Australia's part in nuclear fire


Australia has a direct link to the Japanese nuclear tragedy because the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that operates the Fukushima reactors buys and burns Australian uranium. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto sell Australian uranium to Japan from the Olympic Dam and Ranger uranium mines respectively.


David Noonan is our Nuclear Free campaigner


The nuclear emergency that is compounding the human tragedy of Japan’s earthquake sends a clear warning to Australia to steer clear of the risks of nuclear energy.

The terrible human cost of the earthquake in Japan is being made even worse by radiation escaping from damaged nuclear reactors and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people who live around the nuclear reactor sites.

Amid the growing human tragedy in Japan the state of the nation’s nuclear power reactors has been prominent in media interest and public concern. And with good reason, because no other industrial activity poses the risks of the nuclear trade.

Australia has a direct link to this tragedy because the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that operates the Fukushima reactors, buys and burns Australian uranium.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto sell Australian uranium to Japan from the Olympic Dam and Ranger uranium mines respectively.

The radiation now threatening Japanese communities and the environment could be directly derived from the use of our uranium in their nuclear reactors.

We must act to avoid the ultimate nuclear nightmare and stop fuelling trouble overseas through our uranium sales and dancing with danger closer to home through ill-considered plans for domestic nuclear energy reactors.

Nuclear is a high-cost, high-risk electricity option that has no place in a sustainable energy future.

When things go well we are left with the unresolved management of high-level, long-lived radioactive waste; when they go badly people are left with a disaster such as the current situation in Japan.

Australian companies should not be allowed to push this contested and contaminating industry in developing nations when this sort of situation can occur in a country as rich and technically advanced as Japan.

Only this week our Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd announced proposed Australian uranium sales to the Middle East.

No other energy activity poses the hazards and risks that the nuclear trade imposes: unresolved, long lived nuclear waste; links to nuclear weapons production and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and the potential for catastrophic accidents and uncontrolled radiation exposure that can threaten regions with contamination and health effects.

The rising threat of nuclear terrorism means that we may also have to face potential deliberate damage to nuclear reactors in future.

Both Australian and Japanese communities deserve better than to have to face any of these nuclear risks.

Here at home, just as we have had to face climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests trying to prevent Australia addressing the science and the urgency of climate change, unfortunately we now face nuclear advocates and renewable energy sceptics trying to mislead the Australian people and push to take up nuclear reactors rather than adopt a clean and renewable energy future.

The spectre of a nuclear debate will delay and potentially damage Australia’s pathway to a clean, renewable energy future.

It will unnecessarily absorb large amounts of political capital, energy and attention.

Such an expenditure of time and resources could be better deployed working towards the common goal of a safer, cleaner and fairer Australia.

Nuclear reactors are a discredited agenda that proved to be an electoral liability in an earlier era.

So why are some in the ALP now promoting nuclear energy and pushing to overturn long-term Labor core values and repeated federal election policy commitments that prohibit nuclear power reactors, uranium processing and other stages of the nuclear fuel chain in Australia? We should learn from this nuclear emergency in Japan, move to get Australia out of uranium mining and the hazardous nuclear trade and help our neighbours across the Pacific to recover from the nuclear risks they face.

Let’s call on our political leaders to give assurances that they will avoid making the same nuclear mistakes and get on with delivering a clean, renewable energy future.


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Australia has the world's largest uranium reserves, 24% of the planet's known reserves. The majority of these reserves are located in South Australia with other important deposits in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The Olympic Dam operation run by BHP Billiton in South Australia is combined with mining of copper, gold, and silver, and has reserves of global significance. There are currently five operating uranium mines in Australia, and several more have been proposed. The expansion of Australia's uranium mines is supported by the Federal Australian Labor Party (ALP) Government headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The ALP abandoned its long-standing and controversial "no new uranium mines" policy in April 2007. One of the more controversial proposals was Jabiluka, to be built surrounded by the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. The existing Ranger Uranium Mine is also surrounded by the National Park, as the mine area was not included in the original listing of the Park.

Uranium mining and export and related nuclear issues have often been the subject of public debate, and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia has a long history.