MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Updates on uranium special

Published by MAC on 2005-08-15


The following are a number of updates to our August 2005 uranium special, building on the arguments put forward on the dangers of uranium.

Activist Disappears after Reporting Nuclear Contamination

Human Rights In China

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that a Gansu uranium mine employee has been missing for 110 days after being detained by public security police following his attempts to petition officials over severe radiation poisoning affecting local residents.

Sources in China told HRIC that Sun Xiaodi, an employee of the Gansu No. 792 Uranium Mine, was in Beijing to petition central authorities when he was interviewed by an AFP journalist around 6 p.m. on April 28. After the interview, Sun headed back to the "Petitioners' Village" near Beijing's Southern Train station, but when he reached the southern corner of Taoranting Park, two men in civilian dress emerged from an unmarked car, and with the help of some men from another car standing nearby, they bundled Sun into the first car and drove away. Many people witnessed Sun's abduction, and word quickly spread throughout the Petitioners' Village.

Sources further report that on the evening of April 29, several plainclothes police officers searched the Beijing home of a friend of Sun Xiaodi, then took the friend to a State Security Bureau office in the southern suburbs. They reportedly told the friend that Sun was a "wanted criminal" and that he had committed a "very serious crime related to state secrets." Police also produced Sun's cellular phone, wallet, telephone diary and other personal belongings, as well as a document purportedly written by Sun, in which he acknowledged being detained and made certain representations.

Sources say that on June 20, this same friend was summoned to the State Security Bureau again and was told that following investigations by Gansu authorities, Sun Xiaodi had been escorted back to Gansu. In the meantime, between June 14 and July 8, the Gansu PSB had deployed police officers several times to the No. 792 Uranium Mine and had summoned several employees, questioning them about Sun's allegations concerning the mine. Sun's daughter, Sun Haiyan, in the meantime had inquired into her father's whereabouts many times between May 29 and mid-July, but was repeatedly told by Beijing authorities that they had not detained Sun, and that they had no knowledge of his whereabouts. Sun's family initially maintained a low profile concerning his disappearance in hopes that the matter would be resolved quickly, but they are now seriously concerned over his welfare, and are appealing to the international community for assistance. Sun Haiyan's open letter is appended to this press r! elease.

The No. 792 Uranium Mine is located in Diebu County (also known as Thebo District) in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was originally established under the State Nuclear Industry Department as one of China's most important sources of uranium, but was "closed as a matter of policy" in 2002 on the basis of mine-exhaustion. Sources say that after the closure, mine employees accused mining and Nuclear Industry Department officials of plundering employee and state assets and damaging the environment, not only locally, but in all downstream areas. However, their complaints were ignored by the authorities.

Sources say that radioactive material from the mine has been improperly handled, with the result that residents near and downstream of the plant have begun suffering a high incidence of cancerous tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages and other unusual afflictions. Before the mine opened in 1980, the area was well populated by a large variety of fish, bird, plant and animal species, but has since become a barren wasteland. Livestock also suffer unusually high death rates, apparently from drinking contaminated water. Banks, shops and other public buildings report radiation levels many times higher than the normal level. Local medical workers report that nearly half of all deaths in the area are from some form of cancer, but patients' case histories are routinely altered because of "state secrets" concerns. As a result, many residents remain ignorant of the health hazards, and no preventative measures are taken to protect human and animal life.

Sources say Sun Xiaodi began reporting these health concerns to the Nuclear Industry Department in 1988. Instead of an official response, however, Sun reportedly found himself subjected to various forms of retaliation. In 1994 he was dismissed from the mine and forced to make due on a subsistence allowance of a little over 100 yuan per month. His wife and daughter also faced a range of discriminatory treatment and harassment, and the family was under constant surveillance and telephone monitoring, culminating in Sun Xiaodi's apparent abduction at the end of April.

HRIC condemns the unlawful abduction and secret detention of Sun Xiaodi, which violate both his Chinese constitutional rights and his human rights. As reported by numerous international organizations, including the United Nations Development Programme and the Asia Development Bank, as well as by the Chinese government itself, the seriousness of environmental degradation in China requires greater attention and more effective responses. The retaliatory detention of Sun Xiaodi undermines the promotion of a clean environment and the right to health, to which the Chinese government has committed itself, both in international human rights treaties and in its Olympics Action Plan in the lead-up to Beijing 2008. HRIC calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Sun Xiaodi from custody, and as a matter of urgency to address the dangerous environmental contamination and severe health hazards to humans and animals near the No. 792 Uranium Mine.

Human Rights in China is an international monitoring and advocacy non-governmental organization based in New York and Hong Kong. Founded in March 1989 by Chinese scientists and scholars, it conducts research, education and outreach programs to promote universally recognized human rights and advance the institutional protection of these rights in the People's Republic of China.

Appendix: An Open Appeal from Sun Xiaodi's Daughter, Sun Haiyan

My father, Sun Xiaodi, was born in Shanghai in 1955, and was formerly employed at the No. 792 Uranium Mine. In 1989 he began petitioning the central government in Beijing on behalf of the 2,000-plus people who relied on the uranium mine for their living. In all of these years he never stopped. He always believed that justice would win out in the end. On April 28, 2005, my father suddenly disappeared. There has been no word of him since, and we don't know what happened to him. Some informed people have said that the police secretly detained him, but I have inquired with the Public Security Bureau many times, and they always reply that they have no news of Sun Xiaodi.

