people – are reluctant to discuss Ranger’s closure, apart from issuing a statement welcoming the decision.

“As things stand today we will not support any extended term of mining at Ranger beyond 2021,” the statement said.

“We take this position because of our experience of 30 years of environmental and cultural impacts at Ranger.

“We need to see a concrete and comprehensive commitment and plan for the clean up of Kakadu; that commitment and planning needs to start today.”……..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-30/era-faces-closure-after-expansion-plans-shelved/6584040