Credible sources in the uranium sections of resource companies first told The Stringer, in February, of futurist uranium mining plans that are being deliberated by mining companies for Western Australia – which is rich in high grade uranium, and which is easily accessible in this infrastructure wealthy State. They described a burgeoning relationship with India, the world’s most populous nation, as a market for the uranium. But they said every mining company, bent on the profit motive is cognisant of the world’s increasing energy needs as population and technology increase. A couple of insiders estimate potentially 40 uranium mines will arise right throughout Western Australia in the decades to come.
Environmentalists reject that this is possible while Aboriginal Elders resident on Country say they will resist uranium mining at all costs.
Local Aboriginal Elder Mr Glen Cooke has travelled from Wiluna to attend Toro Energy’s annual meeting today to highlight community concern over Toro’s plans for uranium mining in the region. Mr Cooke and another proxy shareholder, Kylie Fitzwater, have come to Perth to raise concerns about Toro’s long term plans and the company’s failure to communicate these to Wiluna residents.
“Toro have been talking about one project on the Lake and now we hear that they are planning lots of uranium mines from Meekatharra all the way to Lake Maitland.”
“They never talked to us about that,” said Mr Cooke.
“Me and my family we never wanted one uranium mine, we sure don’t want seven of them scattered through that country.”
“Does this mean they will put uranium on trucks from all over and bring it to Wiluna and if so what will they do with the radioactive mine waste, and where will they get the water?”
“It’s just too dangerous. This is people’s homes, not just in town but we live all over and love all of that country. That place is a very special place – for all men north to south, east to west. It’s is too important to muck it up, once it’s broken it is broken forever, we could never get that back.”
“We don’t need this uranium; people in Japan don’t want it – not after Fukushima. Toro need to leave it in the ground where it belongs,” said Mr Cooke.
Kylie Fitzwater, who has family connections to Wiluna, said “we were already worried about 9.1 million tonnes of radioactive mine waste being stored on the Lake bed – now this could be doubled. We’ve been worried about where they’re going to get the water from – 3.1million litres a day – is that going to double too? This proposal is going from bad to worse and we’re all being kept in the dark about it.”
“We are calling on the State and Federal Governments to stop any further approvals or development of the Wiluna uranium mine until the full project can be assessed and made public.”
“The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has a responsibility to ensure that these uranium deposits are not developed in an ad hoc way but carefully considered based on the risk and impact to the environment. This cannot be done by chopping up a massive project into little bits.”
Western Australia may well be exporting uranium within two years after earlier in the year the Federal Government granted environmental approval to Toro Energy’s Wiluna project – To many people this was unexpected, including to Wiluna’s Aboriginal peoples and to anti-uranium mining and anti-nuclear advocates nationwide.
The then Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke decided to provide the go-ahead to Toro’s $270 million uranium mining project. This allowed Toro Energy to enter financial negotiations with potential joint venture partners. Some of the touted potential venture partners are in China, India, Japan and South Korea.
Toro Energy needs to reach a mining agreement – an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) – with the two Native Title claimants in and near Wiluna. This though will be little problem for them despite many within the Aboriginal communities – Wiluna and Tarlpa peoples – vehemently against uranium mining on their Country. Wiluna senior Elder, Glen Cooke has been a long time outspoken critic of uranium mining.
“Uranium should stay in the ground. It can hurt our Country, the environment, our people, our children, our children’s children,” said Mr Cooke.
The Native Title Act is set up in such a way that both parties must enter into ‘good faith’ negotiations and hopefully come to a mutually beneficial deal within six months. If this fails you can count on the mining still going ahead. You can also count on the National Native Title Tribunal in granting the various licences required by the resource company and you can count on the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations to stand idly by.
Once Toro’s project is operational, with a timeline of 2015, hence two open-cut mines at Centipede and Lake Way may well produce at least 780 tonnes of uranium oxide a year – for at least 14 years.
But the Conservation Council of WA anti-nuclear campaign coordinator Mia Pepper said at the time she believed Western Australians can stand in the way of uranium mining.
“The Federal Minister’s approval is an approval before the data is complete.”
“Toro still have huge gaps in their proposal, they have not secured, identified or done an impact study on water use for the life of the mine, nor have they completed geotechnical studies on the lake bed where they intend to store 9.1 million cubic metres of radioactive mine waste,” said Ms Pepper.
