By Dave Sweeney and Mia Pepper, 17 Feb 14 When we think of National Parks in Australia we generally think of places of renewal and natural beauty where we can take the whole family to recharge and reconnect with nature – places that draw international visitors to our shores looking for a taste of the wild places that have made our state famous.
Yet Western Australia’s largest National Park is current in the cross hairs of a Canadian company for a large scale uranium mining project. Right now the Canadian mining company Cameco is proposing to mine uranium in the Pilbara at Kintyre, in an area that has been excised from WA’s biggest National Park – Karlamilyi (Rudall River).
The area that contains the Kintyre uranium deposit is one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the country, including the fate 28 endangered, vulnerable and priority species. The proposed mine site is nestled between two branches of the Yandagoodge creek, which feeds springs and lake systems throughout Karlamilyi National Park and provides water for the communities of Punmu and Parnngurr.
On top of the question of the appropriateness of placing a uranium mine in an area well recognised for its unique and fragile environmental assets, the equation becomes even more fraught when the track record of the proponent – Cameco Resources – is given closer inspection.
Cameco’s track record overseas raises disturbing questions about the risks and potential impacts on this fragile desert ecosystem and the adequacy of the state systems that are meant to protect the people and the place. Cameco’s operating uranium mines in Canada have been dogged by leaks, floods, contamination and unsafe work environments.
Cameco has been through court over license breaches in the US, has been investigated for tax avoidance in Switzerland and has had Chinese companies turn back their leaking uranium shipments. Community division, lowering house values,community court actions and secret deals with the US military are all things that feature in reports about Cameco.
The company is also currently embroiled in a court action with the Canada Revenue Agency, which is seeking millions in unpaid tax between 2007 and 2013. Which all begs the question – is this the kind of corporate track record to which we should be willing to open up our National Parks?
Karlamilyi National Park should not be the testing ground to see if this company can operate safely or treat communities with respect without creating division.
Despite industry assurances and government promises the Australian uranium sector has a sorry track record of failed uranium mines, with leaks, spills and license breaches from exploration projects at Wiluna and Yeelirrie in WA to operating mines at Ranger in the NT and Olympic Dam in SA.
In fact there has never been single uranium mine rehabilitated successfully in Australia – Rum Jungle, Nabarlek, Mary Kathleen and more are all names associated with unresolved radioactive or acid mine drainage legacies.
Giving a blank cheque to a foreign company to operate a dirty mine in one of WA’s most special places is not smart politics or policy. It is a short term trade that would see a long term loss and an uncapped liability on the State and its tax-payers.
We all know from past experience both here and overseas that mining uranium is a risky business. Between the processing acids, heavy metals, radon gas, dust and radioactive mine waste there is a lot that can go wrong. This is sector facing strong opposition internationally with nuclear shut downs in Germany and Japan after the Fukushima disaster – a catastrophic natural and nuclear disaster fuelled by Australian uranium.
When you put this contaminated cocktail next to a National Park that is home to a network of ephemeral rivers and numerous endangered, vulnerable and priorityspecies then the stakes get even higher. WA can – and must – do better than this.
Dave Sweeney is the Nuclear Free Campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation. Mia Pepper is the Nuclear Free Campaigner at the Conservation Council of WA.
A major study by the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, affiliated with the University of Western Australia, looked at the extent of sun exposure among workers in a cross-section of industries.
The research found that overall, more than one-third of male workers but just eight per cent of female workers – two million people in Australia – were exposed to solar radiation at work.
The workers at particular risk of skin cancer were farmers, trades and construction workers and drivers…..https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox?compose=143ff06c388d6238
Just a quick update on Toro – they released their quarterly report yesterday – revealling the estimated start up costs of the Wiluna project has jumped $47 million. With a slump in the uranium price, lack of new investments in mining, and a $47 million cost blow out before they’ve even got final approval does not bode well… http://www.businessnews.com.au/article/Toro-reveals-Wiluna-cost-increase?utm_source=Business+News+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=75e9eadd22-dba&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e5391356e5-75e9ead
Cabinet Papers 1986-87: The struggle for indigenous land rights, SMH, Damien Murphy, 28 Dec 13, The Hawke Government continued to grapple with the sensitive issue of indigenous land rights. In March 1986 Aboriginal Affairs Minister Clyde Holding told Cabinet that NSW, Queensland and South Australia had enacted legislation and Victoria was preparing to do so, but that Tasmania and Western Australia rejected the concept of land rights legislation in principle…….
