Leave it in the ground
I guess it wasn't long in coming: Opposition leader Kim Beazley has announced he wants to overturn the ALP's three mines policy – which limits uranium mining to the three existing mines – and allow a uranium mining free-for-all.
ABC Radio National this morning took the line that he is positioning himself in relation to PM Howard's uranium/nuclear inquiry and push to expand Australia's nuclear industry. There is some possibility to that, but I wonder how much it has to do with Beazely being a WA man – home to huge chunks of Australia's mining industry and uranium interests (you can check figures on deposits on this uranium lobby website).
One thing's for sure: the ALP is in for a fight between its environmentalist types, such as its Shadow Environment spokesperson Anthony Albanese, and those pushing the 'more uranium mining is economic sense' barrow. Responding to arguments that uranium mining is too big an economic bonanza to ignore, anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott says:
"We're like heroin pushers - we say look the guy down the street is selling heroin, I've got to get in and sell mine first," she said. "You don't do immoral things to make money."Greenpeace is also highly critical of Beazley's moves, and argues that despite his protestations that he will not support uranium enrichment or nuclear power, they say that is where he's ultimately heading. Greenpeace campaign manager Danny Kennedy says:
"Nuclear power is not a solution to climate change - it's not a good business to be in and certainly you can't divorce nuclear power from the nuclear weapons industry."There more on the ABC website here. We should not be expanding uranium mining – for reasons I've already outlined. The news there has been a further radiation accident at the Beverley mine, however, strengthens my convictions against increasing mining. The Australian Conservation Foundation reports:
Late last week [around mid July ] around 100 workers were exposed to uranium contaminated drinking water at the site in northern South Australia. In a similar incident in 2004 workers and the wider community were exposed to uranium levels 400 times greater than the legal safety standard at ERA / Rio Tinto's Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu.If we can't manage to keep uranium mining safe now, what makes us believe that we can make it safe tomorrow?
A detailed 2003 Senate Inquiry into uranium mining found "a pattern of underperformance and non-compliance" at mine sites and concluded that urgent changes were necessary in order to protect people and the environment from "serious or irreversible damage."
There are some stunning – in all senses – images of Ranger Uranium mine on this flickr site that I would love to post here if I get permission.
The image above is a badge version of my anti-nuke agit-prop. You are welcome to use under the terms of my Creative Commons license.
[Update: ALP critics of Beazley's back-flip are getting louder; meanwhile, here come the Labor Premiers on the tail of this debate: Northern Territory Chief Minister Claire Martin declares her support for Beazley and increased Uranium mining, WA digs its heels in against new mines, while Queensland's Peter Beattie maintains his "I'm not convinced" of uranium's benefits" stance. I sincerely hope he stays that way, or is convinced that it is a very bad idea! Updated 25 July, 5:20 pm]