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Australia's nuclear fantasies: the technological creationism of nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#882
19/12/2019
Dr. Darrin Durant ‒ Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Melbourne
Article

It is just a little past Nuclear Groundhog Day in Australia. A 2019 parliamentary inquiry1 into the conditions under which future Governments might consider nuclear power in Australia recently concluded that emerging nuclear technologies were a clean energy pathway for Australia.2

This recommendation was immediately opposed by Labor and the Greens, and even opened up divisions within the Coalition, while also failing to resolve how partially lifting Australia's nuclear ban (for one type of nuclear generating technology) could practically work.

Much ink and even more pixels have been and will continue to be splayed everywhere on this polarized issue, but the untold story of the nuclear option is that it is in fact a technological form of Creationism. Let me explain.

Nuclear power is like a wild goose chase where the goose is a zombie that cannot be killed. The nuclear option in Australia has been buried at least three times previously, only to be brought back from the dead.

Nuclear power was originally prohibited by legislation. Section 10 of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 prohibits fuel fabrication, enrichment or processing, and nuclear reactors.3 Section 140A of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 prohibits the federal Minister from approving an action leading to such installations.4

Yet a federal Government review of 2006 (the Switkowski Report) considered the potential to establish such installations, although it concluded nuclear power in Australia was uneconomic.5

A 2016 South Australian royal commission to investigate the potential for SA to participate in the nuclear fuel cycle similarly concluded nuclear power in Australia was not commercially viable.6

Nuclear power does not affect its own resurrection by virtue of its own divine power. Instead, like Lazarus was said to have been resurrected by Jesus four days after retirement, nuclear power has divine ideologues on its side. Obviously not the Labor Party, which thinks resurrecting the nuclear option signals the indulging of political fantasies7, nor the Greens, who think resurrecting the nuclear option is the stuff of crackpot lunatic cowboys.8

Instead, as Friends of the Earth wrote, it is right-wing ideologues who continually resurrect nuclear power, in a culture war trying to wedge the political Left.9 Or as the economist John Quiggin wrote, support for nuclear power is de facto support for coal.10

Given the decades of lead time required for nuclear power to feed into the electricity grid and, assuming publics and politicians swallow the argument that renewables cannot satisfy base-load power requirements, coal is advertised as the only viable option until nuclear comes online.

The technological creationism of nuclear power

But the nuclear option has more than the business-as-usual commitments of right-wing ideologues on its side. The nuclear option has inherited an argumentative strategy from American Creationists, which the evolutionary biologist Eugenie Carol Scott coined the Gish Gallop.11

Named after the Creationist Duane Gish12, Scott wrote that the strategy involves making "a simple declarative sentence, and you have to deal with not an easily-grasped factual error, but a logical error and a methodological error, which will take you far longer to explain… [Creationists present] half-truth non-sequiturs that the audience misunderstands as relevant points. These can be very difficult to counter in a debate situation, unless you have a lot of time. And you never have enough time to deal with even a fraction of the half-truths or plain erroneous statements".13

We can miss the Gish Gallop at the heart of pro-nuclear advocacy if we chase the controversy. We know nuclear power is politically polarizing and it is easy to report on clashing protagonists making seemingly alternate-reality claims.

Thus the Australia Institute's submission to the parliamentary inquiry dismissed nuclear power as uneconomic, climate unfriendly because of high water use in an already drought-prone Australia, and as lacking a social license.14 In black mirror fashion, the Minerals Council of Australia strongly supported nuclear power as affordable, climate friendly because of zero-emissions, and as enjoying rising public support.15

Like chasing Creationists down the rabbit holes of their homespun Gish Gallops, opponents of nuclear power can spend a fruitless amount of intellectual and emotional energy rebutting half-truths and methodological sleights of hand. The fruitlessness stems from earnestly interpreting the opponents' claims 'straight' and tackling them head on.

The Minerals Council of Australia

For instance, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) argues that nuclear power is affordable and that Small Modular Reactors (SMR) represent a cheap and feasible option for Australia.15 By contrast, the (independent) World Nuclear Industry Status Report found that nuclear power costs 5-10 times more per kWh than renewables, and that there is no sign of a technological or commercial breakthrough that would render SMRs viable.16

Similarly, the MCA argues that climate change is real, and that nuclear power is the only way Australia can meet our Paris Agreement goals without sacrificing jobs and prosperity. But are the MCA really climate defenders?

The thinktank InfluenceMap – which tracks climate policy opponents – ranks the MCA -59 (or 8th worst Trade Group) in its carbon policy footprint scores (-100 is highly and negatively influencing climate policy; +100 highly and positively influencing climate policy).17

Unfortunately, straight rebuttals matter little to technological creationists. Anything can be cheap, depending upon how you trim the costs. Everything can be feasible, depending upon your tolerance for fantasy. Anyone can be green, depending upon your degree of gullibility.

Gish Gallop

The difficulty presented by the Gish Gallop argumentative strategy is that only on the surface is the critic confronted by factual claims open to empirical challenge. Deeper down, we have pregnant misdirection, diversionary reframing, and strategic incompleteness. The strategy does not even have to be deliberate gaslighting18, where the aim is to disorient and destabilize the audience in a quest to leave the speaker the beneficiary of the disenchantment of truth.

Instead, the Gish Gallop simply entices the audience to run off in multiple directions at once, earnestly looking for the grounding of a claim that is in fact a groundless fog.

For instance, are nuclear reactors zero emissions, as the MCA claims? There is a grain of truth there, if the nuclear life cycle is restricted to reactor operation. But as the energy analyst and environmentalist Mark Diesendorf has shown, to calculate the emissions from nuclear power one must account for fossil fuel use in every other aspect of the nuclear life cycle (mining, milling, fuel fabrication, enrichment, reactor construction, decommissioning and waste management). Moreover, the lower the grade of uranium ore, the higher the resulting emissions, so that nuclear power will emit more CO2 over time as higher-grade ores are used up.19

Some analysts try to be fair, concluding that emissions from nuclear power are neither zero nor high and made complex by multiple uncertainties20, or that unstated assumptions about the carbon footprints of energy supplied in the non-operational phases of the nuclear fuel cycle strongly determine the ultimate carbon footprint.21

But notice how it is the audience that must supply the context for assessing pro-nuclear technological creationist claims? The necessary context for assessing claims – zero emissions, etc. – is willfully deleted from the message itself.

SMRs

Similarly, the MCA writes that SMRs 'are simply an evolution of a proven mature technology'.15 Specific claims about an unproven technology (SMR) are then treated as general warrants for a technology which possesses an actual track record (where the track record is not supplied).

Again, straight responses are possible. The anti-nuclear activist Noel Wauchope lists seven reasons why SMRs are unwise22, and Quiggin questions whether the plant that is supposedly going to manufacture the technology even exists.23

But it is the context deleted by the MCA that is of most relevance, so we must ask about the track record of this 'mature' technology and whether SMRs are just an unproblematic next step. The maturity claim typically means nuclear technology has benefited from economies of scale and social learning, so that construction times and costs would go down over time.

But as the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (and previous versions) shows, nuclear power lacks an upward learning curve.16 Reactor cost blowouts in time and money have been the norm since the technology's inception. SMRs have inherited that legacy, with a survey of eight countries showing SMRs are even less economically competitive than large nuclear plants.

The Gish Gallop strategy here is simply to delete history from the evaluative criterion. But historically-informed judgments matter, as energy policy specialists like Benjamin Sovacool realize, writing that SMRs are almost entirely rhetorical fantasies built upon utopian expectations.24

Indeed, the broader case for nuclear power in Australia is similarly built upon a Gish Gallop strategy of strategic deletion perversely coupled with proliferating half-truths.

For instance, the MCA claims that surveys indicate increasing public support for nuclear power. But closer analysis shows that support varies if nuclear power is framed as a solution to climate change, indicating the support may reflect desired action on climate change itself.25 Moreover, most have no desire to live near a reactor.26

Climate wedges

But this entire argument about a technology-neutral approach being premised on the need to pursue all elements in an energy portfolio at once rests on willfully deleting the context for assessing energy choices. The climate wedge idea derives from a 2004 paper by Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow.27 A wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere starting at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for one billion metric tonnes of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years.

But as Pacala and Socolow noted, "although no element is a credible candidate for doing the entire job (or even half the job) by itself, the portfolio as a whole is large enough that not every element has to be used".27

Not every element! The technology-neutral, all-of-the-above approach is both bad energy economics and deceptive politics, because passive and complacent business-as-usual masquerades as active and concerned political choice.

Was democratic debate really meant to be this way?

When we say democratic debate is about letting each side have its say, is the kind of argumentative sleight of hand practiced by pro-nuclear technological creationists really what we were imagining?

To anticipate a reply that might be offered as complementary but is a mistake: no, truth is not the answer. Truth can be despotic, as the political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued in 1967, peremptorily demanding to be recognized and precluding debate by relying on the coercive force of self-evidence.28 Or put differently, truth is great when you have it on your side, until everyone claims it is on their side, and politics reduces to who coerces last.

But nor is the abandonment of truth to opinion the answer either. In the phrase of another political philosopher, Nadia Urbinati, to be unpolitical is to remove an issue in need of deciding from the open arena of competing political visions, political groups, and partisan views.29 Urbinati advises we defend the merits of political deliberation, because it allows for contestation and revision, and be wary of forensic decisions by experts.

But is a little more of the unpolitical – a little less political deliberation – sometimes a wise move? Do you ever get the feeling that the continual resuscitation of the nuclear power option is just one more continual delay in meaningful reform of our energy portfolio? One more continual delay in meaningful reduction of CO2 emissions and the shifting of the electricity grid toward significant incorporation of renewables?

The nuclear power option has had its day but lives to tell another day because we tell ourselves that debating all the options is always good, even if we should really be saying some option needs to be retired.

The context at work making this continual resuscitation possible is not just the persistence of business-as-usual elites, but the political ecology in which those elites reside. Political populism radically polarizes public forums and delegitimates the independent advice-giving institutions of democracy. Media and cultural partisans have turned political deliberation into a spectator sport. The business-as-usual ethos exploits that weakened ground of consensus-formation to suggest old options are better than new options.

A crisis of truth, authority and legitimacy

As the historian of science Steven Shapin has suggested, we are facing a crisis of truth not because facts are being routinely contested or even because facts are being routinely made up, but because our institutions are suffering a crisis of authority and legitimacy.30 We have lost track of who knows and does not know, which is a dearth of social knowledge about reputation and integrity.

Keeping the spectre of nuclear power at bay will require rethinking our institutions and how they can assist in making the objects of our political deliberation worthy objects. We can neither give up on experts nor citizens, but we do need to revisit how we think about each.

As myself and some fellow sociologists of science have argued, experts at the service of business-as-usual will never escape institutional delegitimisation effects, so we must look to expertise playing the role of a check and balance within our pluralist democracies.31 Similarly, citizens do need to engage with public claims to test their contextual merits and coherency.

But as analysts of public participation like Matthew Kearnes and Jason Chilvers have warned, until organizations and institutions are more transparent and candid about their assumptions, values and interests, the burden of proof will fall unevenly on the less powerful.32

In each case, experts and citizens, what we need from them is interrogation of context. Not simply can they be our fact checkers, but can they be our redeemers of context, our arbiters of whether half-truths are masquerading as full claims, and our unmaskers of the pretenders at coherence?

Dr. Darrin Durant's research focuses on how experts and citizens interact in democratic debate, especially in debates about energy politics. Recent books include Experts and the Will of the People (2019) and previous work on the nuclear fuel cycle including Nuclear Waste Management in Canada (2009).

Reprinted from New Matilda, 17 Dec 2019, 'Nuclear fantasies down under: the political and economic problems with old money power', https://newmatilda.com/2019/12/17/nuclear-fantasies-down-under-the-polit...

References:

1. https://www.aph.gov.au/nuclearpower

2. https://reneweconomy.com.au/coalition-pushes-for-nuclear-ban-to-be-lifte...

3. https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C00977

4. https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2019C00275

5. http://environmentvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/nuclear_rep...

6. http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/

7. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/05/labor-pressures-c...

8. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/05/crackpot-stuff-co...

9. https://reneweconomy.com.au/nuclear-power-exits-australias-energy-debate...

10. https://johnquiggin.com/2018/08/13/coal-and-the-nuclear-lobby/

11. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gish%20Gallop

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duane_Gish

13. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/debating/globetrotters.html

14. https://www.tai.org.au/sites/default/files/P782%20Over%20Reactor%20%5BWE...

15. https://minerals.org.au/sites/default/files/190918%20HOR%20Nuclear%20Inq...

16. https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/The-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Rep...

17. https://influencemap.org/reports/Reports

18. https://theconversation.com/post-truth-politics-and-why-the-antidote-isn...

19. https://theconversation.com/sure-lets-debate-nuclear-power-just-dont-cal...

20. https://theconversation.com/is-nuclear-power-zero-emission-no-but-it-isn...

21. https://theecologist.org/2015/feb/05/false-solution-nuclear-power-not-lo...

22. https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/seven-r...

23. https://johnquiggin.com/2019/08/08/are-smrs-vaporware/

24. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780367135171/chapters/10.4324/97803...

25. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513009713?via%...

26. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/18/australians-suppo...

27. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/305/5686/968

28. https://idanlandau.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/arendt-truth-and-politics...

29. https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725133

30. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/is-there-a-crisis-of-truth/#_ednref8

31. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030269821

32. https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2015/dec/17/public...


South Australia's Flinders Ranges no longer targeted for nuclear waste dumping

Great news! The Australian government has ruled out dumping radioactive waste in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. The decision was announced the day after the result of a ballot of Flinders residents which found majority opposition.

In addition, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners were overwhelmingly opposed. The day before the announcement, Vince Coulthard, Adnyamathanha Traditional Land Association (ATLA) chairperson, said: "The Adnyamathanha people have stood strongly opposed to the waste dump on our land from the start. In November this year at our AGM we again voted overwhelmingly to continue our opposition to this toxic dump on our land. The whole process has been flawed from the start. There was no proper process, no proper discussions and the views of the Traditional Owners were not given proper consideration. This flawed process has caused significant damage to our land and our community."

For many locals, this is the best Christmas present – one of Australia’s most spectacular regions no longer faces the threat of radioactive rubbish and risk! Nation-wide efforts helped bolster local voices like ATLA and the Flinders Local Action Group who have been on the ground, campaigning to protect their homes from radioactive contamination for over four years.

Speaking on behalf of the Annggumathanha Camp Law Mob, Adnyamathanha Elder Enice Marsh expressed relief the process was finally over. "We are very relieved of course, after all of the torture and torment over the past four years and that's what it really was; torture and torment by government and industry," she said. "I'm glad it's over for this stage and I hope it's over permanently."

Flinders Local Action Group spokesperson Greg Bannon said major concerns had included a lack of detail on factors including where waste would be stored long-term, and how long it would stay in the Flinders, which was flagged as a permanent disposal site for low-level waste and a temporary storage site for dangerous long-lived intermediate-level waste. “It’s in a flood plain with seismic activity and the Adnyamathanha people have strongly said they don’t want that waste on their traditional lands,” Mr Bannon said.

But the federal government is still targeting South Australia ‒ two sites on farming land near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula are still in the firing line for a national nuclear waste dump. Locals are divided ‒ some have been won over by implausible claims about job creation. The estimated job count has magically jumped from zero to 45 for no reason other than a political imperative to overstate benefits and downplay risks. Barngarla Traditional Owners recently held a ballot and 100% of respondents voted against the planned nuclear waste dump in Kimba.

Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp 2019

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#881
09/12/2019
K-A Garlick ‒ nuclear-free campaigner with the Conservation Council of Western Australia.
Article

The launch of the first Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp was a massive success with over 30 campaigners from across Australia and Aotearoa / New Zealand participating in the one-week event at Yeelirrie to support Traditional Owners who oppose uranium mining in Western Australia (WA). 

The Solidarity Camp replaced this year's Walking for Country and was launched at the end of September as a camp-out on Tjiwarl country, better known as the Goldfields region of WA near the site of the proposed uranium mine.

