Australian news, and some related international items

The anti uranium rally at Olympic Dam – an issue for all Australians, not just a fringe issue

BHP’s URANIUM FIEFDOM  , 11 July 2012, New Matilda   Olympic Dam has been plagued with faults – but is exempt from public scrutiny. The failure of government and business to ensure the mine’s safety is not a fringe issue, writes Jim Green

BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine is a state within a state. It operates under a unique set of laws enshrined in the amended Roxby Downs Indenture Act. That would be unobjectionable except that the Indenture Act allows Olympic Dam wide-ranging exemptions from environmental laws, water management laws and Aboriginal Heritage laws — and for good measure it curtails the application of the Freedom of Information Act.

Hundreds of Australians are protesting the mine this weekend. Their overarching concern might be expressed as what sociologists call “political blockage” — official avenues of grievance resolution are closed so people take matters into their own hands….

 I’ll be at the Olympic Dam convergence for two main reasons. Firstly, out of solidarity with Traditional Owners who are ignored by BHP, ignored by the state and federal governments, and sometimes ignored even by their own people. BHP generously supports Reconcilitation Australia yet holds on tenaciously to its exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act — that sort of hypocrisy and cant needs to be exposed.

And secondly, I’ll be there because the domestic problems with Australia’s uranium industry are compounded by serious international problems. Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapons states that have no intention of meeting their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty disarmament obligations; countries with a history of secret nuclear weapons research; countries that refuse to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty; undemocratic, and secretive states with appalling human rights records.

Both major parties now support the abandonment of previous policies banning uranium exports to countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The federal government is planning to allow uranium sales to a Middle Eastern dictatorship — the United Arab Emirates. The last time Australia went down that path was in late 1978 when the Fraser government was negotiating with the Shah of Iran — a few short months before his overthrow during the Iranian Revolution.

All of these uranium export agreements are accompanied by safeguards inspection regimes that are at best modest, sometimes tokenistic (e.g. China) and sometimes all but non-existent (e.g. Russia).

Those converging on the mine later this week reflect broader public concerns about uranium mining. Opinion polls are roughly divided on the topic; typically, polls find that a majority of Australians want existing uranium mines to be allowed to run their course but a majority want a ban on new uranium mines. A 2006 Newspoll found even a majority of Coalition voters wanted a ban on new uranium mines, as did more than three-quarters of Labor voters.

Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Australians oppose uranium sales to nuclear weapons states and two-thirds oppose the plan to sell uranium to India — a country which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is engaged in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan and China.

These are not fringe concerns.


July 11, 2012 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Opposition to nuclear, uranium |

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