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.
Why cabinet sought only a partial clean-up of British nuclear test site Archives give new insight into Hawke government’s response to royal commission on weapons testing in Maralinga region Paul Chadwick theguardian.com, Wednesday 1 January 2014
- Gareth Evans, the energy minister at the time, said ‘a non-confrontational approach’ had been adopted in dealing with the Thatcher government.
The complete rehabilitation of areas of Australia used to test British nuclear weapons may not be possible, the Hawke cabinet was advised in 1986.
Cabinet was warned that a full clean-up may have been more expensive than the British government would be willing to contemplate, according to documents released this week by theNational Archives.
They provide new insights into the Hawke government’s response to the recommendations of the McClelland royal commission into British nuclear tests in Australia. Continue reading
the Ranger mine is more than 30 years old and we are increasingly seeing metal fatigue and accidents, such as the one we saw so spectacularly 10 days ago.
Kakadu mine: risk of uranium leakage could be greater than thought
Study shows the radioactive particles can escape into the environment, raising alarms about the national park Oliver Milman theguardian.com, Wednesday 18 December 2013 The risk of uranium leakage from filtration systems used by facilities such as the Ranger mine in Kakadu could be greater than is currently acknowledged, with new research showing that the hazardous substance is far more mobile than previously thought.
A study published in Nature Communications found that seemingly immobile uranium“piggybacked” onto iron and organic material and flowed into a stream that joined a wetland in France.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the findings were “alarming” given the proximity of the Ranger mine to the World Heritage-listed wetlands of Kakadu national park in the Northern Territory. The ACF said the new European research called into question mine operator Energy Resources of Australia’s practice of using a wetland filtration system to ensure uranium doesn’t escape into the environment. A community of Mirarr people live about 10km from the Ranger mine. Continue reading
AUDIO: climate change causes dangerous jellyfish to move South, threatening Australia’s tourism industry
AUDIO Researchers say Irukandji jellyfish migrating further south along Qld coast http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-29/irukandji-jellyfish-migrating-further-south-along-qld-coast/5051580 AM By Nance Haxton and staff 29 Oct 2013,
Marine researchers say climate change could be altering the migration patterns of the dangerous Irukandji jellyfish along Queensland’s east coast.
The Irukandji is one of the deadliest marine animals, so venomous it inflicts excruciating pain that sometimes leads to death.
It has been on a relentless march southwards down the Queensland coast.
If the Irukandji becomes established off Queensland’s south-east coast, it would be devastating for the region’s tourism industry……
The Newman government must hold a fully independent and open inquiry into the real risks of uranium mining before Queensland starts down a risky pathway for existing industries, workers and our environment.
If it’s as safe as they claim, then they have nothing to fear from any inquiry.
Independent inquiry needed into uranium mining Brisbane Times, Mark Bailey, October 23, 2013 This week marks one year since the Newman government breaking its pre-election promise by overturning Queensland’s ban on uranium mining – without any mandate to do so.
Queenslanders across the state should be deeply worried about the dangers of mining and transporting uranium yellow cake due to the many radioactive risks involved. It was no surprise to hear Premier Campbell Newman admitting no research or modelling had been done before overturning the ban.
Given the extensive history of over 150 recorded mishaps at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory, why would our state allow a uranium mine located in our tropical climate prone to heavy summer rainfall and cyclones from the Coral Sea and the Gulf?
Given the vast amounts of radioactive sludge (or ‘tailings’) involved in uranium mining, the impact of inevitable extreme weather events slamming into mine sites with many hectares of tailings risks radioactive sludge spreading over vast distances in our state. That’s not a risk worth taking for existing industries in north and north-west Queensland let alone residents.
Uranium mines use vast amounts of water that are likely to come from the Great Artesian Basin for most of the year. While rainfall is often torrential in the wet season in north Queensland, much of the north west is dry most of the time.
The cumulative impact on the Great Artesian Basin of anywhere between one to five uranium mines may have a significant impact on water resources for other existing agricultural and cattle industries. Once one uranium mine is approved then other mines will likely be approved……
Shamefully, the Newman government has not ruled out exporting uranium across the Great Barrier Reef which should be a source of great national and international concern. Continue reading
The Commonwealth will not delegate to the states decisions under its national environmental laws in which the states have a “conflict of interest”. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirmed this significant commitment in an interview on ABC radio last Thursday.
The Coalition’s pre-election Policy for Resources and Energy promised to deliver a “one-stop-shop” for environmental approvals. The policy read like a complete handover of all Commonwealth decisions to the states.
But the Minister qualified the Coalition’s policy before the election when he was the Coalition’s environment spokesperson. He said in an interview reported in theWeekend Australian in May 2013 that: “some matters would be reserved where the Commonwealth would be the one-stop-shop but overwhelmingly it would be the states.”
In his recent radio interview, the Minister confirmed that the Commonwealth will retain control over decisions involving offshore Commonwealth waters, nuclear actions, and projects for which state governments are “likely to have a significant conflict of interest” as the proponent.
