WA uranium threat
In 2008 the Barnett Government lifted the ban on uranium mining in Western Australia. Since then, over 200 uranium exploration drilling programs have taken place across WA and four active uranium proposals put forward – Kintyre, Yeelirrie, Wiluna and Mulga Rock. All of these proposals have plans to transport uranium thousands of kilometers by road across WA and SA to Port Adelaide.
There is no proposed uranium mine in WA that has final approval to mine. All have been met with fierce community opposition because of the inherent risks posed by uranium mining and the broader nuclear industry but also because of site specific concerns with impacts on flora, fauna, impacts to groundwater, dust management and the long term risk of uranium mine tailings.
There is strong community resistance at each of the proposed mines in WA and reflects a strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Western Australia. The uranium industry has been stunted by the low uranium price which is at an 11 year low making the development of new uranium mines both unpopular and unfeasible.
NT uranium legacies
The World Heritage listed Kakadu, Australia's largest National Park, has been at the forefront of uranium mining threats in the NT with three significant uranium deposits – Jabiluka, Koongara and Ranger.
Rio Tinto and Energy Resources Australia’s (ERA) proposed Jabiluka uranium mine was hugely controversial. In a campaign led by Mirrar Traditional Owners the mine was stopped, with rehabilitation beginning in 2003. ERA entered into an agreement with Mirrar that Jabiluka would not be mined.
French company Areva have tried for over 30 years to establish a uranium mine at Koongara but have been held back by Djok Senior Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee. In 2013 after a long campaign from Mr Lee and others Koongara was included back into the Kakadu National Park and protected under the World Heritage listed site.
Ranger, which is completely surrounded by Kakadu, has had more than 200 reported spills, leaks and breaches. Lines on a map do not protect Kakadu from the impact of the toxic uranium mine, with water management posing recurring problems. Ranger is no longer being mined - ore stockpiles are being processed and plans for closure are underway. There are ongoing concerns about ERAs expansion plans which are opposed by Mirrar and the parent company Rio Tinto. We are keeping a close eye on what ERA will do.
The Northern Territory has had several other mines that are yet to be completely rehabilitate, Rum Jungle and the Alligator River mines are still an ongoing source of radiation and Acid Metalliferous Drainage pollution. We must not forget these sites and the need to clean up the pollution which poses a significant public health risk.
SA uranium legacies
South Australia has a long history of uranium mining. There are two operating mines in South Australia – Olympic Dam & Beverley Four Mile, another two that are in Care and Maintenance Beverley & Honeymoon (temporary closure with no rehabilitation) and another two that have been abandoned and require rehabilitation Wild Dog & Radium Hill. There is also a closed but un-remediated uranium processing facility at Port Pirie. The legacy of -remediated uranium sites represent a significant liability to the state.
In the recent SA Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle the Commission found that market conditions do not support new mines. The Commission went on to recommend that the regulations for the industry to be streamlined and reduced to better support the industry. The South Australian uranium mines have all had license breaches, leaks, spills and other accidents indicating that the industry needs tighter regulations and incentives on safety.
It is deeply disturbing that the SA Government is considering importing high level international radioactive waste when they have failed to remediate uranium mines, processing facilities and nuclear weapons test sites that all represent a significant public health risk.
Uranium mining has been banned in Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania.