Australian news, and some related international items

Development of uranium mining in Western Australia is far from assured

Australian uranium industry in trouble after Fukushima, June 2, 2012, Green Left, By Jim Green “………As elsewhere, it has been a miserable year for the uranium mining wannabes in WA. At least two projects have been put on hold. The only company with any chance of receiving government approvals before the 2013 state election is Toro Energy, which is pursuing plans to mine about 12,000 tonnes of uranium at Wiluna in the Goldfields.

The Wiluna mine proposal received WA Environment Protection Authority approval on May 21, but an appeal will be launched and further approvals are required; it is a long way from a dodgy EPA decision to a dangerous mine.

You’d think Toro Energy might keep a low profile given the political sensitivities. Not so. The company has been loudly defending TEPCO , the notorious operator of the crippled Fukushima plant — even in the face ofoverwhelming evidence of TEPCO’s record of safety breaches and cover-ups .

Still more controversially, Toro Energy has paid for a number of speaking tours by fringe scientists who claim that exposure to low-level radiation is harmless or even beneficial to human health.

Forty-five Australian medical doctors recently signed a statement calling on Toro Energy to stop promoting junk science  and noting that recent scientific research has heightened concern about exposure to radon, the main source of radiation exposure to uranium miners.

The WA Conservation Council is leading the battle to stop Toro Energy  opening up the state’s first uranium mine, and has established a website to challenge the company’s claims. The Conservation Council has also produced a detailed “Alternative Annual Report” , raising a host of concerns about Toro Energy and its plan to mine at Wiluna.

The history of uranium exploration in the Goldfields is one of the obstacles facing Toro Energy. Uranium exploration in the 1980s left a legacy of pollution and contamination. Radiation levels more than 100 times normal background readings  have been recorded despite the area being “cleaned” a decade ago. Even after the “clean-up”, the Wiluna exploration site was left with rusting drums containing uranium ore. A sign reading “Danger — low-level radiation ore exposed” was found lying face down in bushes.

In August 2000, Steve Syred, coordinator of the Wiluna-based Marruwayura Aboriginal Corporation, said that until about 1993, 100-150 people were living at an old mission three kilometres from the spot where high radiation levels were recorded.

Syred told the Kalgoorlie Miner the Aboriginal community had unsuccessfully resisted uranium exploration in the area in the early 1980s. Since then, many people had lived in the area while the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Corporation was based near the site. Elders still hunted in the area.

More than 5000 tonnes of radioactive tailings from the Yeelirrie uranium deposit , near Wiluna, were buried just north of Kalgoorlie after BHP stopped processing ore there in the 1980s. Earlier this year, damage to a security gate allowed children to enter the site on dirt bikes. BHP Billiton said it would improve security.

There is also concern in Kalgoorlie about plans to establish a uranium transport hub in the suburb of Parkeston , a few hundred metres from the Ninga Mia Aboriginal community. That concern may be premature — it remains to be seen if there will be any uranium to transport.

June 16, 2012 - Posted by | business, Western Australia

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