It’s time to clean up not start up  

K-A GARLICK is a seasoned anti-Nuclear campaigner, working with the WA Conservation Council.

ON the 10th anniversary of the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster, it is time for a rethink on uranium Australia-wide and for WA to look beyond mining towards rehabilitation. 

Proponents of WA’s four proposed uranium mines and the 85 exploration sites have been unable to develop them into viable mines and all pose serious environmental, economic and public health risks. 

Some of the companies involved no longer exist, others are hanging on by a thread. 

With a stagnant uranium price and a global nuclear power industry that is struggling to maintain status quo, we should be looking to clean up Barnett’s failed attempt to establish uranium mines in WA and close that chapter in our history book. 

Ten years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami and subsequent multiple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Fukushima is still one of the most radioactive places on earth. 

It remains a profound human, economic and environmental tragedy – one that was fuelled by Australian uranium. 

In Parliament in 2012 Robert Floyd, director general of Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation confirmed that Australian uranium was in each of the reactors at the time of the meltdown. 

Following the disaster, the UN secretary general urged every uranium-producing country to hold “an in-depth assessment of the net cost impact of the impacts of mining fissionable material on local communities and ecosystems”. 

Our government did not respond to the catastrophic disaster at Fukushima with any kind of review of our role in supplying uranium. There was no critical review from Australia of the warning signs we missed with TEPCO who had a history of falsifying records, mismanagement and accidents. 

Disaster

In the decade since the disaster there have been no new uranium mines in Australia. 

After 40 years of imposed mining in Kakadu the Ranger uranium mine has now closed and rehabilitation is being attempted. 

Uranium mining in Australia is now confined to South Australia with just two operating mines – Olympic Dam and Four Mile and three mines – Honeymoon, Beverley and Beverley Four Mile – all in extended ‘care and maintenance’ (not closed but not operating).

What is needed to make sure Australian uranium is not fuelling another Fukushima nuclear meltdown, is clearly to leave it in the ground.

The four uranium projects, Kintyre, Wiluna, Yeelirrie and Mulga Rock have all been unable to proceed in the face of high operating costs, a low uranium price and sustained community opposition to mining uranium. 

With the imminent expiry of environmental approvals for the four uranium sites, the WA government has an opportunity and a responsibility to manage these sites in a way that protects the environment, public and workers health and WA taxpayers. 

The incoming government would be uniquely placed to legislate a ban on uranium mining in WA avoiding a repeat of the last decade of uncertainty, legal and procedural battles, and significant government resources.    

There are a further 85 exploration sites; of those 56 projects are listed as being inactive or suspended and of those 23 do not have an active owner – any rehabilitation of those sites would now be a cost to WA taxpayers. 

The risk of uranium will far outlive the uranium companies who have exploration sites across our state. 

The WA government should act now and ensure the best possible rehabilitation outcomes for those sites while there are still companies who can be held to account. 

Small uranium companies like Vimy Resources who have the Mulga Rock uranium proposal to the north-east of Kalgoorlie and Toro Energy with the Wiluna proposal, and underdeveloped projects like Cameco’s Kintyre and Yeelirrie have been deferred or placed on extended care and maintenance due to the depressed uranium market and low commodity price. 

Their time is up, we need to start to clean up these sites – not lock in an industry that has a history of being constrained by political uncertainty, that has a consistent lack of social license and one that has been met with strong Aboriginal and community resistance.  

On this 10th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it is time to learn one simple lesson; radioactive risk is more constant than a politician’s promise. 

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