Over thirty interested and passionate people listened, learned and showed their support to the people of both Kalgoorlie and Leonora in their fight to stop uranium mining on their country. For a week we travelled part of the proposed "nuclear freeway" between the Mulga Rock uranium project, Kalgoorlie and the proposed Yeelirrie uranium project.

The first night we spent in Kalgoorlie with our good friends and local hosts at the Wongathu Birni Aboriginal Centre. We were welcomed by Anangu women Debbie Carmody and her sister Libby Carmody from Tjulma Pulka Media Aboriginal Corporation. Debbie and Libby have joined many walks all over the world with Footprints for Peace and reconnected this night with many of the walkers. They have been standing up strong against the proposed Mulga Rock uranium project.

Also joining us at Kalgoorlie was Kokatha woman Sue Coleman-Haseldine from Ceduna (South Australia) and her sister Sue Thiselton, both long-time activists about the suffering from the Maralinga bomb tests and advocating for a future without nuclear weapons. They joined to stand with the Tjiwarl aunties to stop the threat of uranium mining on country.

The following day we travelled a further 430 kms to Sir Samuel to stay with Tjiwarl woman Vicki Abdullah and family at the Bellevue Gold Camp that has been negotiated with some of the Traditional Owners of the area. It was an interesting and insightful stay, raising many questions for the group.

A short drive the following day along the red earth unsealed roads towards Yeelirrie had us arriving before lunch to set up camp for four nights. We had a beautiful welcome to country by Vicky and that evening she shared her story as we sat around the fire.

This country has become very familiar to many of us who have returned year after year for nearly 10 years to show our opposition to uranium mining in WA. For many of us it is a welcome, familiar feeling in which we feel at ease amongst the beautiful mulga trees, spinifex, red earth and big blue skies. 

Yeelirrie station

The following day we arose early to walk to the gates of the Yeelirrie station. There are many conversations as we walk behind the Aboriginal flag leading the walkers to the gates.

A campaign update was given at the gates about the proposed Yeelirrie uranium project, and a short campaign history covering Walking for Country events, actions in Perth and elsewhere, and the legal battle ‒ three Tjiwarl aunties, Shirley, Lizzie Wonyabong and Vicki Abdullah fought hard for over 2.5 years to save their country in a legal battle against the Canadian company Cameco and the WA government. They are true warriors.

The afternoon was filled with an excellent nuclear free snapshot from Aunty Sue, Gem Romuld from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Mara Bonacci, SA nuclear-free campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

That evening around the camp fire, we listened to the incredible personal story of Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine. The story of people still suffering from atomic bomb testing in SA more than half a century ago. It was a powerful reminder of this deadly and toxic industry that we are trying to stop. Aunty Sue was born just before her family's desert lands to the north were bombed by the deadliest weapon we know by the British government. She told of us of the invisible killer that she had experienced through grand-daughters' thyroid removals and the still-born jelly babies born in her family.

"Anything to do with uranium mining and nuclear there is no winners, everybody loses. You can never feel guilty about what happen in the past, you can't turn back time but you can work together for a better future," she said.

A STOP sign sits at Yeelirrie Station. The women here are locked out of their own country. Some miners and governments are putting these stop signs up here. These companies and governments have only come in lately ‒ these people have been here forever and they don't have the right to go beyond the signs without someone saying so.

We headed out to good allies and local station holders, Colin and Marilyn from Youono Downs. Marilyn had invited all of us to come over and take showers and cool off in the oasis of their station. We settled in to listen to Marilyn and Colin's concerns about the uranium mine project. As they have been fighting for many years, they also had many stories to share!

Back at camp and surrounding the fire, we heard the great stories from Bilbo Taylor with his incredible experience of remote blockading. From stories to strategies we listened to the dangers, the rewards, the creative and fun ways of remote blockading. For many years, Uncle Kev, Bilbo and others kept a constant vigil on BHP's Olympic Dam uranium mine in SA.

Campaign planning

On our last full day at Yeelirrie, we revisited the core themes of the camp, and broke off into smaller working groups to discuss campaign options. We came away with six working groups for ongoing campaign work ‒ communication, outreach, creatives, fundraising, resources and spokes group.

We have a richness in this campaign that is from the connection to people and connection to this country. We have built a solid base and this will continue to slowly build should we need to fight by blockading. People are preparing themselves for the long fight. Our three core themes for the camp ‒ a 10-year campaign strategy, Yeelirrie blockade, and active campaigning now ‒ were all addressed during the week and clear outcomes achieved.

Red earth deep in our pores, the landscape etched in our minds, relationships deepened, we leave feeling satisfied to stand with the Tjiwarl women and community that tirelessly fight to stop uranium mining on their country. We stand as one, we stand together.

See the video at https://vimeo.com/366701061

A longer version of this article, with lots of photos, is posted at www.ccwa.org.au/yeelirrie_solidarity_camp_2019


Tjiwarl women win conservation award for uranium mine campaign

"Over the decades they have seen off at least three mining companies, including BHP, and in the process they have given strength and courage to their own community and many others."

Three Tjiwarl women, Shirley Wonyabong, Elizabeth Wonyabong and Vicki Abdullah, have been awarded the Australian Conservation Foundation's 2019 Peter Rawlinson Award for their decades-long campaign to protect their country and culture from a proposed uranium mine at Yeelirrie in outback Western Australia.

"Shirley, Elizabeth and Vicki, along with other Tjiwarl people, have spoken up for their country and culture around campfires, in politicians' offices, on the streets of Perth and in Western Australia's highest court, all the while looking after their grandchildren and each other," said ACF's Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O'Shanassy.

"Every year for the last eight years, these women have taken people from all over the world through their country on a one-month walking tour. In this way, hundreds have seen their land. Over the decades they have seen off at least three mining companies, including BHP, and in the process they have given strength and courage to their own community and many others."

The latest company with ambitions to mine uranium at Yeelirrie is Canada's Cameco, which hopes to dig a nine-kilometre open mine pit and destroy 2,400 hectares of native vegetation. Cameco's proposed mine would use nine million litres of water a day and generate 36 million tonnes of mine waste that would remain radioactive for thousands of years.

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rejected Cameco's proposal because it was almost certain to wipe out several species, including rare stygofauna (tiny subterranean creatures that live in the groundwater) and the entire western population of a rare saltbush, and harm other wildlife like the Malleefowl, Princess parrot and Greater bilby.

But state and federal authorities went against the EPA's advice and approved the mine.

Shirley, Elizabeth and Vicki took the matter to court – eventually to the Supreme Court of Appeals – which dismissed their case, confirming conservationists' fears that an Environment Minister can legally approve a mine knowing it would lead to the extinction of multiple species.

'The most important clean-up in Australian mining history': Rio Tinto under scrutiny at Ranger

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#881
09/12/2019
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear-free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation
Article

The complex task of remediating four decades of imposed uranium operations in a World Heritage region is continuing inside Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), majority owned by mining giant Rio Tinto, has recently released the second version of its Mine Closure Plan (MCP) outlining how it intends to rehabilitate the Ranger project, Australia's longest running uranium mine.

Despite their clear opposition Ranger was imposed on the lands of the Mirarr Aboriginal people in the 1970s. In the decades since the mine has been a source of contamination, controversy and contest.

Under the terms of the mining license all mining and mineral processing at Ranger is required to end by January 2021. Mining ended earlier this decade and ERA is now processing stockpiled ore and increasingly turning its mind to the massive challenges involved in restoring the heavily impacted site. ERA is required to clean up Ranger to a standard where "the rehabilitated area could be incorporated into the Kakadu National Park".

Given that Kakadu is Australia's largest national park and is World Heritage listed for both its cultural and natural values and importance this is a very high bar and there are real concerns over how this will happen and whether it is even possible.

The general direction of the MCP is positive but, as ever, the devil is in the detail – or in this case, the lack of it. While outlining a broad rehabilitation pathway the MCP continues to defer detailed analysis and approaches to future iterations of the document over coming years. This approach is partly understandable as the works will evolve with experience and there are legitimate areas of uncertainty, but such an approach also allows considerable scope for future works to be driven primarily by corporate imperatives rather than defined environmental objectives.

The first MCP was released last year and reviewed in Unfinished Business (www.acf.org.au/reports), a joint report by national environment group the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Sydney University's Sydney Environment Institute.

The report highlighted a need for increased scrutiny, broader stakeholder engagement and transparency to facilitate the best possible closure and rehabilitation outcomes at Ranger. These issues remain as unfinished business in the current version of the MCP.

A further uncertainty surrounding rehabilitation efforts at Ranger is ERA's financial capacity. In February 2019, a new ERA feasibility study significantly increased the estimated rehabilitation costs at Ranger to around A$925 million (US$633 million). ERA has assets of around $A425 million, or less than half the amount currently understood to be needed for the clean-up. This clear funding shortfall has been described by the Mirarr as 'a source of significant concern to the Traditional Owners' – an understated view shared by other stakeholders.

ERA has recently moved to provide some assurance over the finances needed for clean up by launching a renounceable share offer. It is planned that over three million new shares will be issued, with existing shareholders being offered the first purchase option. At the time of the launch Rio Tinto's head of energy and minerals, Bold Baatar, stated "we take mine closure very seriously and are ensuring that ERA is able to fund the closure and rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area". Rio has committed take up its full entitlement and underwrite the initiative.

The new share issue will both increase Rio's stake in ERA and raise an expected A$476 million to aid in funding rehabilitation. The initiative is being currently being challenged by Singapore-based ERA minority shareholder Richard Magides and his Zentree Investments group who, unlike Rio Tinto, are keen to continue operations at Ranger. The Mirarr Traditional Owners have spoken of the urgent need to secure a funding solution and both they and ACF have welcomed the share move as an important step in providing certainty and capacity for the complex rehabilitation and closure effort.

The challenge posed in attempting to clean up a contaminated site in a tropical landscape is profound. This is exacerbated by the Aboriginal cultural significance and global recognition and awareness of Kakadu. Veteran resource journalist Matt Stevens recently wrote in the Australian Financial Review that Rio "wants to make Ranger the gold standard of mining rehab" and described Ranger as "the most important clean-up in Australian mining history".

In a single sentence he expressed the intent and the determination that has long driven the Aboriginal and environmental positioning around this work: 'this job has to be done right'.

Rio Tinto does seem committed to repairing decades of damage at Ranger. But trust is a finite commodity and must be built, demonstrated and delivered. The Ranger rehabilitation effort remains unfinished business and Rio Tinto remains the focus of global attention and scrutiny.

Why the nuclear lobby makes stuff up about the cost of wind and solar

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#879
04/11/2019
Giles Parkinson ‒ editor of RenewEconomy.com.au
Article

In Nuclear Monitor #878, we wrote about some of the tactics used by the nuclear industry and its supporters to spin nuclear power's clear economic disadvantage compared to renewables ('Big claims about small nuclear reactor costs'). Giles Parkinson ‒ editor of RenewEconomy.com.au ‒ offers this critique of recent nuclear spin regarding the costs of renewable energy sources.

There was no doubt that – given the opportunity – the ever-optimistic nuclear lobby in Australia would attempt to seize the moment and press the claims of their favoured technology to the parliamentary inquiry1 gifted to them by the federal government.

The nuclear lobby has largely given up on existing technology, recognising that the repeated cost blow-outs and delays means that it is too expensive, too slow and not suited for Australia's grid.

Instead, they have invested their hopes in a technology that doesn't actually exist yet, small nuclear reactors. But to promote it over the main competitors – wind and solar and storage – it has had to come up with forecasts for its pet technology that are, at best, fantasy, and assessments of wind and solar that are patently false and misleading.

It is generally accepted in the energy industry that the cost of new nuclear is several times that of wind and solar, even when the latter are backed up by storage. The GenCost 2018 report from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) puts the cost of nuclear at two to three times the cost of "firmed renewables".2

The nuclear lobby, however, has been insisting to the parliamentary inquiry that wind and solar are four to seven times the cost of nuclear, and to try and prove the point the lobby has been making such extraordinary and outrageous claims that it makes you wonder if anything else they say about nuclear – its costs and safety – can be taken seriously.

RenewEconomy has been going through the 290-something submissions and reading the public hearing transcripts, and has been struck by one consistent theme from the pro-nuclear organisations and ginger groups: When it comes to wind, solar and batteries, they just make stuff up.

A typical example is the company SMR Nuclear Technology – backed by the coal baron Trevor St Baker3 – which borrows some highly questionable analysis to justify its claim that going 100 per cent renewables would cost "four times" that of replacing coal with nuclear.

It bases this on modelling by a consultancy called EPC4, based on the south coast of NSW, apparently a husband and wife team, Robert and Linda Barr, who are also co-authors of "The essential veterinarian's phone book", a guide to vets on how to set up telephone systems.

The EPC report admits to deliberately ignoring the anticipated cost reductions of wind and solar from AEMO's 2018 integrated system plan. Even worse, the report dials in a completely absurd current cost of wind at A$157/MWh (before transmission costs), which is about three times the current cost in Australia, and A$117/MWh for solar, which is more than double.5

The costs of wind and solar are not hard to verify. They are included in the GenCost report, in numerous pieces of analysis, and even in public announcements from companies involved, both buyers and sellers. St Baker could have helped out, as his company has signed two big solar contracts (for the Darlington and Vales Point solar farms) and we can bet he won't be paying A$117/MWh.

Apart from costs, the EPC scenarios for 100 per cent renewables are also, at best, imaginative. For some reason they think there will only be 10GW of solar in a 100% renewables grid and just 100MW of battery storage. Big hint: There is already 12GW of solar in the system and about 300MW of battery storage. But we discovered that assuming wind and solar do not or won't exist, and completely ignoring distributed energy, are common themes of the nuclear playbook.

The delivered cost of energy from wind and solar in the EPC modelling of a 100 per cent renewables grid? A hilariously outrageous sum of A$477/MWh (US$330/MWh).

Contrast this with SMR Nuclear Technology's claims about the cost of a modern small modular reactor – US$65/MWh – even though it admits the technology "has not been constructed", and which leading nuclear expert Ziggy Switkowski points out won't likely be seen for at least another decade. …

The EPC report also forms the basis of the analysis from the Nuclear Now Alliance, which describes itself as a not-for profit group of Australian scientists and engineers that are passionate about the benefits of nuclear "but have no connection to the industry."

Moltex, which says it is "developing" some sort of fission technology (it says it has a design but hasn't actually built anything) uses the same trick as EPC to paint a daunting picture of renewable and storage costs, in this case by multiplying the cost of batteries by the total amount of electricity consumed in a single day. "Australia consumes 627 Gigawatt hours of electricity per day, and so the battery storage required to cover just one 24 hour period would cost A$138 billion," it proclaims. It is such an incredibly stupid and misleading claim that it simply takes the breath away. …

But that's what the nuclear industry feels it needs to do to make its yet-to-be invented technology sound feasible and competitive.

Let's go to StarCore, a Canadian company that says it, too, wants to manufacture small modular reactors, and claims renewables are "seven times" the cost of nuclear, and which also has a fascination with the Nyngan solar farm. It uses the cost of Nyngan to make the bizarre claim that to build 405 of them would cost A$68 billion, and then compares this to what it claimed to be the "zero upfront capital costs" of one of StarCore's plants.

Say what? Does the nuclear plant appear just like that? Solar and wind farms also usually have long-term power purchase agreements, but they still have to be built and someone has to provide the capital to do so. Nuclear with a zero capital cost? Really, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Down Under Nuclear Energy, headed by a former oil and gas guy and a former professor at the University of Western Australia who specialises in mathematical social science and economics, also bases its solar costs on the Nyngan solar farm and makes this bizarre claim about battery storage: "The precipitous decline in solar technology is highly unlikely to be replicated in batteries, a technology already approaching 150 yrs of maturity," it says.