Cabinet again endorsed its 1985 Preferred National Land Rights Model, but agreed to negotiate with Western Australia on non-legislative measures such as community funding and the granting of long leases to Aboriginal reserves.
The Tasmanian and Victorian governments presented the Commonwealth with conflicting challenges. In December 1986 Mr Holding told Cabinet that Tasmania refused to recognise that Aboriginal people had any legitimate claim to land.
……….The government was concerned that the parlous state of the Aboriginal community might become an issue of moral and political embarrassment during the 1988 bicentennial celebrations……….http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/cabinet-papers-198687-the-struggle-for-indigenous-land-rights-20131228-3017r.html
Western Australia Solar Uptake – From 1 To 130,000 http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4096 26 Dec 13 The growth of residential solar power in Western Australia in the area serviced by Synergy has been nothing short of phenomenal. Continue reading
still a long way off from the $260 million they need to start the project and $260 million they need in upfront bonds for mine closure.
Toro secures $10m in funding. Yahoo News, 24 Dec 13, Toro Energy says it has secured $10 million in new funding from a South African fund manager via an equity subscription agreement.
The first tranche of shares will be priced at 7.3 cents with the balance of tranches priced at a 10 per cent discount to the prevailing trading price of Toro at the time.Toro managing director Dr Vanessa Guthrie said the subscription agreement provided further funding certainty for Toro as it looked towards a busy 2014 work program……http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/business/a/20468131/toro-secures-10m-in-funding/
“These people that Toro are talking to are driving around Toyotas that they did not have before. About 11 Toyotas just appeared”
Allegation of Toyotas for uranium mining http://thestringer.com.au/allegation-of-toyotas-for-uranium-mining/#.Uriap9JDt9X by The Stringer December 17th, 2013 A Toro Energy meeting took place today in Perth with the Wiluna Native Title signatories in light of Toro’s focus to culminate plans to proceed with Western Australia’s first uranium mine. Concerned Wiluna Elder Glen Cooke has long opposed the project and said he was excluded from discussions with Toro. Mr Cooke said he is concerned of potential risk exposures to his people and to his people’s Country.
“Our Country, our rivers, our creeks will be poisoned. It is guaranteed there will be incidents, accidents, leaks, spills. Look at what has occurred at Ranger (uranium mine in the Northern Territory), with more than 200 incidents, and at Olympic Dam (in South Australia) drying up Country (with its demand on water). When we hurt nature, we are actually hurting ourselves, if we fight with nature we are fighting with ourselves,” said Mr Cooke.
Mr Cooke previously entered the Toro AGM shareholders meeting by proxy on the 28th of November to express his concerns that the company had failed to communicate a number of vital issues with Wiluna residents.
“They make it sound good, they don’t say the dangers and say uranium is good stuff and will cause no harm to anything”, said Mr Cooke Continue reading
Why Tony Abbott may spark an Australian energy revolution REneweconomy, By Giles Parkinson on 19 December 2013 “……….The Queensland and WA governments are the most vocal opponents of renewable energy and rooftop solar. Yet it is they who are managing what are quite possibly the most unsustainable fossil fuel grids in the world. Both states rely hugely on subsidies (totaling $1 billion a year) to deliver the fossil fuel to the socket, and the government-owned entities still make losses.
The fact that they are trying to stop the rollout of solar and storage, and extend the life of moribund assets, beggars belief. The bizarre decisions taken in WA, where the government proposes to extend the life of its main mis-firing coal-fired generator, to subsidise the construction of diesel-fuelled peaking plants that may never be switched on, to retrospectively change solar tariffs, and declare it is no longer interested in large-scale renewable energy development, is just a taste of the extraordinary decisions being made…….http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/why-tony-abbott-may-spark-an-australian-energy-revolution-64382
SolarReserve Sets Up Shop In Australia, Renewable Energy News, 6 Dec 13 SolarReserve has announced the company’s international expansion into Australia through the opening of an office in Perth. The company says its Australian operations will focus on large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) projects, particularly in the off-grid mining sector.
“In Australia, the best solar resources are commonly found in remote areas where mines operate, presenting the off-grid mining sector with a substantial opportunity to offset the high price of electricity generation in these remote locations with a solar energy alternative,” says SolarReserve’s CEO Kevin Smith.