This alleviates the most significant concern about the one-stop-shop policy: where the state is the proponent they’ll have difficulty making an independent assessment…….
Complications of water trigger
The new water trigger created under the EPBC Act also complicates the one-stop-shop policy. Now-retired MP, Tony Windsor, who championed the trigger, managed to include alegislative prohibition on it being delegated to state governments.
Just how big a complication this creates is evident in Greg Hunt’s recent announcement that 47 coal seam gas and mining projects currently being assessed will need to consider the water trigger. All in all, the “one-stop-shop” policy looks like creating the patchwork regulatory regime that the Gillard Government ultimately decided not to pursue.
Blueprint splits Cape Liam Parsons Thursday, September 19, 2013 The Cairns Post HUGE sections of Cape York will be opened up to mining and farming under the Newman Government’s draft Cape York Regional Plan.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney was in Cairns yesterday to unveil the plan which will replace the former Labor government’s Wild Rivers laws……. Wilderness Society Northern Australia campaigner Gavan McFadzean described the draft plan as the Newman Government’s blueprint to industrialise Cape York. ”This Government wants to open up the most sensitive waterways and landscapes to mining, dams and land clearing,” he said.
Mr McFadzean said the plan snubbed the region’s world heritage values and “rides roughshod over the aspirations of the traditional owners of Cape York.” http://www.cairns.com.au/article/2013/09/19/248318_local-news.html
Environment Centre NT, 17 Sept 13, Uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia will unveil its new brine concentrator – a long overdue piece of infrastructure that seeks to address both chronic water management problems and contaminated process water – at its aging Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu on Thursday.
The Ranger mine has been plagued with water and waste management problems that have caused extended shutdowns and deep concerns about impact on the World Heritage Kakadu National Park. “The new infrastructure is a long overdue and welcome initiative,” said Lauren Mellor, Nuclear Free NT Campaigner with the Environment Centre NT.
“The delay in commissioning this key piece of equipment is a poor reflection on ERA’s commitment to rehabilitation, given the company’s long history of water mismanagement. That ERA has been allowed to continue mining and expanding its waste water inventory, now estimated at eleven gigalitres, without having an effective waste water management plan or the ability to treat process water shows a disturbing lack of regulatory rigour.” Continue reading
Government rules out uranium exports over Great Barrier Reef The Satellite, APN Newsdesk 12th Sep 2013 APN NEWSDESK EXPORTING Queensland’s uranium is a priority for the state government, but the radioactive material is unlikely to leave Australian shores via the Great Barrier Reef.
In an “action plan” released on Thursday, the State Government has ruled that any uranium pulled from Queensland provinces can only be exported from Adelaide or Darwin……… The government has again ruled out allowing nuclear power plants or the disposal of radioactive waste in Queensland.
And like all major resources projects, the state is pushing to gain control over approvals – but environmental activists are concerned.
Australian Conservation Foundation Dave Sweeney said such state powers conflicted with comments by the incoming Federal Government that it would retain its hold over uranium projects. ”Uranium mining is an issue of national interest and importance and is rightly a matter for the active consideration of the national government,” Mr Sweeney said.
Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said the government would begin considering projects by mid-2014. From there, demand from industry would determine when mining began.http://www.thesatellite.com.au/news/exporting-queenslands-uranium-barrier-reef/2018482/
Aboriginal-green link to fight gas projects BY:AMOS AIKMAN , THE AUSTRALIAN, July 19, 2013 ENVIRONMENTAL groups are seeking to capitalise on the beauty of Arnhem Land and the plight of its indigenous people to build support for campaigns against resource development and a northern food bowl.Five indigenous people from the remote community of Maningrida will hold a protest in Sydney’s Martin Place today, objecting to petroleum-licence exploration applications covering about 1500km of coastline.
Their $8000 travel bill was paid by The Wilderness Society, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Environment Centre NT, which are co-sponsoring the event.
Anti-coal-seam and shale gas group Lock the Gate Alliance and a coalition of anti-nuclear protesters are also involved.
A traditional owner from the nearby Blythe River area, Eddie Mason, said he was worried about the safety of his country and about songlines and sacred sites beneath the sea. Indigenous landowners cannot veto exploration or mining in open water. “That’s our main food source, our supermarket,” Mr Mason said.
He accused Palter Petroleum, which has applied for the Arnhem Land exploration licences, of failing to consult properly with indigenous people, who he said should have veto rights over territorial waters.
Gavan McFadzean, The Wilderness Society’s northern Australia campaign manager, said his organisation was keen to use iconic sites in the Kimberley, Arnhem Land and Cape York Peninsula to develop a national campaign around the dangers of resource extraction and northern food bowl development.
He said the prospect of a future Abbott-led Coalition government was a particular threat.
Lock The Gate Alliance spokesman Drew Hutton said his organisation was also increasing its work in the Top End.