Hey, here's some breaking news. Costs of battery storage have already mirrored solar's fall, down 80 per cent in last decade6 and utilities like Transgrid predict another 60 per cent fall over next 10-15 years.7

And most large-scale storage batteries use lithium, an abundant resource, and this is battery technology that was actually invented just over 40 years ago by the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry. As the Nobel citation says: "(Co-winner Stanley) Wittingham developed the first fully functional lithium battery in the 1970s." Not 1870.

Women in Nuclear and the Australian Workers Union both quote the Industry Super report on nuclear, which we debunked a while back8, which puts the cost estimates of wind and solar plants at 10 times their actual cost.

The "capital cost" of the Dundonnel wind farm in Victoria, for instance, is put at A$4.2 billion (try A$400 million) according to their bizarre calculations, while the Darlington solar farm is put at $5.8 billion (try A$350 million). It's pure garbage and the fact that it is being quoted really does beggar belief. …

But all the nuclear submissions have one common trait. They assume that the deployment of renewables is stopped in its tracks, either now of sometime soon. It's more wish than analysis, but in that they will have found a willing fellow traveller in federal energy minister, Angus "there is already too much wind and solar on the grid" Taylor, who thought it a good idea to have the inquiry.

But the reality is that the rest of the energy industry wants to move on. They know that the grid can be largely decarbonised within the next two decades from a combination of renewables and storage.

That's a simple truth that the nuclear lobby cannot accept, and they've passed up the opportunity to have an open and honest debate by promoting utter garbage about renewables, to the point where it would be difficult to believe much of anything else they say.

Abridged from RenewEconomy, 23 Oct 2019, https://reneweconomy.com.au/why-the-nuclear-lobby-makes-stuff-up-about-c...

References:

1. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Environme...

2. https://www.csiro.au/~/media/News-releases/2018/renewables-cheapest-new-...

3. http://www.smrnuclear.com.au/about-smr-nt/management/

4. https://epc.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Case-6.pdf

5. https://epc.com.au/index.php/nem-model/

6. https://about.bnef.com/blog/bullard-how-a-battery-can-lead-a-quiet-revol...

7. https://reneweconomy.com.au/battery-storage-nearly-there-as-smarter-chea...

8. https://reneweconomy.com.au/taylor-presses-nuclear-button-as-energy-wars...

See also: http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20399&page=0

Nuclear power exits Australia's energy debate, enters culture wars

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#877
25/06/2019
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

With a dwindling number of exceptions, all of the support for nuclear power in Australia comes from the far-right of the political spectrum. They aim to have national legislation banning nuclear power plants repealed … but that seems unlikely.

The pro-nuclear far-right includes a number of politicians and ex-politicians, and some business lobby groups such as the Minerals Council of Australia, and the Business Council of Australia.

Few would be surprised that the far-right supports nuclear power (if only because the 'green left' hates it). But in Australia, support for nuclear power is increasingly marginalized to the far-right. Indeed support for nuclear power has become a sign of tribal loyalty. You support nuclear power (and coal) or you're a 'cultural Marxist' (the far-right's description for anyone who isn't far-right). You oppose renewables and climate change action or you're a 'warmist' … and a cultural Marxist.

Unsurprisingly, support for nuclear power in Australia has ebbed in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, catastrophic costs overruns on reactor projects in western countries, and the falling costs of renewables.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski used to be nuclear power's head cheerleader in Australia and he led the federal government's review of nuclear power in 2006.1 But he said last year that "the window for gigawatt-scale nuclear has closed"2, and that nuclear power is no longer cheaper than renewables with the costs continuing to diverge rapidly in favour of renewables.3

Peter Farley, a fellow of the Australian Institution of Engineers, wrote: "As for nuclear the 2,200 MW Plant Vogtle [in the US] is costing US$25 billion plus financing costs, insurance and long term waste storage. ... For the full cost of US$30 billion, we could build 7,000 MW of wind, 7,000 MW of tracking solar, 10,000 MW of rooftop solar, 5,000MW of pumped hydro and 5,000 MW of batteries. ... That is why nuclear is irrelevant in Australia. It has nothing to do with greenies, it's just about cost and reliability."4

In January, Australia's Climate Council ‒ comprising our leading climate scientists and other policy experts ‒ issued a policy statement concluding that nuclear power plants "are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be".5 The Climate Council's statement continued: "Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can't be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water".

The 2006 Switkowski report estimated the cost of electricity from new reactors at A$40–65 per megawatt-hour (MWh).1 That's roughly one-quarter of current estimates. Lazard's November 2018 report on levelized costs of electricity (LCOE) gives these figures6:

  • New nuclear: US$112‒189 / MWh (A$161‒271 / MWh)
  • Wind: US$29‒56 / MWh (A$42‒80 / MWh)
  • Utility-scale solar: US$36‒46 / MWh (A$52‒66 / MWh)
  • Natural-gas combined-cycle: US$41‒74 / MWh (A$59‒106 / MWh)

In 2009, Switkowski said that the construction cost of a 1,000 MW power reactor Australia would be A$4‒6 billion.7 Again, that's about one-quarter of all the real-world experience over the past decade in western Europe (and Scandinavia) and north America:

  • The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in US state of Georgia (2 x AP1000 reactors) has doubled to US$27‒30+ billion (A$38.8‒43.2+ billion).8 In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US$1.4 billion (A$2 billion)9 ‒ that's 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle.
  • The V.C. Summer project in South Carolina (2 x AP1000 reactors) was abandoned after expenditure of at least US$9 billion (A$12.9 billion).10 The project was initially estimated to cost US$9.8 billion (A$14.1 billion); when it was abandoned, the estimate was around US$25 billion (A$36 billion).11
  • The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (A$48.7 billion) (the EU's 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion12 plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 201713). A decade ago, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was almost seven times lower at £2 billion (A$3.65 billion).14
  • The Wylfa (Wales) project was abandoned by Hitachi after the estimated cost of the twin-reactor project had risen from ¥2 trillion (A$26.4 billion) to ¥3 trillion (A$39.7 billion).15
  • France: The EPR reactor under construction at Flamanville is seven years behind schedule and the estimated cost of €10.9 billion (A$17.7 billion) is more than three times the original estimate of €3.3 billion (A$5.4 billion).16
  • Finland: One EPR reactor under construction, 10 years behind schedule (and counting), the estimated cost of €8.5 billion (A$13.8 billion) is nearly three times the original €3 billion price tag.17 The €8.5 billion figure was Areva's estimate in 201218; true costs have likely increased for the long-delayed project.

Nuclear exits energy debate, enters culture wars

The far-right won't let facts get in the way of their promotion of nuclear power. New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro claims that nuclear power would probably be the cheapest power source for the average Australian household19 and is "guaranteed" to lower power bills.20 Far-right ex-politicians Jim Molan21 and Clive Palmer22 claim nuclear power is "cheap". The claim by the Institute of Public Affairs that 10 power reactors could be built for A$60 billion23 is out by A$80‒180 billion based on recent experience in western Europe and north America.

The far-right repeatedly claim that 'small modular reactors' (SMRs) will come to the nuclear industry's rescue. But real-world experience with SMRs under construction suggests they will be hideously expensive.24 According to cost estimates in a December 2018 paper by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator, the cost of power from SMRs would need to more than halve to be competitive with wind and solar PV even with some storage costs included (two hours of battery storage or six hours of pumped hydro storage).25

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's rationale for supporting nuclear power ‒ and repealing legislation banning nuclear power plants ‒ is to "create a contest" with the unions, GetUp, the Greens and the Labor Party.26 Likewise, he said last year that promoting nuclear power "would generate another fight with Labor and the green left."27

Abbott ‒ and some others on the far-right ‒ would undoubtedly oppose nuclear power if Labor and the 'green left' supported it and they would be pointing to the A$14‒24+ billion price-tags for new reactors in western countries.

Abbott seems to have forgotten the experience in John Howard's last term as Prime Minister. Howard became a nuclear power enthusiast in 2005 and the issue was alive in the 2007 election contest. Howard's nuclear promotion did nothing to divide the opposition Labor Party. On the contrary, it divided the governing Liberal/National Coalition, with at least 22 Coalition candidates publicly distancing themselves from the government's policy during the election campaign. The promotion of nuclear power was seen to be a liability and it was ditched immediately after the election.

Lunatics in charge of the asylum

Those of us opposed to nuclear power can take some comfort in its increasing marginalisation to the far-right. But there are far-right-wingers highly placed in the federal government and a number of state governments. Right-wing National Party MPs are lobbying for a Senate inquiry and for a repeal of the Howard-era legislation banning nuclear power.

It has the sense of a political set-piece: the far-right wins control of the numbers on a Senate inquiry and the government agrees with its pro-nuclear findings and repeals the Howard-era legal ban which prohibits the construction of nuclear power reactors in Australia.

But would Prime Minister Scott Morrison agree to repeal the ban given that there is no prospect of nuclear power being a viable option for Australia in the foreseeable future? Surely that would be an own goal, providing ammunition to political opponents and opening up divisions within the Coalition. If Morrison agreed to repeal the ban ‒ and he says the government has no plans to do so ‒ it would presumably only be because he felt constrained to do so by far-right Coalition MPs and by non-government far-right Senators such as Pauline Hanson. (He is also dealing with the push for government funding for a new coal-fired power plant.)

Ecomodernists

Of course, support for nuclear power in Australia isn't exclusively limited to the far-right, although it is heading that way. A tiny number of self-styled 'pro-nuclear environmentalists' or 'ecomodernists' continue to bang the drum. Ben Heard, for example, continues to voice his support for nuclear power ‒ his advocacy lubricated by secret corporate donations28 and amplified by the right-wing media and by invitations to any number of uranium- and nuclear-industry talk-fests.

Heard continues undeterred by the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission's clear acknowledgement that nuclear power is not economically viable in Australia or by its complete rejection of his 'next generation' nuclear fantasies.29

But what impact could Heard's nuclear advocacy possibly have in the current context, with fossil fuel interests fighting to protest their patch and to curb the growth of renewables, and with nuclear power being so exorbitantly expensive that isn't part of any serious debate about Australia's energy options? Surely the only effect of nuclear advocacy in the current context is to muddy the debate about transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables and thus to sure up incumbent fossil fuel interests.

Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin discussed these issues last year:30

"The problem is that nuclear fans like Ben Heard are, in effect, advocates for coal. Their line of argument runs as follows:

(1) A power source with the characteristics of coal-fired electricity (always on) is essential if we are to decarbonise the electricity supply
(2) Renewables can't meet this need
(3) Nuclear power can

"Hence, we must find a way to support nuclear. The problem is that, on any realistic analysis, there's no chance of getting a nuclear plant going in Australia before about 2040. So, the nuclear fans end up supporting the Abbott crew saying that we will have to rely on coal until then. And to make this case, it is necessary to ignore or denounce the many options for an all-renewable electricity supply, including concentrated solar power, large-scale battery storage and vehicle-to-grid options. As a result, would-be green advocates of nuclear power end up reinforcing the arguments of the coal lobby. … In practice, support for nuclear power in Australia is support for coal. Tony Abbott understands this. It's a pity that Ben Heard and others don't."

References:

1. Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review (UMPNER), 2006, Final Report, http://pandora.nla.gov.au/tep/66043

2. Cole Latimer, 11 Jan 2018, 'Australia has 'missed the boat' on nuclear power', http://www.theage.com.au/business/the-economy/australia-has-missed-the-b...

3. Cole Latimer, 25 Jan 2018, 'Safety risks stall nuclear role in Australia's energy mix', http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/safety-risks-stall-nuclear-ro...

4. Peter Farley, 4 Feb 2019, 'How did wind and solar perform in the recent heat-wave?', https://reneweconomy.com.au/how-did-wind-and-solar-perform-in-the-recent...

5. Climate Council, 23 Jan 2019, 'Nuclear power stations are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be', https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/nuclear-power-stations-are-not-appropr...

6. Lazard, Nov 2018, 'Lazard's Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis ‒ Version 12.0', https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-ver...

7. Ziggy Switkowski, 18 Dec 2009, 'A clean and green way to fuel the nation', https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/a-clean-and-green-way-to-fuel-t...

8. Nuclear Monitor #867, 15 Oct 2018, 'Vogtle's reprieve: snatching defeat from the jaws of defeat', https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/867/vogtles-reprieve-s...

9. Jon Gertner, 16 July 2006, 'Atomic Balm?', https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/16/magazine/16nuclear.html

10. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba-Westinghouse: The End of New-build for the Largest Historic Nuclear Builder', https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/Toshiba-Westinghouse-The-End-of-New-b...

11. Brad Plumer, 31 July 2017, 'U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned', https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/climate/nuclear-power-project-cancele...

12. European Commission, 8 Oct 2014, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-1093_en.htm

13. Adam Vaughan, 3 July 2017, 'Hinkley Point C is over budget and a year behind schedule, EDF admits', https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/03/hinkley-point-c-is-22bn-...

14. Mycle Schneider, Antony Patrick Froggatt and Steve Thomas, 21 Aug 2014, 'The saga of Hinkley Point C: Europe's key nuclear decision', https://energypost.eu/saga-hinkley-point-c-europes-key-nuclear-decision/

15. The Mainichi, 25 Dec 2018, 'Editorial: Japan must ditch nuclear plant exports for global trends in renewable energy', https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20181225/p2a/00m/0na/011000c

16. GCR, 15 Oct 2018, 'France's nuclear regulator finally approves Flamanville reactor vessel', http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/frances-nuclear-regulator-f...

17. Jason Deign, 9 Jan 2019, 'Europe's EPR Nuclear Reactor Model May Finally Go Live in 2019', https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/epr-nuclear-reactor-model-m...

18. Jussi Rosendahl, Tuomas Forsell, 10 Oct 2017, 'Areva's Finland reactor to start in 2019 after another delay', https://www.reuters.com/article/us-finland-nuclear-olkiluoto/arevas-finl...

19. John Barilaro, 2 June 2019, 'It's time we started talking about nuclear power as an option in Australia', The Daily Telegraph, https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/its-time-we-started-talki...

20. Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2017, 'Editorial: Political correctness is restricting our ability to talk about solutions to our energy crisis', http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/political-correctness-is-r...

21. Jim Molan, 13 Nov 2018, 'We can't ignore our unique nuclear opportunity', https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/we-cant-ignore-our-unique-nucle...

22. Brinkwire, 10 May 2019, 'Clive Palmer's UAP backs SA nuclear energy', http://en.brinkwire.com/news/clive-palmers-uap-backs-sa-nuclear-energy/

23. Giles Parkinson, 20 Feb 2018, 'Frydenberg, IPA trolling renewables on ABC's Q&A – again', http://reneweconomy.com.au/frydenberg-ipa-trolling-renewables-on-abcs-qa...

24. Nuclear Monitor #872-873, 7 March 2019, 'SMR cost estimates, and costs of SMRs under construction', https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/872-873/smr-cost-estimates...

25. Paul W Graham, Jenny Hayward, James Foster, Oliver Story and Lisa Havas, December 2018, 'GenCost 2018: Updated projections of electricity generation technology costs', https://www.csiro.au/~/media/News-releases/2018/renewables-cheapest-new-...

26. Joe Kelly, 15 Sept 2018, 'Abbott's election advice to Morrison: it's time to hit the nuclear switch', https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/abbotts-election-advic...

27. Tony Abbott, 16 Aug 2018, 'Government must focus on lowering prices in any energy guarantee: Tony Abbott', https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/government-must-focus-on-...

28. https://www.brightnewworld.org/how-to-give-our-donations-policy

29. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report, May 2016, http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf

30. John Quiggin, 13 Aug 2018, 'Coal and the nuclear lobby (updated)', https://johnquiggin.com/2018/08/13/coal-and-the-nuclear-lobby/

Uranium mines harm Australia's Indigenous people – so why have we approved a new one?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#876
27/05/2019
Jessica Urwin
Article

May 1, 2019: Last week the federal government approved the Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia in the face of vigorous protest from traditional owners.1 This Cameco-owned uranium mine is the newest instalment in Australia's long tradition of ignoring the dignity and welfare of Aboriginal communities in the pursuit of nuclear fuel.