There are more than 1,000 operating mines in Western Australia – and many of those are powered by high-priced and polluting diesel fuel.
“In the face of impending policy decisions by the Australian government related to renewable energy and carbon emissions, solar energy for the mining sector is a win-win: good for business and good for the environment.”
The company was one of the participants in a meeting earlier this year in the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to plan the Goldfields’ renewable energy future……http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4062
“We are calling on the State and Federal Governments to stop any further approvals or development of the Wiluna uranium mine until the full project can be assessed and made public.”
Forty uranium mines is the plan for Western Australia The Stringer, by Gerry Georgatos November 29th, 2013“ Credible sources in the uranium sections of resource companies first told The Stringer, in February, of futurist uranium mining plans that are being deliberated by mining companies for Western Australia –……. A couple of insiders estimate potentially 40 uranium mines will arise right throughout Western Australia in the decades to come.
Environmentalists reject that this is possible while Aboriginal Elders resident on Country say they will resist uranium mining at all costs.Local Aboriginal Elder Mr Glen Cooke has travelled from Wiluna to attend Toro Energy’s annual meeting today to highlight community concern over Toro’s plans for uranium mining in the region. Mr Cooke and another proxy shareholder, Kylie Fitzwater, have come to Perth to raise concerns about Toro’s long term plans and the company’s failure to communicate these to Wiluna residents.
“Toro have been talking about one project on the Lake and now we hear that they are planning lots of uranium mines from Meekatharra all the way to Lake Maitland.”
“They never talked to us about that,” said Mr Cooke.
“Me and my family we never wanted one uranium mine, we sure don’t want seven of them scattered through that country.”
“Does this mean they will put uranium on trucks from all over and bring it to Wiluna and if so what will they do with the radioactive mine waste, and where will they get the water?”
“It’s just too dangerous. This is people’s homes, not just in town but we live all over and love all of that country. That place is a very special place – for all men north to south, east to west. It’s is too important to muck it up, once it’s broken it is broken forever, we could never get that back.” Continue reading
Toro Energy – the company seeking to open WA’s first uranium mine – will be the focus of critical attention from local residents, Traditional Owners and State and National environment groups at its annual meeting in Perth today.
Opponents of the company’s uranium mining plans will greet Toro executives and shareholders with an independent report casting doubt on the economic viability of the company as well as the broader nuclear industry.
A theatrical performance outside the AGM will also demonstrate that the nuclear industry’s vital signs are ‘flat lining’.
“Toro have expanded their proposal from one risky and unviable uranium mine in Wiluna, to a series of equally small and risky deposits in the region” said CCWA campaigner Mia Pepper. “What they won’t tell shareholders is that this expansion plan will represent more delays, more costs, more environmental problems, and more community opposition.”
“Toro have failed to fully disclose the complexity, risk and lack of formal approval for its long term plans.”
“CCWA and the Australian Conservation Foundation oppose the current proposal and will actively contest the company’s plan for seven uranium mines across 200km and 2 lake systems which will involve a doubling of water use and radioactive mine waste”.
“Toro’s shareholders will have a very long wait before this company will be profitable, if ever. The conditional approval granted for the Wiluna mining proposal prohibits the company from doing any other preparatory works for a mine until thirty six conditions are met and further management plans are approved.”
“Financial problems have dogged the uranium sector with low uranium prices, high operating costs and a lack of investor confidence following the global decline in nuclear power post Fukushima,” said Ms Pepper.
“While some companies are cutting their losses Toro is on track for tough times ahead”.
It turns out that W.A.’s ‘Poles and Wires’ (not renewable energy) are the culprit in high electricity costs
The news is cold comfort to those who have been fighting myths and misinformation for years regarding the true villains of electricity price rises and extolling the benefits of clean, distributed energy generation - including a reduction in infrastructure spending. Sadly, it appears the message still may not be getting through to some.
$1 Billion Power Pole Price Blowout For Western Australia http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4039 21 Nov 13 ‘Poles and wires’ have been the major culprits behind electricity price increases in recent years – and there’s more bad news on this front for Western Australia. Western Power’s 5 year maintenance plan for its wood pole network may have originally been just a little optimistic on the expense and time side of things. It was initially estimated to cost $1.35 billion. Continue reading
Power station plan promises ‘renewable energy to the south-west’ ABC News, Mon 18 Nov 2013, A private company is proposing to build a renewable energy station in Perth that would add power to the south-west energy grid using recycled waste.