“This conditional approval is not a final approval as the conditions (by Minister Burke) spell out a number of new areas of approval Toro need to get alongside the mine closure plan, the land clearing permits, export licenses and more.”
Minister Burke’s approval came with a suite of conditions – 36 of them. One of them is that a guarantee is provided by Toro Energy that radiation does not pollute ground and surface water. The Minister may be looking ahead to what may eventuate – Coal Seam Gas fracking has embarrassed Australian Governments – Federal and State jurisdictions – with the obvious that the gas is leaking into underground and ground water systems despite denials from the industries and their underwriters, Federal and State Governments.
But well placed insiders in the resources sector, some of them in the uranium sections of resource companies, have told The Stringer, “For a long time the writing has been on the wall. Uranium mining will occur and it will be widespread. The nuclear age will come to Western Australia. The WA of 2030 will be different to the one of 2013. There will be at least 40 mining sites around the State in 2030, and WA will have nuclear reactors.”
“People may get sick at uranium mines and in transporting uranium and in other future plants and sites that will depend on that uranium but that’s par for the course. No-one will be forced to work in them, people do know the risks. Governments know the risks, the resource sector knows the risks but I am telling you this is what will happen and it is has been in the advanced planning stages for quite some time.”
Other insiders said that several mining sites may be underway in Western Australia by 2030 but agree that by 2050 and certainly by 2070 the State’s landscape will be littered with uranium mine sites and associated industry.
“It is wishful thinking by environmentalists to argue that uranium mining will not return a dividend. I can assure it’s the gold of the very near future. Uranium will be worth more and more with each decade and as new markets establish themselves, not just an expanded India market. With population growth and economies such as India and China, in the Middle East and everywhere in the world, the demand will eventually outstrip supply and uranium sales prices will skyrocket. Uranium is the oil of the future. Far too much technology, cutting edge and baseline will rely on energy needs that only uranium can en masse supply. Other energy sources may arise but in the industry, in research and development, right now the future is uranium and the nuclear age.”
“The (resource) industry is spending billions right now on the future (in reference to) uranium.”
“I can assure you every Australian Government will back us. And they are. I can assure you India wants our uranium and India will have as much uranium as we can mine. The Australian economy will override environmental concerns. Environmental rights do not override economic and social development rights, that’s the way it has always been and will always be. (Humanity) will not step back from (its bent on) technology and discovery.”
Once the first uranium mine is developed near Wiluna, every month three trucks will carry concentrated powdered ore which will have been sealed in drums and each with a United Nations inventory number. The trucks will make a 2,700 km journey to the port at Adelaide.
Toro Energy’s managing director Vanessa Guthrie was reported as saying, “It is very safe.”
“The plastic-lined drums are sealed and locked in pallets and we monitor the (radiation) exposure to the drivers who would be closest to the product.”
She said the occupational limit in reference to radiation exposure is 20 millisieverts and she said the drivers’ exposure “would be less than one millisievert a year.”
Former Federal Resources Minister and former Woodside Petroleum executive Gary Gray, a uranium mining and nuclear age advocate, welcomed then Minister Burke’s approval.
“The proposed mine will be the most advanced of the new generation of uranium mines in the world.”
He said uranium mining will provide social and economic benefits to local communities and to Australia.
This was reminiscent of once former anti-uranium and anti-nuclear campaigner, former Federal Labor minister Peter Garrett – former Midnight Oil lead singer. It was only a couple of years ago he was defending the Government’s decision to mine uranium and he argued Australia “has the world’s best practices” in mining uranium and with their nuclear reactors.
Ms Pepper said there is still time to halt the push for uranium to be mined.
“It is a long way from a Federal approval to an operating mine and we will be there every step of the way contesting and opposing this uranium mine and any other proposed uranium mine in WA.”
“Uranium is different. It is radioactive and poses great risks to workers, communities and the environment.”
“Uranium oxide can be very dangerous if ingested or inhaled.”
“Other breakdown products of uranium can also be dangerous – like Radon gas,” said Ms Pepper.
“Radon gas is the second biggest cause of lung cancer in the world.”
“The biggest concern with uranium mining is the long-term impacts of radioactive mine waste on country – how that is contained, whether that will get into the groundwater and the food chain.”
“There has never been a successful uranium mine in Australia. Each one has had its accidents, its spills, its leaks and its failed rehabilitation.”
“The Aboriginal communities that will be near these mines have legitimate concerns on how uranium mining and potential radiation fallout will impact on the environment – the animals, bush tucker, and their townships. Toro have done some opportunistic studies on road kill (dead animals) but they have not done detailed data analysis on the fauna passing through the region,” said Ms Pepper.
“Uranium is the asbestos of the 21st century.”
“The World Health Organisation, the United Nations and other international agencies recognise the risks of radiation and they all say that there is no safe dose of radiation.”
“What they are saying is that every dose of radiation increases the risk of developing cancer,” said Ms Pepper.
Ms Pepper is correct that there is no safe level of radiation according to the weight of scientific opinion which holds that there is no threshold below which ionising radiation poses no risk.
“We know that Australian uranium was in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors at the time of the multiple meltdowns. From cradle to the grave Australian uranium threatens country and lives.”
Elder Glen Cooke said that people within his community will inevitably die from radiation related sicknesses. “They are going to kill our people, some will die quickly, some by a thousand cuts.”
“We don’t want Maralinga all over again where our people will be hurt and die sick and young, and then for decades the truth will be hidden.”
Angst has ripped through Aboriginal communities at Wiluna and Yeeliree.
“The Government has not said they can guarantee there will not be radiation poisoning of people,” said Mr Cooke.
Yeeliree Traditional Owner and chairperson of the Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (WANFA) Kado Muir said that if uranium is mined a catastrophe is inevitable – only a matter of time.
“The Government and these mining companies are putting human life last.”
“How many Western Australian communities suffered lead and aluminium poisoning from leaks along freight routes and in the refineries despite all the promises that it would not happen?”
“They can’t protect us against lead and aluminium, how are they going to protect us against uranium?”
Canadian company CAMECO is also seeking to eventually mine uranium on Mr Muir’s Traditional Country at Yeeliree.
WANFA is a State wide anti-nuclear association whose members are Aboriginal Elders. Mr Muir said WANFA will “challenge the Australian Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group who are representing the industry rather than a true Aboriginal community view.”
“We will also continue to expose anthropologists, archaeologists and pro-industry consultants who attempt to validate negligent practices of the mining industry.”
WANFA has made a number of calls for an independent public inquiry or royal commission into uranium mining. But these calls fall on the deaf ears of Government.
“We need an inquiry and when this happens then maybe Governments and the nuclear industry will be forced to stop minimising and trivialising the dangers of radiation,” said Mr Muir.
For each of the last three years at least a hundred walkers have walked the Walkatjurra Walk – from Yeeliree to Leonora to send the message to resource companies and Governments that they do not want the land they walk on mined for uranium. Mr Muir has been on all three walks – they take place in May, usually about three weeks long.
Last April, on the 26th, was the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. To this day the real death toll from the nuclear disaster is not known but it is more than the official record.
The Russian Government’s official death toll for Chernobyl is 46 but according to anti-nuclear campaigner, Dr Helen Caldicott it could be as high 985,000. What is on the record is that there has been a significant rise in cancer rates in the affected region.
The long latency periods, as with asbestos related mesotheliomas, have skewed the data on the incidence of radiation related disease.
In 2006 the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR) Committee of the US National Academy of Sciences reviewed the available data.
Their report stated, “The risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold.”
“The smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.”
The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) estimated 30,000 fatal cancers from Chernobyl.
In 2006, twenty years after the Chernobyl disaster the World Health Organisation estimated up to 4,000 deaths among the Chernobyl population and more than 5,000 deaths among wider Ukranian and Belarus populations from the exposure to lower dose radiation.
A 2006 Greenpeace commissioned report – 52 scientists – estimated 93,000 deaths.
Dr Caldicott investigated a Russian report, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”. Underwritten by this report she argued 985,000 eventual deaths.
If Western Australia goes heavy duty with uranium mining, with say 40 uranium mines even as far away as the end of this century if not by 2030 or 2050, uranium mining will touch even more lives than does the ‘mining boom’ at this time – and lives will be touched in myriad ways – but with risks to environment and humanity the likes never known before in this country – not only are Aboriginal Elders concerned but so are many Australians, so should everyone be concerned.
“It’s as if the uranium miners don’t care about the earth, and that home can be somewhere else, and it’ll have to be because they will destroy this earth, they will poison it, radiation poison it, leaving nothing for our children – they’ve already begun with this, we’ve seen it in Europe and Japan. We have to do everything we can to stop all this,” said Mr Cooke.