For decades, Australia's desert regions have experienced uranium prospecting, mining, waste dumping and nuclear weapons testing. Settler-colonial perceptions that these lands were "uninhabited"2 led to widespread environmental degradation at the hands of the nuclear industry.

As early as 1906, South Australia's Radium Hill was mined for radium.3 Amateur prospectors mined haphazardly, damaging the lands of Ngadjuri and Wilyakali Traditional Owners. An estimated 100,000 tonnes of toxic mine residue (tailings) remain at Radium Hill with the potential to leach radioactive material into the environment.

Uranium mines across Australia have similar legacies, with decades of activism from the Mirarr people against the Ranger and Jabiluka mine sites in Kakadu National Park.4 In the 36 years since it began operating, the Ranger mine has produced over 125,000 tonnes of uranium and experienced more than 200 accidents.5 In 2013, a reported one million litres of contaminated material spilt into the surrounding environment.6

Aboriginal communities remain at a disproportionate risk because large uranium deposits exist in lands deemed sacred and significant, while the testing and dumping of nuclear material is rarely undertaken in areas inhabited by settlers.

The federal government's ambivalence toward these impacts has most recently culminated in their decision to give Cameco the go-ahead for the Yeelirrie uranium mine, a blow to the traditional owners of Tjiwarl country.7

Native title fails to protect traditional owners from the mining industry

The Tjiwarl people have fought the Yeelirrie mine alongside the Conservation Council of WA for more than two years.8 They now must grapple with the government's decision to ignore their resistance.

But the Tjiwarl people are not alone. Aboriginal communities across Australia continue to engage with and mobilise against government decisions to ignore native title claimants.

As set out in Australian law, native title is the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights to the land and waters, guided by traditional law and customs.9

Aboriginal communities have an opportunity to object to a mining application, 35 days before the outcome of the application is determined.10 A complex appeals process follows.

But even in the face of significant complaints, mining applications are more often than not approved. This has led to people mobilising internationally.

And in 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) negotiated with the United Nations to create a treaty banning nuclear weapons.11 The treaty, adopted on July 7, 2017, recognised the disproportionate impact nuclear material has on Indigenous communities around the world. It includes the mining and milling of uranium.

The treaty warns that parties should be "mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (hibakusha), as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons, [and recognise] the disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples."12

Nuclear weapons sourced from Aboriginal lands

The toxic legacy of uranium mining is not isolated to the contamination of ecosystems. Radium Hill provided uranium for weapons for the United Kingdom and United States, including the nuclear weapons tested at Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.13 These weapons spread radioactive contamination and dispossessed Aboriginal communities in and around the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands.14

Uranium from the Ranger mine in Northern Territory found its way into the Fukushima reactors, a reality that plagues the Mirarr people. In 2011, senior Mirarr traditional owner Yvonne Margarula expressed her sorrow for those affected by the Fukushima meltdown: "It is likely that the radiation problems at Fukushima are, at least in part, fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional lands. This makes us feel very sad."15

These legacies are felt acutely by those who continue to struggle with the lack of protection from native title and other government policies apparently designed to prevent the exploitation of Aboriginal communities by various industries.

In the 1970s, when the Ranger mine opened, the Mirarr people felt largely powerless in negotiations between mining companies and the federal government. Last week, the Tjiwarl experienced similar disempowerment. Yet both communities are recognised by the government as traditional owners.16

Unsurprisingly, Australia is yet to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, continuing the persistently toxic legacy of Australia's nuclear industry.

Jessica Urwin is a PhD student in the Australian National University's School of History. Her research focusses upon the toxic legacies of Australia's nuclear history, rooted in imperialism and enacted upon populations across the continent.

Reprinted from The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/uranium-mines-harm-indigenous-people-so-why-...

References:

1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-26/government-approved-uranium-mine-...

2. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=5wqFDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=...

3. http://www.energymining.sa.gov.au/minerals/mining/former_mines/radium_hi...

4. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jabiru

5. http://www.energyres.com.au/uploads/docs/2017_ERA_AnnualReport_ebook.pdf

6. http://www.mirarr.net/uranium-mining

7. https://www.camecoaustralia.com/projects/yeelirrie

8. https://thewest.com.au/business/uranium/battle-against-yeelirrie-uranium...

9. https://www.klc.org.au/what-is-native-title

10. http://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/Documents/Minerals/Process_for_Determining_Mini...(1).pdf

11. http://www.icanw.org/the-treaty/

12. https://www.un.org/disarmament/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/tpnw-info-kit-...

13. http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countr...

14. https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/sas-nuclear-debate-the-states-co...

15. http://www.mirarr.net/uranium-mining

16. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-26/government-approved-uranium-mine-...

Unfinished business: Spotlight grows on Rio Tinto's Kakadu uranium clean-up

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#876
27/05/2019
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear-free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation
Article

Four decades of imposed uranium mining by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) and Rio Tinto is about to end at the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu in Australia's Northern Territory.

What remains is a heavily impacted site that requires extensive, complex and costly rehabilitation. This must meet both community expectation and the mining company's legal obligation to restore the site to a standard where it can be incorporated into the surrounding Kakadu World Heritage area.

As mineral processing winds down at Ranger ahead of a mandated 2021 end to operations, a new report has found that Kakadu, Australia's largest national park, is at long-term risk unless the clean-up is comprehensive and effective.

Unfinished Business, co-authored by the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of Sydney and national environment group the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), examines the ERA Mine Closure Plan which outlines the rehabilitation works.

The report identifies significant data deficiencies, a lack of clarity around regulatory and governance frameworks and uncertainty over the adequacy of current and future financing – especially in relation to future monitoring and mitigation works for the mine site.

Mine operator ERA and parent company Rio Tinto are required to clean up the site to a standard suitable for inclusion in the surrounding Kakadu National Park, dual-listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

No mine in the world has ever successfully achieved this standard of clean-up and the rehabilitation project is attracting national and international attention. This interest has put increased pressure on the Australian and Northern Territory governments, and on ERA and Rio Tinto, to get this work right.

The outcome at Ranger is of critical importance to Rio Tinto's international reputation as a responsible corporate citizen and the company's wider social license to operate. The report argues that Rio Tinto's future access is directly linked to its efforts to repair past impacts.

Concerns over the adequacy of the rehabilitation plans and the financial capacity needed to deliver a comprehensive clean-up operation have been formally raised with Rio Tinto at the company's annual meetings in both London (April) and Perth (May).

Ranger has been one of the most contested and high-profile resource projects in Australia since the mine was opened in 1981 despite the clear opposition of the Mirarr Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal people of the Kakadu region.

The challenge now facing Rio Tinto is not to simply scrape rocks into holes and plant trees, it is to make sure mine tailings, radioactive slurry and toxic by-products of mining are isolated from the surrounding environment for 10,000 years.

"Achieving this in a monsoonal environment like Kakadu raises enormous environmental and governance challenges," said report co-author Dr Rebecca Lawrence from the Sydney Environment Institute. "For the rehabilitation process to even have a chance at success, the existing opaque and complex regulatory regime needs an urgent overhaul".

Tailings ‒ the waste material remaining after the processing of finely ground ore ‒ are one of the serious environmental risks at Ranger. The report examines how ERA and Rio Tinto intend to deliver on the federal government's requirement to protect the Kakadu environment by isolating any tailings and making sure contaminants do not result in any detrimental environmental impacts for at least 10,000 years.

Long after the miners have gone, this waste remains a direct human and environmental challenge. This issue is key to the long-term health of Kakadu, but there is insufficient evidence and detail on how this work will be managed and assured in the future. Without this detail there will be a sleeping toxic time bomb deep inside Kakadu. This work is a key test of the commitment and capacity of Northern Territory and Commonwealth regulators as well as the mining companies.

At its recent twin AGMs, Rio Tinto again committed to make sure ERA has the financial resources to deliver its rehabilitation obligations, but the financial mechanism to do so remains undisclosed and uncertainty persists.

The report makes recommendations to improve the chances of a successful clean-up at Ranger. It calls for increased transparency and community input, the public release of key project documents, a better alignment of research and operations and open review processes for key decision points.

Australia has a long history of sub-standard mine closure and rehabilitation in the uranium and wider mining sector, and there is a clear need for a better approach and outcome at Ranger. The challenge is how to rehabilitate the heavily impacted mine and larger Ranger Project Area in a way that reduces adverse impacts and provides confidence that the living and peopled landscape of Kakadu is best protected, now and into the future.

The full report ‒ Unfinished business: Rehabilitating the Ranger uranium mine ‒ is online at https://www.acf.org.au/unfinished_business_rehabilitating_ranger

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #869 - 28 November 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#869
28/11/2018
Jim Green
Shorts

Don't dump on South Australia rally

On Saturday November 3, about 1,000 people gathered at Parliament House in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia (SA), for the 'Don't Dump on SA – We Still Say No to Nuclear Waste' rally.

Plans to turn SA into the world's nuclear waste dump were defeated in 2016 but the state is being targeted for a national nuclear waste dump by the conservative federal Coalition government.

Millions have been spent bribing local communities and tens of millions more are promised to the selected site ‒ either in the Flinders Ranges or farming land near Kimba in the Eyre Peninsula.

The rally was held to send a clear message to the Federal Government to abandon the current abysmal site selection process and to the SA government to uphold state legislation that makes radioactive waste facilities illegal.

People travelled from the affected communities of Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges to join other South Australians concerned about the issue for a vibrant and colourful event of speakers and performers.

Eyre Peninsula resident Anna Taylor asked the crowd: "Why would you put radioactive waste in the middle of our food bowl when only 4% of our country is productive land?"

Adnyamathanha man Dwayne Coulthard said: "This process by the Federal Government is cultural genocide. We have had enough of being ignored. No radioactive waste dump on Adnyamathanha country in the Flinders Ranges. No waste dump in Kimba."

Dr Margie Beavis from the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) dispelled government scare-mongering linking the practice of nuclear medicine to its dump plans. Nuclear medicine has not been hindered by the absence of a national dump nor will it be helped by the establishment of a dump.

President of SA Unions Jamie Newlyn said: "Minister Canavan came out recently and identified Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Lincoln as areas where they could bring in nuclear waste. Those port communities in that logistics chain were all stunned by that announcement. The mayors of all of those communities are surprised that the announcement was made without any consultation."

"We're talking about this toxic, horrible nuclear waste coming through ports and across supply chains, across our boat links, across our highways and through our ports, that then it has to travel hours and hours by road or rail to a final destination, and those communities don't get a say either? That is a disgrace," Newlyn said.

A Friends of the Earth speaker noted that the plan to turn SA into the world's nuclear waste dump is still being promoted even though it lost support from major political parties in 2016. Two recent reports have promoted the plan to turn SA into the world's nuclear waste dump: one from a far-right politician and the other from 'ecomodernist' Ben Heard. Nuclear dumpsters aim to turn the SA into Australia's nuclear waste dump as a stepping stone to turning the state into the world's dump.

Other speakers included state Labor Party MP Eddie Hughes and federal Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

‒ Mara Bonacci, SA Conservation Council


"Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk" – the destiny and outreach of an Austrian pirate comic

Heinz Stockinger writes:

It is one of the most original, most cunning creations by the antinuclear movement: Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk, a pirate compilation of pictures taken from a dozen odd of existing editions of the French comic, with a new story told in the speech bubbles. While the Vienna street paper Augustin managed to publish an interview with the pirate author in 2006, he has remained anonymous even 40 years after the November 1978 referendum on Austria's nuclear power plant at Zwentendorf, 35 kilometres west of Vienna.

In the run-up to the 40th anniversary of this historic event this year, the Salzburg Platform Against Nuclear Hazards (PLAGE) has produced an exhibition titled Asterix and the Nuclear Power Plant – the destiny and outreach of an Austrian pirate comic.

The merits of this peculiar Asterix version are three-fold: Not only did it provide basic information (on radioactivity, safety, waste, lack of democratic decision-making etc.), but it showed people actually involved in action, thus encouraging readers to act. Thirdly, the amusing form of presentation afforded comic relief in a tense and conflict-prone public debate. Mr Uderzo and the German publishers were not amused, though. (Co-author Goscinny had died in 1977.) Complaints on copyright grounds were filed in Austria, as well as in Germany where the pirate comic had almost immediately taken on. (I remember donating 1,000 shillings – Austria's currency at the time – when two activists were fined 150,000 shillings for having sold copies at a street information stand in Vienna, some time after the 1978 referendum.)

It is this story of success and of prosecution that is told in parts 1 and 2 of PLAGE's Asterix exhibition. Its core is composed of selected scenes in which decisive moments of the struggle are called forth, or popular slogans put in the mouth of Asterix and Obelix and other figures, or on the banners they are carrying, often with a self-ironical note. Besides comments on those events and slogans, information is added on the political context, on some nuclear technical terms etc. Part 4 recalls how the comic was produced with the tools of pre-cut-and-paste times. In part 5, a quiz rounds off this pirate comic's journey from Austria to Spain and even Euskadi, via the Netherlands and other countries.

PLAGE has 'unofficially' presented the Asterix exhibition at this year's Nuclear-Free Future Award ceremony in the Great Hall of Salzburg University. It will be officially launched to the Salzburg media on December 15th.

P.S,: Inspiration for this exhibition came from ... the Nuclear Monitor! In autumn 2017, it announced that the Laka Foundation, Amsterdam, was preparing an exhibition of original material and documentation on a comic named Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk and on how it had spread to other countries, an adventure completely unknown in Austria. That announcement immediately triggered the idea of an exhibition for the Austrian public, to be first presented on the 40th anniversary of the Zwentendorf referendum. An exhibition coming on 20 roll-up posters, well transportable, ready for use in a broad variety of educational and cultural facilities, and even on squares in town and the like. Without the Laka Foundation's original material, the PLAGE exhibition would not have been possible.

More information:

Dirk H. R. Spennemann, Oct 2015, 'Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk. Bibliographic Forensics of a German Underground Comic', Stichting Laka: Amsterdam, www.researchgate.net/publication/282696102_Asterix_und_das_Atomkraftwerk...

Western Australian uranium industry on the brink

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#869
4762
28/11/2018
Mia Pepper ‒ member of the Ban Uranium Mining Permanently (BUMP) collective of Friends of the Earth Perth; board member of the Mineral Policy Institute. 
Article

Ten years ago the conservative Barnett government lifted the long-standing ban on uranium mining in Western Australia (WA). The government had promised "$5 billion to WA's gross State product" and "$450 million a year." Industry proponents promised jobs and bragged that uranium will be like "iron ore on steroids."

The reality has been far more like morose miners on methadone. After a decade that has seen sustained Aboriginal and wider community resistance to mining plans, the uranium price plummet in the wake of Fukushima and a surge in renewable energy production, there is not a single operating uranium mine in WA.

Uranium exploration companies were a dime a dozen but just four projects surfaced as having potential in WA. Three of them raced through the environmental assessment process under the Barnett government and emerged with environmental, but not final, approvals just weeks before the state election in a clear move to wedge the incoming Labor government.

The McGowan Labor government felt the wedge and let the four mines with partial approvals continue ‒ a clear breach of Labor's pre-election promise not to allow mines to proceed unless they had full approvals. But the sustained low uranium price and community opposition has thwarted plans to develop any of the four mines.

Cameco has written off the entire value of the Kintyre project, Toro Energy has shelved its uranium plans and is now trying to strike lucky with gold, Cameco's Yeelirrie project is the subject of a legal challenge by the Conservation Council of WA and three traditional owners, and then there is Vimy's Mulga Rock project.

Vimy released its Definitive Feasibility Study for Mulga Rock earlier this year and the company is reported to be "confident of securing contract prices of about $US60/lb this year or next for delivery in 2021 when it hopes to be in production with Mulga Rock." There was supposed to be an investment decision by July but instead Vimy was handing out pay cuts and scaling back or bunkering down for the sustained lull in the uranium price (currently around $US30/lb).