A six-week public consultation period is open for New Energy Corporation’s proposal for the gas-fired power station in east Rockingham. Gas produced from waste material will be burnt to produce electricity for the grid.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has already approved the technology for the company at a similar facility in Port Hedland.
New Energy’s Jason Pugh says renewable energy is a sustainable option considering the struggles of the south-west coal industry.”Certainly with some of the issues that the coal industry is going through and also the price of energy in the market at the moment, this project represents a real opportunity to get renewable energy to the south-west,” he said.
He says renewable energy is becoming vital considering the struggles faced by the coal-fired energy industry in Collie. ”The technology that we’re employing has already been approved by the EPA in our Port Hedland facility at Boodarie but we acknowledge that the community is the major stakeholder in this project, so we’re working really hard to inform the community through this process, firstly through the six-week period,” he said…….http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-18/power-station-plan-promises-renewable-energy-to/5099426
Mr Sweeney said substantial nuclear waste was created at Australia’s nuclear reactor Lucas Heights, 31 kilometres from the Sydney CBD, and not medical waste from cancer treatments and scientific research as the government has previously stated.
“Nuclear medicine is not the driver,” Mr Sweeney said.
“It’s deeply misrepresentative. The government has been asked not to use this language.”
Western Australia in nation’s nuclear waste dump sights SMH, Leanne Nicholson, 12 Nov 13 Australia’s nuclear waste could be dumped in Western Australia if a Federal Court challenge by traditional owners against a Northern Territory site selected by the federal government is successful.
WA, the only state with a dedicated low-level nuclear waste storage facility, has been identified by leading environmental group Australian Conservation Foundation as a legitimate option for a national nuclear waste dump if a challenge by Muckaty Station traditional owners is upheld.
Traditional owners will contest plans for the proposed low-level and intermediate level nuclear waste dump, selected by the then-Gillard government in 2010, on the Aboriginal freehold landholding, also known as Warlmanpa. The challenge states the nomination of Muckaty is invalid and the Northern Land Council did not correctly identify the traditional owners, did not consult adequately and did not get proper consent before recommending the site.
ACF’s nuclear free campaign director Dave Sweeney told Fairfax Media that if the challenge was successful, WA – previously named as a possible site for nuclear waste storage – would be considered a feasible location. ”Clearly if Muckaty falls over,” Mr Sweeney said, “everywhere is going to come back into the frame and WA wasn’t ticked off but it was in the frame. Continue reading
WA’s biggest national park faces uranium threat National and state environment groups have vowed to fight plans for a uranium mine that would directly threaten Western Australia’s largest national park. The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Conservation Council of WA will join groups across the nation to challenge plans by the Canadian multinational Cameco, which today lodged an Environmental Review Management Plan for the Kintyre uranium mine at Karlamilyi National Park (Rudall River) with the WA Environment Protection Agency.
“Kintyre is in one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the country and is directly connected to WA’s largest national park,” said ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The proposal to mine at Kintyre has been actively contested since the 1980s and will continue to be a priority issue for the environment movement given the high conservation values of the area and the unique risks of uranium mining.
“Many things have changed since the first proposal to mine Kintyre, including a severe and sustained slump in the uranium price and increased pressure on nuclear power from the growth in renewable energy and concerns fuelled by the continuing Fukushima crisis.“This is not the time – and certainly not the place – to give a green light to yellowcake.”
The Kintyre uranium deposit is nestled between two branches of Yanadagodge Creek which feeds springs and lake systems throughout the Karlamilyi National Park and the communities of Punmu and Parngurr. Radioactive contamination of water sources is already an issue in the area with elevated uranium levels found in Parngurr’s (Cotton Creek) drinking water.
“We will use every available avenue to challenge this dangerous proposal,” said CCWA campaigner Mia Pepper. “Cameco’s plan for a 1km wide, 1.5km long open pit only 500 metres from the Yanadagodge Creek could have devastating impacts on this fragile desert ecosystem.”
“Uranium poses unacceptable and unnecessary risks to the environment and public health. Cameco’s plan is a long way from being economically viable or environmentally approved.”
Cameco’s plan will be open for public comment for fourteen weeks.
Contact: Dave Sweeney 0408 317 812 or Mia Pepper 0415 380 808