Mr Hutton predicted that Aboriginal land would be the next battlefront after farmland in the war to control unconventional gas developments.http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/aboriginal-green-link-to-fight-gas-projects/story-fn9hm1pm-1226681650900
Traces of Fukushima reach Australia Asian Correspondent, By Gavin Atkins May 03, 2011 Tiny traces of radioactive particles from Fukushima have been picked up by monitoring stations in Australia, Fiji, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Detected on April 13, the small amount of Xenon detected in Darwin is too small to be of concern for public health. The Government agency responsible,the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has kept the news at a low profile by burying the information in its media releases. ARPANSA operates some of the monitoring stations and is tasked with informing the Australian public about radiation risks……..
The system of more than 270 monitoring stations around the world (eventually to number 337) is being established primarily to ensure that all nuclear tests are detected.
Eighteen of these stations operate around Australia and in Antarctica, and another two are being constructed…….
The monitoring system can detect a range of radioactive isotopes that would have been emitted from Fukushima including Caesium-137. The CTBTO says that current readings are clearly consistent with material from a damaged nuclear power plant, almost certainly Fukushima.
The monitoring stations are astonishingly sensitive, being able to pick up a few atoms of radioactive materials and can, for example, detect one tenth of a gram of Xenon if it is evenly distributed throughout the earth’s atmosphere. http://asiancorrespondent.com/53525/traces-of-fukushima-reach-australia/
Ranger uranium mine expansion plan faces scrutinyhttp://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-09/environment-centre-nt-on-ranger-uranium-mine-eis-undergounding/4808406 By Kristy O’Brien Jul 9, 2013 The Northern Territory Environment Centre says it is assessing draft environmental guidelines for the expansion of the Ranger uranium mine.
The draft EIS guidelines from the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority aim to minimise the effects on the surrounding Kakadu National Park of a move from open-cut to underground mining.
The Environment Centre’s Lauren Mellor says the group is opposed to the expansion but is happy to see increased scrutiny of the project.
“What has been proposed here is underground mining, which is something that has never been done before at the Ranger site,” she said. ”This is being proposed at a time when the company should be ramping down operations in preparation for rehabilitation, not ramping them up.”
Mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) says underground mining would extend the life of the operation. Ms Mellor says her group will assess the EIS guidelines to ensure they are appropriate.
“They [ERA] have got a legal obligation to cease mining and mineral processing by 2021 on the site,” she said. ”What they are proposing here is to increase contamination, increase tailings and waste at the site, which means rehabilitation is more than likely to be delayed,” she said.
Remediation efforts continue at abandoned uranium mine Australian Mining, 11 June, 2013 Vicky Validakis Queensland officials inspected the abandoned uranium mine at Mary Kathleen last week, as part of an ongoing assessment of the site’s remediation status.
Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps announced last year, the government would assess opportunities for mining at the site, which contains millions of tonnes of ore tailings.……. A spokesperson for the minister said the inspection was not connected to an assessment of opportunities for future mining at the site.
The Mary Kathleen mine is under a Restricted Area 232 status, meaning exploration and production are both prohibited.
“Remediation and environmental management issues are critical factors for the Queensland Government to address prior to any future consideration about whether or not to release land from Restricted Area 232,” Cripps said.
Cripps said Abandoned Mine Lands program officers from the Department and the Geological Survey of Queensland would undertake field assessments later this month, including drilling at the tailings dam.
“This work will enable the Department to gain a better understanding of the current condition of the abandoned mine,” he said.
The Greens North Queensland spokesperson Jenny Stirling, said “toxic” tailings at the mine meant that uranium mining had made the site useless for other purposes.
“They are looking to mine rare earth and, if they had the good sense that God gave them, they would know that they would have to deal with the toxic tailings of uranium mining at Mount Kathleen,” Sterling said.
“It’s just a highly problematic situation.” http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/remediation-efforts-continue-at-uranium-mine
The fee will be 1 per cent of the upfront environmental bond that all miners must pay, as set by the Department of Mines’ Security Assessment Board.
The Government has said the bond would be 100 per cent of clean-up costs but there is no way for the public to tell as the amount is secret. The new levy comes into effect in October. Mines Minister Willem Westra van Holthe said the impost would raise $6.5 million in its first year………. “We’re simply asking mining companies to chip in to a program that will be used to remediate legacy environmental problems caused by the industry.”
The move comes after the NT News exposed environmental disasters that festered for decades at defunct mines including Rum Jungle, Redbank and Mt Todd.
Camping is banned at the recreational lake near abandoned uranium mine Rum Jungle, 100km south of Darwin, as radiation levels are too high for long-term use…… Environment Centre NT co-ordinator Stuart Blanch said he supported the levy, but it would not be enough to clean up the polluted mine sites which could cost up to a billion dollars….. http://www.ntnews.com.au/article/2013/05/08/320647_ntnews.html
WA land owned increasingly by conservation and mining Science Network Western Australia, 29 April 2013 “The research focused on pastoral country from the edge of the Wheatbelt up to and including the Pilbara, which historically has been held under pastoral leases owned by families and used for grazing such as sheep and cattle stations”—Dr van Etten. Image: Stefan Jurgensen RESEARCHERS say an increasing amount of land in Western Australia is being managed for environmental conservation, however mining companies are the single largest lease holder of what was previously pastoral land. Continue reading