And while Toro is looking for gold ‒ and other uranium companies have diversified into medicinal marijuana production or property development ‒ Vimy is hedging its bets by setting up a subsidiary to explore for base metals.

Globally, 115 nuclear reactors are undergoing decommissioning ‒ double the number under construction. The International Energy Agency is warning about the lack of preparation and funding for a "wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors" and an "unprecedented rate of decommissioning". A growing number of countries are phasing out nuclear power, including Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, Belgium and Taiwan.

The world's most experienced reactor builder, Westinghouse, went bankrupt last year and the debts it incurred on reactor projects almost bankrupted its parent company, Toshiba. After the expenditure of at least $A12.4 billion, construction of two partially-built reactors in the US was abandoned last year, and the only other reactor construction project in the US was almost abandoned this year after cost overruns of $A14 billion.

No wonder that nuclear lobbyists are themselves acknowledging a "crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West" and are already writing eulogies about the "ashes of today's dying industry".

Nuclear power's crisis has direct and obvious implications for the uranium industry. Only two mines uranium are operating in Australia ‒ Olympic Dam and Beverley Four Mile ‒ while mining has ended at the Ranger mine in the NT and ore stockpiles are being processed while work begins on a A$1 billion rehabilitation.

The low uranium price is a symptom of a growing trend away from nuclear, a trend matched by increasing investment in renewable energy. Renewables generate 2.5 times more electricity than nuclear reactors worldwide, and the gap is growing rapidly. Even Dr Ziggy Switkowski ‒ who used to be nuclear power's head cheerleader in Australia ‒ recently said that the window for large nuclear reactors has closed and that the cost comparison is rapidly diverging in favour of renewables.

It is with great optimism we look to great technological advancements made in renewable energy and hope to see the end of old and dirty energy like coal and nuclear. So we sigh with relief that there are no operating mines at Kintyre, Yeelirrie, Wiluna and Mulga Rock, that uranium from WA is not on its way to processing plants or reactors destined to become waste, a toxic legacy.

And we can celebrate those special places and unique ecosystems and continue, with watchfulness, to monitor the activities of those companies who have not yet seen the writing on the wall that uranium is uneconomic, unwanted and unsafe.

Radioactive racism and Australia's 'ecomodernists'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#863
4733
22/06/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The plan to turn South Australia (SA) into the world's nuclear waste dump has lost momentum since 2016 though it continues to be promoted by some politicians, the Business SA lobby group, and an assortment of individuals and lobbyists including self-styled pro-nuclear environmentalists or 'ecomodernists'.

In its 2016 report, the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission established by the state government strongly promoted a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (about one-third of the world's total) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste.1 The state Labor government then spent millions on a state-wide promotional campaign under the guide of consultation. The government also initiated a Citizens' Jury process. However two-thirds of the 350-member Citizens' Jury rejected the waste import proposal "under any circumstances" in their November 2016 report.2

The Jury's verdict was non-binding but it took the wind out of the dumpsters' sails. Shortly after the Jury reported, the SA Liberal Party ‒ then in opposition and now in government ‒ announced that it would campaign against the waste import plan. Despite the relentless, dishonest promotion of the plan by the state government and the Murdoch press, public opinion in SA was clearly against it.3

A key factor in the Jury's rejection of the waste import plan was that Aboriginal people had spoken clearly in opposition.4 The Jury's report said: "There is a lack of aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. The aboriginal people of South Australia (and Australia) continue to be neglected and ignored by all levels of government instead of respected and treated as equals."2

The respect shown by the Citizens' Jury to Aboriginal Traditional Owners had been conspicuously in the debate until then. SA Premier Jay Weatherill (ousted in the March 2018 state election) said in 2015: "We have a specific mandate to consult with Aboriginal communities and there are great sensitivities here. I mean we've had the use and abuse of the lands of the Maralinga Tjarutja people by the British when they tested their atomic weapons."5

However, the SA government's handling of the Royal Commission process systematically disenfranchised Aboriginal people from the start. The truncated timeline for providing feedback on draft Terms of Reference disadvantaged people in remote regions, people with little or no access to email and the internet, and people for whom English is a second language. There was no translation of the draft Terms of Reference, and a regional communications and engagement strategy was not developed or implemented by the SA government.

The Royal Commission

Royal Commissioner Kevin Scarce ‒ a retired Navy officer ‒ didn't appoint a single Aboriginal person to the staff of the Royal Commission or to the Expert Advisory Committee.

Aboriginal people repeatedly expressed frustration with the Royal Commission process. One example was the submission of the Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob (Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners):6

"Why we are not satisfied with the way this Royal Commission has been conducted:

Yaiinidlha Udnyu ngawarla wanggaanggu, wanhanga Yura Ngawarla wanggaanggu? – always in English, where's the Yura Ngawarla (our first language)?

"The issues of engagement are many. To date we have found the process of engagement used by the Royal Commission to be very off putting as it's been run in a real Udnyu (whitefella) way. Timelines are short, information is hard to access, there is no interpreter service available, and the meetings have been very poorly advertised. ... A closed and secretive approach makes engagement difficult for the average person on the street, and near impossible for Aboriginal people to participate."

In mid-2016 Tauto Sansbury, Chairperson of the SA Aboriginal Congress, said: "In our second meeting with Commissioner Scarce we had 27 Native Title groups from all around South Australia. We had a vote on it. And it was unanimous that the vote said 'no we don't want it'. It was absolutely unanimous. Commissioner Scarce said 'well maybe I'm talking to the wrong people' and we said 'well what other people are you going to talk to? We're Native Title claimants, we're Native Title Traditional Owners from all over this country ... so who else are you going to pluck out of the air to talk to ... we've stuck to our guns and we still totally oppose it. That's every Native Title group in South Australia'."7

The Royal Commission acknowledged Aboriginal opposition to its nuclear waste import plan – but it treated that opposition not as a red light but as an obstacle to be circumvented. The Commission opted out of the debate regarding land rights and heritage protections for Aboriginal people, stating in its report: "Although a systematic analysis was beyond the scope of the Commission, it has heard criticisms of the heritage protection framework, particularly the consultative provisions."1

Such an analysis wasn't "beyond the scope of the Commission" ‒ it ought to have been core business. The terms of reference specifically directed the Commission to consider potential impacts on "regional, remote and Aboriginal communities" and to consider "lessons learned from past … practices".

Despite its acknowledgement that it had not systematically analysed the matter, the Royal Commission nevertheless arrived at unequivocal, favourable conclusions, asserting that there "are frameworks for securing long-term agreements with rights holders in South Australia, including Aboriginal communities" and these "provide a sophisticated foundation for securing agreements with rights holders and host communities regarding the siting and establishment of facilities for the management of used fuel."1

Such statements were conspicuously absent in submissions from Aboriginal people and organisations. There is in fact an abundance of evidence that land rights and heritage protection frameworks are anything but "sophisticated."8 For example, the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 provides feeble rights and protections at the best of times, but it does not apply to the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine.8 The mine must partially comply with an old (1979) version of the Act. Or at least, the mine might have to comply with the 1979 version of the Act but that it is doubt since the 1979 Act was never proclaimed and has dubious legal standing. The legislation governing the Olympic Dam mine ‒ the Roxby Downs Indenture Act ‒ was amended in 2011. A perfect opportunity to do away with the mine's exemptions from the Aboriginal Heritage Act. But the state Labor government failed to consult Traditional Owners and enshrined the exemptions in the amended legislation. Asked to justify that decision, a government MP said in state Parliament: "BHP were satisfied with the current arrangements and insisted on the continuation of these arrangements, and the Government did not consult further than that."9

Enter the ecomodernists

No-one was surprised by the racism of the Royal Commission, given its origins and constitution. Australians are not surprised by the racism of the major political parties ‒ the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition.8

And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the behaviour and attitudes of Australia's self-styled pro-nuclear 'ecomodernists'.

Ben Heard ‒ whose so-called environment group 'Bright New World' accepts secret corporate donations ‒ said the Royal Commission's findings were "robust".10 Seriously? Failing to conduct a systematic analysis, or any analysis whatsoever, but nevertheless concluding that a "sophisticated foundation" exists for securing agreements with Aboriginal rights-holders ... that's robust? Likewise, academic Barry Brook ‒ best-known for promoting a bogus Outstanding Scientist award and insisting that there was no credible risk of a serious accident at Fukushima even as nuclear meltdowns were in full swing11 ‒ said he was "impressed with the systematic and ruthlessly evidence-based approach the [Royal Commission] team took to evaluating all issues."12

In a November 2016 article about the nuclear waste import plan, Ben Heard and Oscar Archer wrote: "We also note and respect the clear message from nearly all traditional owner groups in South Australia that there is no consent to proceed on their lands. We have been active from the beginning to shine a light on pathways that make no such imposition on remote lands."13

In Heard's imagination, the imported spent nuclear fuel (calling it waste is an "appalling misnomer"14) would not be dumped on the land of unwilling Aboriginal communities, it would be processed for use as fuel in non-existent Generation IV 'integral fast reactors'.

Heard claims his imaginary Generation IV reactor scenario "circumvents the substantial challenge of social consent for deep geological repositories, facilities that are likely to be best located, on a technical basis, on lands of importance to Aboriginal Australians".14

But even in Heard's scenario, only a tiny fraction of the imported spent fuel would be converted to fuel for imaginary reactors (in one of his configurations, 60,000 tonnes would be imported but only 4,000 tonnes converted to fuel). Most of it would be stored indefinitely, or dumped on the land of unwilling Aboriginal communities. Some might be converted to fuel for export to countries that, like Australia, don't have any of these imaginary 'integral fast reactors'!

Heard acknowledges that even with his imaginary reactors, "some form of disposal is necessary" for relatively short-lived radionuclides.10 He fails to note that his proposal would also generate long-lived intermediate-level waste destined for deep underground disposal. UC Berkeley nuclear engineer Prof. Per Peterson notes: "Even integral fast reactors (IFRs), which recycle most of their waste, leave behind materials that have been contaminated by transuranic elements and so cannot avoid the need to develop deep geologic disposal."15

Heard says he "respects" the opposition of Traditional Owners to the waste import plan, but that respect appears to be superficial at best. Indeed one of his responses to the overwhelming opposition of Traditional Owners was to organise an 'open letter' promoting the waste import plan which was endorsed by 'prominent' South Australians, i.e. rich, non-Aboriginal people.16

One of the reasons to pursue the waste import plan cited in Heard's open letter is that it would provide an "opportunity to engage meaningfully and partner with Aboriginal communities in project planning and delivery". Evidently Heard believes that Aboriginal people's opposition to the waste import plan ought to be overridden but they might be given a say in project planning and delivery.

A second version of the open letter cited the "successful community consultation program" with Aboriginal communities.17 But the report arising from the SA government's community consultation program (successful or otherwise) stated: "Many [Aboriginal] participants expressed concern about the potential negative impacts on their culture and the long-term, generational consequences of increasing the state's participation in the nuclear fuel cycle. There was a significant lack of support for the government to continue pursuing any form of nuclear storage and disposal facilities. Some Aboriginal people indicated that they are interested in learning more and continuing the conversation, but these were few in number."3

Geoff Russell18, another self-styled pro-nuclear environmentalist, wrote in a November 2016 article:19

"Have Aboriginals given any reasons for opposing a waste repository that are other than religious? If so, then they belong with other objections. If not, then they deserve the same treatment as any other religious objections. Listen politely and move on.

"Calling them spiritual rather than religious makes no difference. To give such objections standing in the debate over a repository is a fundamental violation of the separation of church and state, or as I prefer to put it, the separation of mumbo-jumbo and evidence based reasoning.

"Aboriginals have native title over various parts of Australia and their right to determine what happens on that land is and should be quite different from rights with regard to other land. This isn't about their rights on that land.

"Suppose somebody wants to build a large intensive piggery. Should we consult Aboriginals in some other part of the country? Should those in the Kimberley perhaps be consulted? No.

"They may object to it in the same way I would, but they have no special rights in the matter. They have no right to spiritual veto."

Where to begin? Why should Russell's beliefs be privileged over the beliefs of Aboriginal people? His description of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs as "mumbo-jumbo" is beyond offensive. Federal native title legislation provides limited rights and protections for some Traditional Owners ‒ and no rights and protections for many others (when the federal Coalition government was trying to impose a national nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in SA in 2003, it abolished all native title rights and interests over the site). Russell's claim that Traditional Owners are speaking for other people's country is a fabrication.

National nuclear waste dump

The attitudes of the ecomodernists also extend to the debate over the siting of a proposed national nuclear waste dump. Silence from the ecomodernists when the federal government was passing laws allowing the imposition of a national nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory without consent from Traditional Owners. Worse still, echoing comments from the right-wing Liberal Party20, Brook and Heard said the site in the Northern Territory was in the "middle of nowhere".21 From their perspective, perhaps, but for Traditional Owners the site is in the middle of their homelands.

Heard claims that one of the current proposed dump sites, in SA's Flinders Ranges, is "excellent" in many respects and it "was volunteered by the landowner".22 In fact, it was volunteered by absentee landlord and former Liberal Party politician Grant Chapman, who didn't bother to consult Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners living on the neighbouring Indigenous Protected Area.23 The site is opposed by most Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and by their representative body, the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA). The April 2018 ATLA Annual General Meeting passed this resolution: "The Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association remains totally opposed to the nuclear waste dump at Wallerberdina. This is our land, our culture and we must have veto over this toxic waste being dumped in our country. Udnyus come and go but we will be here forever. We say NO to the waste dump, for our grandchildren and their grandchildren and many generations to come."24

Heard claims there are "no known cultural heritage issues" affecting the Flinders Ranges site.22 Try telling that to the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners who live on Yappala Station, in the Indigenous Protected Area25 adjacent to the proposed dump site. The area has many archaeological and culturally-significant sites that Traditional Owners have registered with the SA government over the past decade.26 Two Adnyamathanha associations ‒ Viliwarinha Aboriginal Corporation and the Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob ‒ wrote in a November 2015 statement: "The whole area is Adnyamathanha land. It is Arngurla Yarta (spiritual land). The proposed dump site has springs. It also has ancient mound springs. It has countless thousands of Aboriginal artefects. Our ancestors are buried there. Hookina Creek that runs along the nominated site is a significant women's site. It is a registered heritage site and must be preserved and protected."27

So where did Heard get this idea that there are "no known cultural heritage issues on the site"? Not from visiting the site, or speaking to Traditional Owners. He's just parroting the federal government's racist lies.

Silence from the ecomodernists about the crudely racist National Radioactive Waste Management Act (NRWMA) which dispossesses and disempowers Traditional Owners in every way imaginable.28 The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste dump is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent. The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect archaeological or heritage values, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions. The NRWMA curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage. The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste dump.

Uranium mining

Silence from the ecomodernists about the Olympic Dam mine's exemptions from provisions of the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act.8

Silence from the ecomodernists about sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth's Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory from the Act and thus removed the right of veto that Mirarr Traditional Owners would otherwise have enjoyed.29

Silence from the ecomodernists about the divide-and-rule tactics used by General Atomics' subsidiary Heathgate Resources against Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in relation to the Beverley and Four Mile uranium mines in SA.8,30

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Dr Jillian Marsh, who in 2010 completed a PhD thesis30 on the strongly contested approval of the Beverley mine, puts the nuclear debates in a broader context: "The First Nations people of Australia have been bullied and pushed around, forcibly removed from their families and their country, denied access and the right to care for their own land for over 200 years. Our health and wellbeing compares with third world countries, our people crowd the jails. Nobody wants toxic waste in their back yard, this is true the world over. We stand in solidarity with people across this country and across the globe who want sustainable futures for communities, we will not be moved."31

Now, Traditional Owners have to fight industry, government, and the ecomodernists as well.

References:

1. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report, May 2016, http://yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf

2. South Australia's Citizens' Jury on Nuclear Waste Final Report, Nov 2016, http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/11/06/07/20/56/26b5d85c-...

3. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Consultation and Response Agency, Nov 2016, 'Community Views Report', p.9, http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/11/11/09/37/34/0c1d5954-...

