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Don Henry

By Don Henry


With Campbell Newman keeping his uranium mining policy hidden there are genuine fears Queensland could fuel the next Fukushima

March 11 marked the first anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

A year ago, around the world, people held their breaths and crossed their fingers as the Fukushima nuclear emergency unfolded.

The images of abandoned homes, terrified communities, contaminated food and school children being measured for radiation by technicians dressed like extras in a Hollywood apocalypse film remain imbedded in our shared consciousness.

And radioactive contamination remains widespread over Japan.

There is much that Australia – and in particular Queensland – has to reflect on in the shadow of Fukushima.

You see, uranium from Kakadu and northern South Australia were the source of radioactive fallout and contamination in Japan.
“We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors – maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them; almost all of them.  As a percentage, we have the details of that amount that came through our reconciliation visit with Japan.”

That unequivocal statement was made by Dr Robert Floyd, the Director General of the Department of Foreign Affairs nuclear watchdog, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, on 31 October 2011.

A detailed UN report into Fukushima released in September last year found the accident “caused hundreds of billions of dollars of property damage”.

Around 150,000 people remain unable to return to their homes.  The fishing industry, agriculture and other sectors have been deeply affected.  Three per cent of Japan’s land mass has become unfit for permanent human occupation.

The French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) describes it as “a situation of chronic and lasting contamination of the environment”.

Remember, this heartache and these headlines were directly fuelled by Australian uranium.

Despite this the Australian government and all Australia’s uranium producers have done nothing to alter or review export arrangements, production processes or safeguards and oversight arrangements – except by proposing to sidestep our international treaty obligations under the Treaty of Rarotonga in order to facilitate uranium sales to nuclear-armed India.

Australia has around 40 per cent of the world’s uranium and supplies around 20 per cent of the global market.

Australia’s three commercially operating uranium mines – in South Australia and the Northern Territory – have a history of leaks, spills, incidents and accidents.  The industry leaves a legacy of poisonous waste that needs to be managed for thousands of years.   It leaks radioactive waste at home, fuels risky reactors overseas and adds to the amount of material in the world available for nuclear weapons.

Queensland is also home to uranium reserves.  Those who see the promise of dollar signs over the presence of danger signs are keen to kick start this controversial and contaminating trade in our state.

They are pinning their hopes on an end to the long standing state ban on uranium mining at the coming state election.

The prudent and popular uranium mining ban has protected Queensland from radioactive contaminants in our far western floods and means Queensland has not contributed to the production of radioactive waste or the spread of nuclear insecurity around the globe.

It is a sensible position that should be enshrined in state legislation.

State Labor supports the uranium mining ban, but has not yet declared its support for making it law.

Campbell Newman and the LNP have so far avoided making a clear statement for or against uranium mining in Queensland.  We simply don’t know where they stand.

Only the Queensland Greens have responded positively to ACF’s call for a legislated ban on nuclear power and uranium mining in Queensland.

If the LNP gets through to 24 March without articulating a clear commitment on the uranium mining ban, we might find ourselves with a state government that has quietly opened the door to uranium mining in our state.

Uranium and nuclear risks might seem a long way from the concerns of Queenslanders on 24 March.

They shouldn’t be.  The energy future we should choose is renewable, not radioactive.

Our state is well placed to be a leader in the transition to a clean energy future – here and abroad. And the employment, economic and environmental benefits that accompany renewable energies like wind and solar will not be realised if we head down the yellowcake road.

It’s time for Campbell Newman and the LNP to come clean on where they stand in relation to this dirty trade.

The rights of Queenslanders and the wrongs of Fukushima deserve no less.

Don Henry is CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation