Friday, July 17, 2009

The history of uranium mining: doomed to repeat itself

To the nuke-advocate who, several months ago, accused me of relying on Greenpeace articles for this blog, here it is...the first Greenpeace article.

Nuclear fuel production – the mining, milling and enriching of uranium – is one of the nuclear industry’s dirty secrets. Very little attention is paid to it by industry propagandists and pro-nuclear politicians and for very good reason. It’s dirty, dangerous, incredibly damaging to the environment and endangers the health of those people unfortunate enough to live close to uranium mines.

To hear some supporters of nuclear energy talk, you’d think the whole process of generating electricity begins with the throwing of a reactor’s ‘on’ switch. But there’s a long story before we even get that far. It’s also a long, sad story that often goes untold in the wider media. Pick any uranium mine around the world and it will invariably be surrounded by stories of pollution, contamination and the exploitation of local communities. Niger, Namibia, Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan. And Australia.

The country’s ‘Environment Minister Peter Garrett has formally approved the new Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia, saying it poses no environmental risks’. The premier of South Australian, Mike Rann, welcomed the decision saying operations at the state’s nearby Beverley mine ‘show that uranium can be mined without damaging the surrounding environment’.

Which means neither man can have read the South Australian governments own figures into spills at the Beverley mine. Here are just a few

Apr. 22, 2006: spill of 14,400 litres of solution containing approx. 0.5% uranium

Oct. 31, 2005: spill of 23,700 litres of mining solution, containing approx. 0.06% uranium
Aug. 8, 2005: spill of 13,500 litres of extraction fluid containing approx. 0.01% uranium

Mar. 7, 2005: spill of 50,000 - 60,000 litres of injection fluid

Dec. 8, 2004: spill of approx. 2,300 litres of mining solution, containing 0.028% uranium

June 13, 2002: spill of 1,750 litres of brine solution

June 7, 2002: spill of 1,500 litres of injection fluid in the well field

May 5, 2002: spill of 14,900 litres of water containing 0.0018% uranium

May 1, 2002: spill of almost 7,000 litres of brine solution containing some uranium

January 11, 2002: spill of 60,000 liters of groundwater containing acid and uranium, after pipe rupture

Fancy the premier of South Australia being so ignorant of such worrying safety violations going on in his own state. Scandalous.

In fact, that’s the word to sum up the whole Four Mile story: scandalous. Peter Garrett is a former campaigning rock star who fought doggedly against nuclear power before entering politics (‘Why would Australians support an industry that produces radioactive waste, toxic waste?’ he said just three years ago), And with the local Aboriginal communities being (yet again) left out of the negotiations and decision-making over Four Mile, this all has a horribly familiar ring to it.

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