4. See the many statements of opposition posted at www.anfa.org.au/traditional-owners-statements

5. ABC, "Australia Must Have a Rational Discussion about Nuclear Industry, Says SA Premier Jay Weatherill," The World Today 19 Mar. 2015, www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2015/s4200643.htm

6. Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob, "Submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission," 4 Sept. 2015, http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/app/uploads/2016/03/Anggumathanha-02-09-2015.pdf

7. Adelaide Congress Ministry, 18 Aug 2016, www.facebook.com/adelaide.congress/posts/604440683059431

8. Jim Green, Sept 2017, 'Radioactive Waste and Australia's Aboriginal People', Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp.33-50, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/radioactive-waste-and-australias-aboriginal-p...

9. Parliament of South Australia, 24 Nov 2011, Hansard: "Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) (Amendment of Indenture) Amendment Bill, https://hansardpublic.parliament.sa.gov.au/Pages/HansardResult.aspx#/doc...

10. Ben Heard, 2 Nov 2016, "We must be a full-service provider to the nuclear back-end", https://decarbonisesa.com/2016/11/02/we-must-be-a-full-service-provider-...

11. https://nuclear.foe.org.au/barry-brook-brave-new-climate/

12. Barry Brook, 7 June 2016, 'On the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission', https://bravenewclimate.com/2016/06/07/on-the-nuclear-fuel-cycle-royal-c...

13. Ben Heard and Oscar Archer, 4 Nov 2016, 'False revelations, manufactured outrage: the timing tells the story', https://decarbonisesa.com/2016/11/04/false-revelations-manufactured-outr...

14. Ben Heard, 1 Feb 2017, 'Close the cycle: an alternative approach for used nuclear fuel', www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18822&page=0

15. Breakthrough Institute, 5 May 2014, 'Cheap Nuclear', http://theenergycollective.com/breakthroughinstitut/376966/cheap-nuclear

16. Paul Starick, 13 Dec 2016, 'Prominent South Australians demand that the state push ahead with study on nuclear waste repository', www.news.com.au/national/south-australia/prominent-south-australians-dem...

17. Ben Heard, 2 March 2017, 'An open letter to South Australia's elected members and political parties 2 March 2017: Opportunity for Government to transform the State', www.brightnewworld.org/media/2017/3/3/an-open-letter-to-south-australias...

18. https://nuclear.foe.org.au/geoff-russell/

19. Geoff Russell, 10 Nov 2016, 'The Nuclear Waste Dump: South Australia Does A Brexit', https://newmatilda.com/2016/11/10/the-nuclear-waste-dump-south-australia...

20. Erin Stewart, 31 May 2012, 'A community maintains its spirit in confronting ignorance', www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/a-community-maintains-its-spirit-in-c...

21. Ben Heard and Barry Brook, 25 June 2014, 'Nuclear waste is safe to store in our suburbs, not just the bush ', https://theconversation.com/nuclear-waste-is-safe-to-store-in-our-suburb...

22. Ben Heard, 12 May 2016, 'Location, location, location: why South Australia could take the world's nuclear waste', https://theconversation.com/location-location-location-why-south-austral...

23. https://nuclear.foe.org.au/waste/#flinders

24. www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=169465413771115&id=15036241234...

25. Australian Government, 22 Jan 2014, 'New Indigenous Protected Area Creates Opportunities for Yappala Community', www.indigenous.gov.au/new-indigenous-protected-area-creates-opportunitie...

26. Scribe Archeology, Aug 2015, 'VYAC Yura Malka. Cultural Landscape Mapping of the VYAC Yappala Group of Properties, Draft Report', www.archive.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/VYAC%20Yura%20Malka_V0b.pdf

27. Viliwarinha Aboriginal Corporation and the Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob, 27 Nov 2015, 'Help us stop the nuclear waste dump in the Flinders Ranges!', https://nuclear.foe.org.au/2015-statement-from-adnyamathanha-traditional...

28. Amanda Ngo, 2017, 'National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012', https://nuclear.foe.org.au/nrwma/

29. Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, 'A History of Duress – A GAC Research Project', http://web.archive.org/web/20130425181741/http://mirarr.net/duress1.htm

30. Jillian K. Marsh, 2010, 'A Critical Analysis of the Decision-Making Protocols used in Approving a Commercial Mining License for Beverley Uranium Mine in Adnyamathanha Country: Toward Effective Indigenous Participation in Caring for Cultural Resources', Ph.D. thesis, Department of Geographical and Environmental Studies, University of Adelaide, https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/67247/8/02...

31. Media Release, 29 April 2016, 'Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners will fight nuclear waste dump plan', https://nuclear.foe.org.au/no-nuclear-dump-in-the-flinders-ranges/

Closure plan for Ranger U mine in Australia's tropical Top End

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#862
4728
08/06/2018
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear-free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation
Article

Traditional Aboriginal owners and civil society groups have welcomed the public release of a detailed Mine Closure Plan for the controversial Ranger uranium mine in the Kakadu World Heritage region of Australia's Northern Territory.

The Mine Closure Plan was released on June 5, World Environment Day ‒ exactly 21 years since Traditional Owners positioned a massive banner on the Kakadu escarpment opposing the planned uranium mine at Jabiluka.

The plan to mine Jabiluka was defeated, and now the nearby Ranger mine is winding down. The Ranger mine, operated by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) – a Rio Tinto subsidiary – has ceased mining uranium and is now processing stockpiled ore prior to a mandated end of operations in 2021.

The rehabilitation of the site has been a focus for Aboriginal landowners and environment groups in recent years with sustained advocacy highlighting Rio Tinto's responsibility and calling for increased transparency and effective action. The release of the Mine Closure Plan follows recent calls by civil society groups at Rio Tinto meetings in Darwin, London and Melbourne and marks a significant step towards to end of the uranium mining story in Kakadu.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners of the Ranger site, described the plan as 'decades overdue' and called on Rio Tinto to demonstrate they have sufficient resources to provide confidence that they can meet their rehabilitation obligations. A joint statement by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council said: "ERA and its parent company Rio Tinto must clearly demonstrate that they have sufficient resources devoted to mine closure to provide stakeholders with confidence that the objectives outlined in the closure plan can be met. The future of Aboriginal communities downstream of the mine and the World Heritage listed values of Australia's largest national park are at stake. ERA and Rio Tinto's rehabilitation obligations include remediation of the site such that it can be incorporated in the surrounding Kakadu National Park."

Concerns have been raised about the lack of formal feedback opportunities on the plan. Environment and other civil society groups joined Traditional Owners in calling for the need for the broader community to comment on the plan and the proposed clean-up works.

Environment groups are independently reviewing the plan to ensure it is fit for purpose and delivers the best possible rehabilitation outcomes. The Environmental Defenders Office has been engaged by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Environment Centre Northern Territory to provide legal expertise and advice. Principal Lawyer of the Environmental Defenders Office Northern Territory, Gillian Duggin, said: "It's a unique site surrounded on all sides by the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. It's also of incredible cultural significance. So getting the rehabilitation right is critically important and will be a complex and time-consuming exercise."

Cleaning up the heavily impacted mine site after three decades of operation is set to be a complicated and costly process with estimates ranging around one billion Australian dollars (€650 million). The complexity is compounded by the properties of the product and the politics of the place. Large volumes of long lived radioactive mine tailings need to be contained for a period of 'not less than 10,000 years' while the Ranger site is located inside Kakadu, Australia's largest national park and World Heritage listed for both its natural and cultural value. The Ranger rehabilitation must be performed to a standard where the affected area can be accepted into the World Heritage region.

This is a very high bar and, as the Traditional Owners recently told Rio Tinto, 'the world is watching'.

The Mine Closure Plan is posted at www.energyres.com.au/sustainability/ClosurePlan

Paladin Energy puts second African uranium mine into care-and-maintenance

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#862
4726
08/06/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

Western Australia-based uranium mining company Paladin Energy announced on May 25 that it is winding down operations at the Langer Heinrich mine (LHM) in Namibia and placing it into care-and-maintenance.1

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the decision to mothball LHM is that Paladin claims it is the lowest cost open-pit uranium mine in the world.2 Moreover, the company wasn't even paying to mine ore ‒ mining ceased in November 2016 and since then medium-grade ore stockpiles have been processed.3 Alex Molyneux describes LHM as "world-class"2 … so evidently a low-cost, "world-class" mine can't even turn a profit processing mined stockpiles.

The cost of production was US$23.11/lb U3O8 in December 2017, and the average realized sale price in the second half of 2017 was $21.82.4

Paladin was faced with a choice between continuing to process medium-grade ore stockpiles (which would be exhausted in mid-2019) then shifting to low-grade stockpiles, resuming mining, or putting the mine into care-and-maintenance.

Anticipating the decision to mothball LHM, Paladin Energy CEO Alex Molyneux said in late-April: "The uranium market has failed to recover since the Fukushima incident in 2011, with the average spot price so far in 2018 the lowest in 15 years. It's deeply distressing to have to consider suspending operations at LHM because of the consequences for our employees, and the broader community. However, as there has yet to be a sustainable recovery in the uranium market, and with the aim of preserving maximum long-term value for all stakeholders, it is clearly prudent to consider these difficult actions."5

Paladin hopes to resume mining at LHM following "normalization" of the uranium market, which it anticipates in the next few years.2 But with no operating mines, Paladin may not survive for long enough to witness a market upswing. The only other mine operated by Paladin ‒ the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi ‒ was put into care-and-maintenance in July 2014.6 Paladin also owns a number of projects it describes as 'nonproducing assets', such as uranium projects in Australian states that ban uranium mining.

Paladin was placed into the hands of administrators in July 2017 as it was unable to pay EDF a US$277 million debt.6 In January 2018, Paladin's administrator KPMG noted that an Independent Expert's Report found that the company's net debt materially exceeds the value of its assets, its shares have nil value, and if Paladin was placed into liquidation there would be no return to shareholders.7 The company was restructured, with Deutsche Bank now the largest shareholder, and relisted on the Australian Securities Exchange in February 2018.2

Perhaps LHM will be sold for a song, either before or after Paladin goes bankrupt. A subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has held a 25% stake in LHM since January 2014. Last year, the CNNC subsidiary considered exercising its contractual right to buy Paladin's 75% stake in LHM, but chose not to exercise that right following an independent valuation of US$162 million for Paladin's stake.8

Uranium production at Paladin Energy's uranium mines in Africa (tonnes uranium):

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Total

Langer Heinrich

919

1108

1419

1437

1960

2098

1947

1937

1893

1308

16,026

Kayelekera

104

670

846

1101

1132

369

4,222

Combined % world production

2.1%

2.4%

3.9%

4.3%

5.2%

5.4%

4.1%

3.2%

3.1%

2.2%*

 

Source: Data compiled by World Nuclear Association data, www.world-nuclear.org

* Based on estimated world production of 60,000 tU.

Mine-site rehabilitation

Paladin hopes to restart both LHM and Kayelekera. But in 2016, Paladin's CEO Alexander Molyneux said that "it has never been a worse time for uranium miners"9 and the situation has not improved since then ‒ uranium prices have fallen further still, and the long-term contract price recently fell below US$30/lb for the first time since May 2005.10

Sooner or later, both the LHM and Kayelekera mine-sites will need to be rehabilitated. Yet it is extremely doubtful whether Paladin has set aside adequate funds for rehabilitation. Paladin's 2017 Annual Report lists a 'rehabilitation provision' of US$86.93 million to cover both LHM and Kayelekera.11

One problem is that the funds might not be available for rehabilitation if Paladin goes bankrupt. A second problem is that even if the funds are available, they are unlikely to be sufficient. For comparison, Energy Resources of Australia's provision for rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine in Australia ‒ also an open-pit uranium mine ‒ is US$403 million (A$526 million).12 That figure is understood to be additional to US$346 million (A$452 million) already spent on water and rehabilitation activities since 201213 ‒ thus total rehabilitation costs could amount to US$749 million (A$978 million) … and the current cost estimates could easily increase as they have in the past.

Rehabilitation of LHM and Kayelekera could be cheaper than rehabilitation of Ranger for several reasons, such as the relative size of the mine-sites. However it stretches credulity to believe that the cost of rehabilitating both LHM and Kayelekera would be an order of magnitude lower than the cost of rehabilitating one mine in Australia.

Paladin was required to lodge a US$10 million Environmental Performance Bond with Malawian banks and presumably that money can be tapped to rehabilitate Kayelekera.14 But US$10 million won't scratch the surface. According to a Malawian NGO, the Kayelekera rehabilitation cost is estimated at US$100 million.15

Paladin has ignored repeated requests to provide information on the estimated cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond and it is extremely unlikely that Paladin's provision of US$86.93 million for the rehabilitation of both LHM and Kayelekera is adequate.

If Paladin goes bankrupt, it seems likely that most of the costs associated with the rehabilitation of LHM and Kayelekera will be borne by the Namibian and Malawian governments (with a small fraction of the cost for Kayelekera coming from the bond) ‒ or the mine-sites will not be rehabilitated at all. Even if Paladin is able to honor its US$86.93 million provision, additional costs necessary for rehabilitation will likely come from the Malawian and Namibian governments, or rehabilitation will be sub-standard.

Australia's responsibility

The problem of inadequate provisioning for rehabilitation is most acute for Kayelekera ‒ it is a smaller deposit than LHM and more expensive to mine (Paladin has said that a uranium price of about US$75 per pound would be required for Kayelekera to become economically viable16). Thus the prospects for a restart of Kayelekera (and the accumulation of funds for rehabilitation) are especially grim.

Is it reasonable for Australia, a relatively wealthy country, to leave it to the overstretched, under-resourced government of an impoverished nation to clean up the mess left behind by an Australian mining company? Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.17 According to a 2013 U.N. report, more than half of the population live below the poverty line.17

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should intervene to sort out the situation at Kayelekera and to prevent a repetition of this looming fiasco. The conservative Minister's eyes might glaze over in response to a moral argument about the importance of Australia being a good global citizen. But there is also a hard-headed commercial argument for intervention to ensure that the Kayelekera mine-site is rehabilitated.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government. Australia is set to become the biggest international miner on the African continent according to the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group.18 But Australian companies can't expect to be welcomed if problems such as Kayelekera remain resolved.

Broader problems

Paladin exploited Malawi's poverty to secure numerous reductions and exemptions from payments normally required by foreign investors. United Nations' Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter noted in a 2013 report that "revenue losses from special incentives given to Australian mining company Paladin Energy, which manages the Kayelekera uranium mine, are estimated to amount to at least US$205 million (MWK 67 billion) and could be up to US$281 million (MWK 92 billion) over the 13-year lifespan of the mine."17

Paladin's environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of numerous critical reports.19 The WISE-Uranium website has a 'Hall of Infamy' page dedicated to the company.20

Standards at Kayelekera fall a long way short of Australian standards ‒ and efforts to force Australian mining companies to meet Australian standards when operating abroad have been strongly resisted. Paladin's Kayelekera project would not be approved in Australia due to major flaws in the assessment and design proposals, independent consultants concluded.21 The consultants' report covered baseline environmental studies, tailings management, water management, rehabilitation, failure to commit to respecting domestic laws, use of intimidation and threatening tactics against local civil society, improper community consultation and payments to local leaders, and destruction of cultural heritage.

Sadly, these are familiar problems. Julie Bishop told the Africa Down Under mining conference in Western Australia in September 2017 that many Australian mining projects in Africa are outposts of good governance.18 The Australian government "encourages the people of Africa to see us as an open-cut mine for lessons-learned, for skills, for innovation and, I would like to think, inspiration," Bishop said.18

Such claims sit uneasily with the highly critical findings arising from a detailed investigation by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists (ICIJ).22 The ICIJ noted in its 2015 report that since 2004, more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in off-site skirmishes connected to Australian mining companies in Africa.23 There have been six deaths at Kayelekera19 and at least one death at LHM.24

The ICIJ report further stated: "Multiple Australian mining companies are accused of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa, according to legal filings and community petitions gathered from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana."23

References:

1. Paladin Energy, 25 May 2018, 'LHM Confirmation of Care & Maintenance', https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20180525/pdf/43v8z12d7zf1r0.pdf

2. Charlotte McLeod, 25 May 2018, 'Paladin Energy Pulls Plug on Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine', https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/energy-investing/uran...

3. World Nuclear Association, 26 April 2018, 'Namibian mine prepares for care and maintenance decision', www.world-nuclear-news.org/UF-Namibian-mine-prepares-for-care-and-mainte...

4. Mariaan Webb, 28 Feb 2018, 'Paladin posts loss as Langer Heinrich sales volumes fall, costs increase', www.miningweekly.com/article/paladin-posts-loss-as-langer-heinrich-sales...

5. Mining Technology, 30 April 2018, 'Paladin begins consultations to place LHM mine on care and maintenance', www.mining-technology.com/news/paladin-begins-consultations-place-lhm-mi...

6. Nuclear Monitor #847, 21 July 2017, 'Paladin Energy goes bust', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/847/paladin-energy-goes-bust

7. Matthew Woods for and on behalf of Paladin Energy, 2 Jan 2018, 'Directions Hearing and DOCA Update', www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20180102/pdf/43ql352cxkfyhg.pdf

8. World Nuclear Association, 21 Aug 2017, 'CNNC decides against Langer Heinrich buyout', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-CNNC-decides-against-Langer-Heinrich-buyout...

9. Geert De Clercq, 3 Oct 2016, 'Desperate uranium miners switch to survival mode despite nuclear rebound', www.reuters.com/article/us-uranium-nuclearpower-idUSKCN1230EF

10. www.cameco.com/invest/markets/uranium-price

11. Paladin Energy, Annual Report 2017, p.132, www.paladinenergy.com.au/sites/default/files/financial_report_file/palad...

12. ERA, 'Annual Report 2017', www.energyres.com.au/uploads/docs/2017_ERA_AnnualReport_ebook.pdf

13. ERA, 5 June 2018, 'ERA releases Closure Plan for Ranger mine', www.energyres.com.au/media/era-releases-closure-plan-for-ranger-mine/

14. Paladin, 14 Feb 2018, 'Reviewed Pro Forma Balance Sheet', www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20180214/pdf/43rkwl3tsn1vgc.pdf

15. William Nyirenda / Citizens for Justice, 2 April 2014, 'Paladin lies to Malawi Government on its Kayelekera uranium mine', www.ejolt.org/2014/04/paladin-lies-to-malawi-government-on-its-kayeleker...

16. Sarah-Jane Tasker, 8 Jan 2015, 'Paladin Energy alerts ASX to spill at Malawi uranium mine', www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/paladin-energy-alerts-as...

17. United Nations, 22 July 2013, 'End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Malawi 12 to 22 July 2013', http://web.archive.org/web/20130829181627/www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pa...

18. Eric Bagshaw, 10 September 2017, 'The Australian companies mining $40 billion out of Africa', Sydney Morning Herald, www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/the-australian-companies-...

19. Nuclear Monitor #847, 21 July 2017, 'Paladin Energy's social and environmental record in Africa', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/847/paladin-energys-social-and...

20. WISE-Uranium, 'Paladin Energy Ltd Hall of Infamy', www.wise-uranium.org/ucpalhi.html

21. Dr Gavin M. Mudd and Howard D. Smith, November 2006, 'Comments on the Proposed Kayelekera Uranium Project Environmental Impact Assessment Report', http://users.monash.edu.au/~gmudd/files/Comments-Kayelekera-EIS-Draft-v3...

22. www.icij.org/project/fatal-extraction

23. www.icij.org/investigations/fatal-extraction/key-findings-11/

24. Adam Hartman, 31 Oct 2018, 'Langer Heinrich worker dies', www.namibian.com.na/index.php?id=115939&page=archive-read

A journey to the heart of the anti-nuclear resistance in Australia: Rad Tour 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#860
4719
10/05/2018
Ray Acheson ‒ Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Article

Looking at a map of South Australia's nuclear landscape, the land is scarred. Uranium mines and weapon test sites, coupled with indications of where the government is currently proposing to site nuclear waste dumps, leave their marks across the desert. But amidst the devastation these poisonous activities have left on the land and its people, there is fierce resistance and boundless hope.

Friends of the Earth Australia has been running Radioactive Exposure Tours for the past thirty years. Designed to bring people from around Australia to meet local activists at various nuclear sites, the Rad Tour provides a unique opportunity to learn about the land, the people, and the nuclear industry in the most up-front and personal way.

This year's tour featured visits to uranium mines, bomb test legacy sites, and proposed radioactive waste dumps on Arabunna, Adnyamathanha, and Kokatha land in South Australia, and introduced urban-based activists to those directly confronting the nuclear industry out in country. It brought together about 30 people including campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Reaching Critical Will, environmental activists with Friends of the Earth Australia and other organisations, and interested students and others looking to learn about the land, the people, and the industries operating out in the desert.

The journey of ten days takes us to many places and introduces us to many people, but can be loosely grouped into three tragic themes: bombing, mining, and dumping. Each of these aspects of the nuclear chain is stained with racism, militarism, and capitalism. Each represents a piece of a dirty, dangerous, but ultimately dying nuclear industry. And each has been and continues to be met with fierce resistance from local communities, including Traditional Owners of the land.

Testing the bomb

The first two days of the trip are spent driving from Melbourne to Adelaide to Port Augusta. We pick up activists along the way, before finally heading out to the desert. Our first big stop on the Tour is a confrontation with the atomic bomb.

The UK government conducted twelve nuclear weapon tests in Australia.1 Nine took place in South Australia, at Emu Field and Maralinga. All of the tests used plutonium ‒ some of which may have been produced from uranium mined at Radium Hill in South Australia. The UK and Australia also conducted hundreds of so-called 'minor trials' to test the effects of fire and non-nuclear explosions on atomic bombs, which spread plutonium far and wide.

One of the tests at Emu Field in 1953 resulted in a radioactive cloud spreading over 250 kilometres northwest of the test site. This "Black Mist" is held responsible for a sudden outbreak of sickness and death amongst Aboriginal communities.2 A Royal Commission in 1983–1984 found that the test had been conducted under wind conditions known to produce "unacceptable levels" of fallout and did not take into account the existence of people down wind of the test site. The Commission reported that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by "ignorance, incompetence and cynicism".3

The government has so far conducted four "clean ups" of Maralinga over the years.4 Each one finds that the previous effort was insufficient. The latest "clean up" in the mid-1990s found plutonium buried in shallow, unlined pits ‒ and much of that plutonium remains in that condition today. Nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson told the ABC: "What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn't be adopted on white-fellas land."5

While our Tour didn't take us to the Emu Field or Maralinga sites this time, we did visit people and lands affected by the testing in Woomera, a small town about 450 km north of Adelaide. Established as a base for a missile and rocket testing program, it is full of the ghosts of both people and weapons.

On our first night at Woomera we were joined by Avon Hudson, a nuclear weapon test whistleblower who as a Royal Australian Air Force serviceperson was assigned to work at Maralinga during the time of the 'minor trials'.

Avon gave testimony to the Royal Commission investigating UK nuclear weapon testing in the 1980s after disclosing classified information to the media starting in the 1970s. His stories, told to us around the campfire and while visiting various sites in Woomera, were full of pain. He described how those serving in the Australian military were not given information or protection against the nuclear tests, how the radioactive fallout affected Aboriginal and other local communities, and how the radioactive racism by the government continues to leave a lasting mark on current and future generations.

We visited the Woomera Cemetery, where a disturbing number of babies and children are buried. Journalist Bryan Littlely notes that the cemetery "contains 23 graves for stillborn babies born in the hospital between December 1953 and September 1968, and a further 46 graves for other children who died around that period."6 While there has not yet been enough research to definitely prove a causal link between the weapons testing and the high numbers of stillbirths and early childhood deaths in the region, more than 100 South Australians joined a class action lawsuit against the British Ministry of Defense in 2010, demanding answers to the cause of death of their babies.7 However, "the case was not allowed to proceed8 because it was deemed impossible to prove radiation caused their illness."9

While it has so far escaped having to answer for the deaths in Woomera, the UK government did pay A$13.5 million in compensation to the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners in 1995. But other known victims of British testing, including members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, have not been compensated.

Responding to the UK court's decision against the survivors, then Greens Senator Scott Ludlam wrote in a letter to the UK parliament in 2013: "Of the British and Australian veterans who were involved in the testing, and the Aboriginal people in the area at the time of the blasts, only 29 Aboriginal people have ever received compensation from the Australian Government and veterans continue to struggle to obtain the medical support they need despite experiencing unusually high rates of cancer and other ill effects associated with exposure to radiation."9

One of those who never received compensation or an apology was Yami Lester, Yunkunytjatjara elder and activist, who was blinded by the Emu Field nuclear weapon test in 1953 when he was ten years old. He was a key player in the Royal Commission, and went on to be a powerful advocate for land rights and against nuclear waste dumps. We didn't get to meet Yami on this Tour, because he passed away in July 2017, just two weeks after the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.10

Yami's daughters Karina and Rose Lester played an important role in raising support for the Treaty in Australia and participating in its negotiation in New York. Working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Karina delivered a statement on behalf of more than 30 indigenous groups from around the world at the negotiations, successfully advocating for provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, as well as a recognition of the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous populations.

Several of us from ICAN, the civil society coalition that advocated for years for the nuclear ban treaty, were on this year's Rad Tour. We joined to connect with and learn from those resisting other pieces of the chain of nuclear violence, and to sit on country that has been so harmed time and again.

Digging up the poison

After two days of learning about the effects of British atomic testing and visiting disturbing sites in Woomera, we headed further into the radioactive nightmare to visit a quintessential site related to the starting point of the nuclear violence chain: the Olympic Dam uranium mine near Roxby Downs.11

As of April 2018, two uranium mines are operating in South Australia: Olympic Dam and Beverley Four Mile. These mines produced and exported 5,493 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2016 ‒ 63% of Australia's total production that year.12 The only other operating uranium mine in Australia is Ranger in the Northern Territory, where mining has ceased but stockpiled ore is being processed until the mine's final closure a few years from now.

After days spent camping on the red earth of this region, it was devastating to see the massive Olympic Dam mine displacing the ground, burrowing into it with machines and metal, bringing poison up from the depths. We went on a tour conducted by BHP, the mine's operator. We were not allowed to take photos, or leave the vehicle we were on.

In addition to the uranium ore, Olympic Dam has generated over 150 million tonnes of uranium tailings ‒ radioactive sludge that is left over after extracting the uranium-bearing minerals from the ore. Friends of the Earth describes it as a "toxic, acidic soup of radionuclides and heavy metals."13 The tailings, and the processes used in extraction, risk the safety of workers and local communities. In the mid-1990s it was revealed that about three billion litres had seeped from the tailings dams over two years.14 Between 2003 and 2012, BHP reported 31 radiation leaks at the mine. On our tour, we were not permitted to see the tailings dams.

The mine is also a drain on natural resources. It uses around 37 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin every single day. This is the largest and deepest artesian basin ‒ a confined aquifer containing groundwater ‒ in the world. It provides the only source of fresh water through much of inland Australia. The government and various industries use it, but Olympic Dam has been increasing its use since its founding. While the BHP tour guides showing us around the mine assure us that they are responsibly using the water and that it can continue to rely on the basin for at least the next 85 years of the mine's anticipated lifespan, environmental activists have serious and legitimate questions about the sustainability of this level of water usage.15

After our trip to the mine, we visited the Mound Springs near Lake Eyre, in Arabunna country. These are natural springs sustained by the underlying Great Artesian Basin. We were accompanied by Kokatha Traditional Owner Glen Wingfield, who, while not Arabunna, has spent his life visiting the springs. He lamented the depletion of the springs, explaining that it gets sadder to visit each time because the water levels are down more and more each and every time. Studies have shown that the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin has declined due to increased extraction.16 As the water table drops, springs have started drying up across South Australia as well as Queensland.

Uranium mining companies, and federal and state governments, typically ignore the concerns of Traditional Owners, use divide-and-rule tactics to split local communities, provide false or misleading information, and even use legal threats ‒ all to ensure that the uranium industry gets its way. When it comes to Olympic Dam, this racism is enshrined in legislation. WMC Resources Limited, which started the uranium mine, was granted legal privileges under the South Australian Roxby Downs Indenture Act. This legislation overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Environment Protect Act, the Water Resources Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.17 The current mine owner, BHP, has refused to relinquish these legal privileges.

The problems of uranium mining, however, are not just local. Australia's uranium is exported around the world. It was in the Fukushima reactors that suffered a meltdown in 2011. It is converted into high-level nuclear waste in power reactors across the globe. Australia's uranium exports have produced over 176 tonnes of plutonium ‒ enough to build over 17,600 nuclear weapons.

On the tour of Olympic Dam, it wasn't clear the BHP guides knew where their uranium was going. "Europe," said one. "I think maybe China," said another. It's a sad fact that BHP's customers include nuclear weapons states as well as countries refusing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Aboriginal communities and environmental activists have long resisted the mine, from before it was even constructed. The night after we visited Olympic Dam, Glen Wingfield told us about his family's consistent activism against the mine ‒ as well as his brief time spent working there. Conditions at the mine were awful for workers, he argues, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The Traditional Owners were not consulted before the mine's construction, and have fiercely opposed it. They have been joined by others concerned about the mine's environmental impacts. In 2016, the Desert Liberation Front organised a "party at the gates of hell," following a protest in 2012 that saw hundreds travel from around the country to shut down the main road into the mine for four hours.18 Protests have also been held outside BHP's Melbourne headquarters, and resource and environment ministers' offices.19

While BHP anticipates the mine will operate for another 85 years, opposition to its operation will continue. And while that opposition has not yet seen the closure of the mine, it likely did play a role in BHP's decision not to go ahead with its planned mega-expansion of the mine in 2012. For now, at least, the gates of hell have not been enlarged.

Dumping radioactive waste

From the gates of hell we travelled to what might be described as the gates of paradise. For now.

The federal government of Australia wants to build a facility to store and dispose of radioactive waste in South Australia, either at Wallerberdina Station near Hawker or on farming land in Kimba.20 Wallerberdina Station is located in the Flinders Ranges, the largest mountain range in South Australia, 540 million years old. Approaching from the north on our drive down from Lake Eyre can only be described as breathtaking. The red dirt, the brown and green bush, and the ever-changing purples, blues, and reds of the mountains themselves are some of the most complex and stunning scenes one can likely see in the world.

Most people might find it shocking that the federal government would want to put a nuclear waste dump smack in the middle of this landscape. But after visiting other sites on the Rad Tour, it was only yet another disappointment ‒ and another point of resistance.

What is known is that the Wallerberdina site is of great cultural, historical, and spiritual significance to the Adnyamathanha people.21 It borders the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area, which is a crucial location for biodiversity in the Flinders Ranges. Its unique ecosystem provides a refuge for many native species of flora and fauna, contains many archaeological sites as well as the first registered Aboriginal Songline of its type in Australia, and is home to Pungka Pudanha, a natural spring and sacred woman's site.

In case that isn't enough, the area is a known floodplain. Our travels around the proposed site contained ample evidence of previous floods that sent massive trees rushing down the plain, smashing into each other and into various bridges and other built objects. The last big flood occurred in 2006.

The Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners were not consulted before their land was nominated for consideration by the government for the waste dump. "Through this area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our family, our history and our future," wrote Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in a 2015 statement.22 "We don't want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation, our everything)."

We met Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners Vivianne and Regina McKenzie, and Tony Clark, at the proposed site. They invited us into the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area to view the floodplains and swim in the beautiful Pungka Pudanha. We'd just been camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges National Park only a few kilometres away. It is impossible to understand the government's rationale for wanting to build a toxic waste dump on this land so cherished by its Traditional Owners, local communities, and tourists alike.

The McKenzies have been working tirelessly to prevent the proposed dump from being established, as have other local activists. Fortunately, they have some serious recent successes to inspire them.

In 2015, the federal government announced a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste from around the world to South Australia as a commercial enterprise. But Traditional Owners began protesting immediately, arguing that the so-called consultations were not accessible and that misinformation was rife.23 In 2016, a Citizen's Jury, established by then Premier Jay Weatherill and made up of 350 people, deliberated over evidence and information. In November that year, two-thirds of the Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the plan to import or store high-level waste.24 They cited lack of Aboriginal consent, unsubstantiated economic assumptions and projections, and lack of confidence in the governmental proposal's validity.

Other battles against proposed nuclear waste dumps have been fought and won in South Australia. From 1998 to 2004, the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern South Australia, successfully campaigned against a proposed national nuclear waste dump near Woomera.25 In an open letter in 2004, the Kungkas wrote: "People said that you can't win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up."26

Connected communities

The attempts by the Australian government and the nuclear industry to impose a waste dump in the Flinders Ranges, just like their attempts to impose waste dumps and uranium mines elsewhere in the country, or their refusal to compensate victims and survivors of nuclear testing, are all mired with racism. They are rooted in a fundamental dismissal and devaluation of the lives and experiences of indigenous Australians, and of communities they consider "remote" ‒ both in their proximity to cities but more importantly, to power.

The industry and government's motivations for imposing nuclear violence on these people and this land are militarism and capitalism. Profit over people. Weapons over wellbeing. Their capacity for compassion and duty of care has been constrained by chronic short-termism ‒ a total failure to protect future generations. The poison they pull out of the earth, process, sell, allow others to make bombs with, and bury back in the earth, wounds us all now and into the future.

But nuclear weapons are now prohibited under international law. New actors are challenging the possession of nuclear weapons in new ways, and nuclear-armed states are facing a challenge like never before. The nuclear energy industry ‒ and thus the demand for uranium ‒ is declining. Power plants are being shuttered; corporations are facing financial troubles. Dirty and dangerous, the nuclear industry is dying.

This is in no small part due to the relentless resistance against it.

This resistance was fierce throughout all of the country we visited, from Woomera up to Lake Eyre, from Roxby Downs to the Flinders Ranges. We listened to stories of those living on this land, we heard their histories, witnessed their actions, and supported their plans.

And, we were able to share something special with many of them: ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize.

Awarded in 2017, the Prize recognizes ICAN's efforts to highlight the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and to work with governments to negotiate and adopt the nuclear weapon ban treaty. But the Prize is not just for those advocates directly involved in that aspect of the campaign's work. It's a recognition of all the efforts of anti-nuclear activists through the long history of the atomic age, activists who have put their bodies on the line in defence of the earth and human health, in protection of our planet, in opposition to governments that pull poison out of the ground and drop it on human beings and animals around the world.

Sharing the Nobel Prize with the resisters in South Australia was a deep joy. It seemed to bring inspiration and invigoration to many who have fought for so long against impossible odds in difficult places against powerful corporations and governments. It was a humbling reminder of the collective effort of all our advocacy and activism across time and space. We're all connected, and we cannot do this alone. Movements are made of people, reaching out across borders, across struggles, to cultivate solidarity and strength in one another. Resistance is fertile.

Information on previous Rad Tours is posted at www.nuclear.foe.org.au/radtour

References:

1. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/britbombs

2. http://blackmistburntcountry.com.au

3. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Royal-Commission-conclusionsre...

4. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/racism

5. www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-29/green-dumping-on-traditional-owners-the-u...

6. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/south-australians-join-class...

7. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/south-australians-join-class...

8. www.news.com.au/national/south-australia/new-generations-of-australian-f...

9. www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/no-compensation-for-maraling...

10. www.reachingcriticalwill.org/resources/publications-and-research/researc...

11. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/olympic-dam-uranium-copper-mine/

12. www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f...

13. www.melbournefoe.org.au/may_day_stop_the_olympic_dam_uranium_mine_expansion

14. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/sa-parliamentary-inquiry-into-the-tailings-system...

15. www.gabpg.org.au/impact-of-olympic-damroxby-downs

16. www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-18/eamus-declining-groundwater-is-a-big-prob...

17. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/roxby-downs-indenture-act/

18. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/olympic-dam-uranium-mine-and-the-lizards-revenge/

19. www.smh.com.au/business/antinuclear-protesters-take-on-bhp-20090708-ddee...

20. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/waste/

21. https://nexusnewsfeed.com/article/human-rights/the-flinders-ranges-no-pl...

22. www.archive.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/Adnyamathanha%20statement%202...

23. www.anfa.org.au/traditional-owners-statements/

24. www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-06/sa-citizens-jury-vote-against-storing-nuc...

25. www.nuclear.foe.org.au/waste/#sa1

26. http://web.archive.org/web/20080718193108/http:/www.iratiwanti.org

Nuclear battles in Australia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#857
4710
14/02/2018
Jim Green
Article

The fight isn't over to stop the Cameco's Yeelirrie uranium project in WA

Conservation groups and Tjiwarl Traditional Owners in Western Australia have vowed to continue the fight against uranium mining at Yeelirrie in the Northern Goldfields, despite the news on February 8 that their Supreme Court action to halt the mine had been unsuccessful.

If and when market conditions improve, Canadian mining company Cameco plans to construct a 9 km open mine pit, requiring clearing of 2,421 hectares of native vegetation and generating 36 million tonnes of mine waste that would remain radioactive for thousands of years. The mine would also threaten the extinction of multiple species of unique underground fauna.

The Conservation Council of WA and members of the Tjiwarl Native Titles group sought judicial review of the WA Government's approval of the project, which went against the advice of the state Environmental Protection Agency to reject the proposal because of unacceptable risks of microfauna species extinction. The Minister for the Environment initially upheld the position of the EPA on appeal, yet turned around and took a position to the contrary in letting the mine proceed. The court case has put a hold on the Commonwealth approval for the project which has not been granted.

Vicky Abdullah, Tjiwarl Native Title holder, said: "This is a very disappointing and sad day for our people, our land, and our future. We have fought long and hard to protect Yeelirrie and stop the uranium project. But the fight is not over ‒ this is only one part of our campaign, and we will not allow this decision to stop us now. It's a bad decision, but it's not the end decision."

Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen said: "The verdict demonstrates a fundamental deficiency in the state's environmental laws, which currently allow a Minister to sign off on the extinction of multiple species with the stroke of a pen. The way the law has been interpreted by the court shows the Minister can ignore the EPA's public assessment process, and instead consider secret information in making a decision with has irreversible impacts on the environment.

"Today we stand knowing that community efforts have been successful in preventing any uranium mines operating in WA, despite two terms of a pro-uranium Government. We will continue to work with Traditional Owners to keep WA nuclear free and I am confident that despite today's decision we will continue to be successful in that goal."

Yeelirrie was approved by the former conservative Liberal Party state government. After the March 2017 state election, the incoming Labor Party government said that previously-approved mines, including Yeelirrie, could proceed but no others would be permitted.

Radioactive Exposure Tour I ‒ South Australia

The South Australian Radioactive Exposure Tour is a journey through Australia's nuclear landscape. The radtours have exposed thousands of people to the realities of 'radioactive racism' and the environmental and social impacts of uranium mining, radioactive waste and nuclear bomb testing.

Run by Friends of the Earth, this year's radtour will take place from Friday 30th March to Sunday 8th April.

This year we will visit communities in Kimba and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, who are fighting to stop radioactive waste dumps on their land.

We'll head for Arabunna country, watch the sunset over Lake Eyre and see the Mound Springs − oases which are fed by the underlying Great Artesian Basin and host unique flora and fauna. Sadly, some of the Mound Springs have been adversely affected or destroyed altogether by the massive water intake of the Olympic Dam mine. The Tour will visit BHP's Olympic Dam uranium mine at Roxby Downs, the largest uranium deposit in the world.

In Woomera, we'll hear first-hand accounts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu Field. We'll also stop by Nurrungar, the desert surveillance base that closed in 1999.

Participants get to experience consensus decision making, desert camping and vegetarian cooking in affinity groups while travelling to some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant environments in Australia. If you're interested in learning about the industry or anti-nuclear campaigning, the radtour is an essential start or refresher.

International guests are welcome (many have participated over the years). One of the features of this year's radtour will be the participation of a number of Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The costs are (leaving from Melbourne or Adelaide): concession A$600 − waged A$800 − solidarity A$1000.

If you would like to register your interest in taking part in the 2018 Radioactive Exposure Tour, please complete the form posted at www.melbournefoe.org.au/radtour2018

Information on past radtours is posted at www.nuclear.foe.org.au/radtour

Contact: [email protected] / 0417 318 368

Radioactive Exposure Tour II ‒ Western Australia

The upcoming Western Australian Radioactive Exposure Tour will be a 12-day journey to visit four proposed uranium mines in WA – Mulga Rock, Yeelirrie, Wiluna and Kintyre.

Run by the Ban Uranium Mining Permanently (BUMP) collective, the WA radtour will take place from Friday 9th March to Wednesday 21st March, 2018.

We will visit communities in Kalgoorlie, Laverton, Leonora, Wiluna, Newman and Parnngurr who are all fighting against uranium mine proposals on their land.

We'll head for Wangkatha country, listen to the Sounds on the Saltlake by Tjuma Pulka Media Aboriginal Corporation, before heading towards Mulga Rock proposed uranium mine. At Yeelirrie, we'll hear from Tjiwarl Traditional Owners stories of their 40-year fight to stop the proposed uranium mine and their Supreme Court action.

We will stop at the gates of Toro Energy, proposed Lake Way uranium mine and hear from experienced campaigners. From Wiluna, we will join and hear from Martu Traditional Owners campaigning to stop uranium mining on their country. We will head through Karlamilyi to Kintyre.

Desert camping, camp fires and cooking in affinity groups are all a part of the tour, while travelling to some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant environments in Western Australia.

For information and to register your interest: www.walkingforcountry/radtour, 0401 909 332, [email protected]

Standing Strong I ‒ South Australians defeat dump

Standing Strong is a new book (and e-book) celebrating the victory of South Australians in their 2015‒17 campaign to stop an international high-level nuclear waste dump being built in the state. The book is online at www.tinyurl.com/no-sa-dump and www.nodumpalliance.org.au/

Published by the No Dump Alliance (NDA), Standing Strong covers the key issues championed by Aboriginal and civil society groups opposed to the plan including the lack of Traditional Owner consent, dubious economics, the risks to people and the environment and the impact on future generations.

"This book documents how our community said no to the threat of radioactive waste," said Yankunytjatjara woman and NDA spokesperson Karina Lester. "We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people, we have always said no. It is important that all politicians get the clear message that nuclear waste and nuclear risk is not wanted in SA."

South Australians are still battling a plan by the federal government to establish a national nuclear waste dump in the state (www.nuclear.foe.org.au/waste)

Standing Strong II ‒ Northern Territorians defeat Jabiluka uranium mine

Mirarr Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory and their many supporters are this year celebrating and commemorating the 20th anniversary of the mass movement that eventually defeated Energy Resources of Australia's plan to mine the Jabiluka uranium deposit. Hundreds of thousands of Australians took to the streets, thousands made the long trek to the Jabiluka blockade (which lasted for eight months), and hundreds were arrested at the mine-site including Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula.

The first of a number of initiatives to mark the 20th anniversary is a 'Standing Strong' calendar featuring powerful and beautiful images to commemorate the historic victory. It includes pictures from Mirarr country as well as from Jabiluka actions and support rallies across Australia and around the world.

The Standing Strong calendar is online at http://bit.ly/2HcZtpo

To order hard copies:

https://marrawuddi-gallery.squarespace.com/shop/2018-calendar-jabiluka-2...

Contact: [email protected]

Australian Nuclear Free Alliance

Last year, the Aboriginal-led Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) celebrated its 20th birthday. ANFA has fought countless nuclear battle over the past two decades, many of them successfully.

Photos of ANFA's 20th anniversary meeting are online (www.anfa.org.au/anfa-2017-national-meeting/) and a book about ANFA's history can be ordered from [email protected]

Australian Map

australianmap.net is an online resource ‒ along with an A2 poster ‒ documenting Australia's nuclear history and current struggles. Click on a site to read about it and to view pictures and videos. The website covers uranium mines, waste dumps, atomic bomb test sites, US military and spy bases, etc.

www.australianmap.net

My people are still suffering from Australia's secret nuclear testing

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#855
4695
13/12/2017
Sue Coleman-Haseldine
Article

This is an extract of Sue Coleman-Haseldine's speech in Oslo marking the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Sue is an indigenous Kokatha woman who lives in Ceduna, South Australia, and a member of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (www.anfa.org.au).

My name is Sue Coleman-Haseldine. I was born into poverty on the margins of Australian society on the Aboriginal mission of Koonibba in 1951. At this time my people were not allowed to vote and we had very few means to be understood, let alone be heard.

I was born into one of the oldest living cultures known on Earth and into a place that I love – a dusty, arid paradise on the edge of a rugged coastline. Our land and waters are central to our outlook and religion and provide the basis for my people's health and happiness.

And I was born just before the desert lands to our north were bombed by the deadliest weapons on Earth in an extensive, secretive and devastating manner by the Australian and British governments.

In the 1950s, areas known as Emu Fields and Maralinga were used to test nine full-scale atomic bombs and for 600 other nuclear tests, leaving the land highly radioactive. We weren't on ground zero, but the dust didn't stay in one place. The winds brought the poison to us and many others.

Aboriginal people, indeed many people at that time, knew nothing about the effects of radiation. We didn't know the invisible killer was falling amongst us. Six decades on, my small town of Ceduna is being called the Cancer Capital of Australia. There are so many deaths in our region of various cancers. My grand-daughter and I have had our thyroids removed, and there are many others in our area with thyroid problems. Fertility issues appear common.

But there has been no long-term assessment of the health impacts in the region and even those involved in the botched clean-ups of the test sites have no recourse because they cannot prove their illness is linked with exposure to nuclear weapons testing.

The impact of the Maralinga and Emu Fields testing has had far-reaching consequences that are still being felt today. Ask a young person from my area, "What do you think you will die from?" The answer is, "Cancer, everyone else is".

I have lived my life learning about the bomb tests and also learning that the voice of my people and others won't always be understood or heard. But I learnt from old people now gone that speaking up is important and by joining with others from many different places and backgrounds that our voices can be amplified.

Through these steps I found the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), or perhaps ICAN found me. ICAN – as an organisation, as a collective of passionate, educated people working for a clear goal – has been so important to me. To know that my story and my voice helps bring recognition to the past and can shape the future of nuclear prohibition has strengthened my resolve.

Being involved in ICAN has been a double-edged sword. On one hand and for the first time in my life, I no longer feel alone or isolated. I have met others from many parts of the globe who have similar stories and experiences and who are passionate advocates for a nuclear-free future.

But the flip side of this is my understanding of just how widespread and just how devastating the nuclear weapons legacy is across the globe. To learn that so many weapons still exist sends fear to my heart. ICAN is a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – in a short time we have gathered support for a treaty to finally outlaw nuclear weapons and help eliminate the nuclear threat.

The vision was reached in part with so many nations adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. And we should celebrate this win and the opportunity to work together to stop the suffering and assist countries to make amends to nuclear weapons victims by acknowledging the permanent damage done to land, health and culture.

Unfortunately, the Australian government, along with other first world nations, didn't even participate in the treaty negotiations, and they haven't signed the treaty yet, but over time we feel confident they will.

A lot has changed since I was born. Aboriginal people now have the right to vote in Australia, but still we battle for understanding about our culture and the Australian nuclear weapons legacy. My home is still remote and most of my people still poor. But we are also no longer alone. We have the means and the will to participate – to share and to learn and to bring about lasting change.

ICAN's work is not done, our work is not done. We will continue to work together. A world without nuclear weapons is a world we need and are creating. I stand here in hope and gratitude for the opportunity to participate. I stand here with pride and I stand here for our future and the generations to come.

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