Petitioning is a basic right of all Chinese citizens, and my father did nothing wrong. My father's disappearance while exercising this right has had a heavy impact on my family. My mother's health was already poor, and my father's disappearance has delivered a great physical blow to her. She also lost her job because of my father's petitioning activities. My father is the person on whom my mother and I hang all our hopes. My greatest wish is that my father can safely return to the bosom of his family as soon as possible.

As a daughter, I love my father very much; I miss him and think of him constantly. I urgently appeal to all concerned to unconditionally release my father, and I condemn these terrorist activities. Give me back my father, and give him back his freedom.

Sun Haiyan

Human Rights in China
350 Fifth Ave Ste 3311
New York, NY 10118
212-239-4495
Fax: 212-239-2561
hrichina@hrichina.org
www.hrichina.org


Can tiny Niue survive uranium exploitation, or will it end up like Nauru after the guano mines, unfit for human habitation, its cash bonanza wasted, its people dispersed?

Australian company renews interest in chance of Niue uranium

PACNEWS

Tues 16 Aug 2005

ALOFI -- An Australian exploration company about to begin drilling in Niue says the country could be sitting on the world's biggest uranium deposit.

Junior explorer Yamarna Goldfields Ltd says geological modelling confirmed the potential for a uranium deposit on Niue "equal or greater" than the world's biggest deposit at Olympic Dam in South Australia.

The company has signed an agreement with Canberra-based explorer Avian Mining Pty Ltd to take a stake of up to 80 per cent in the project and to spend over US$920,000 on exploration work.

Yamarna's director Richard Revelins says geological modelling done by Avian and government scientists from New Zealand and Australia showed the potential for a massive deposit beneath the limestone of Niue.

Yamarna will now work to prove the tonnage and grade of the potential resource after which it would prepare a statement on the impact of mining on Niue and apply to convert the current prospecting licence into a mining lease.

Dr Satish Chand of the Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University says if a large mine was set up it would have a big impact on Niue.

Dr Chand said if there was a big find, it would raise the challenge of economic management.

He said if the resource are managed well then it could be a boom for Niuean development...


Texas Family Fights Uranium Mining

By Lynn Brezosky, The Associated Press

Sunday, July 31, 2005

RICARDO, Texas -- The extended Garcia family has lived for five generations in a cluster of frame and trailer homes here that now has a sad distinction: Their water is contaminated with uranium at levels so high the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration has told them to stop drinking it and see their doctors.

State environmental officials and the company that has been mining uranium in the area for much of the last 20 years say the contamination is natural seepage from a vein of the radioactive material that runs near their well.

"That's weird that it's the only place and nobody else has it," Humberto Garcia said. "It just kind of raises questions. A quarter-mile away we have relatives, and their well is OK."

Lewisville-based Uranium Resources Inc. came to the area in the 1980s, sucking uranium-filled water from deep underground for processing. But the activity was suspended on and off through the late 1990s, when prices plummeted from more than $30 a pound to about $7. Claiming financial problems, the company failed to clean up the area or restore the water below.

"The promise was they would take all the uranium and leave the water clean," said Teo Saenz, president of STOP (South Texas Opposes Pollution). "They didn't."

Demand for uranium has increased recently, and URI has proposed two new mines. Global stockpiles of uranium are dwindling and several countries, including China and India, have plans to build nuclear power plants.

STOP members, who number about a dozen, say an engineer mapped the underground for them in the mid-1990s and accurately predicted that contamination from the mine field would migrate first to the Garcia wells. They now fear poisoned water will seep toward the water supply of nearby Kingsville, population 26,000.

Mark Pelizza, a URI vice president, said those concerns are unfounded.

At a public hearing Monday, Garcia and other residents will make their case against the company mining a new area, arguing that since URI failed to clean up its former operations it shouldn't be allowed to do more. The administrative judge will make a recommendation to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In October 2004, the Garcias received a letter from the EPA informing them that water samples submitted by URI showed uranium levels in their water were five to eight times above the agency's standard for public drinking water. The letter said they had an elevated risk for cancer, and that they should stop drinking their water and see their doctors.

Pelizza said URI has operated prudently and that the residents can't see what cleanup they have already done. He said their operations have nothing to do with the poisoning on the Garcias' property.

"I think the evidence is the uranium deposit underlies their houses, and it is established that it natural," Pelizza said.

STOP members hold little hope that they'll stop what will be URI's third and fourth mines. Kleberg County officials reached a settlement with URI in December that the company must show it is cleaning old mines before beginning new mining activity.

"The settlement basically says they will make a 'good faith effort' to clean up the water," said Mark Walsh, a member of STOP. "It was a very big blow to us."

County Judge Pete De La Garza said the agreement, which requires URI to pay the county $20,000 for an expert to monitor the cleanup, was the county's best route toward getting at least $5 million worth of cleanup done.

"We had two choices, the way I see it," he said. "The first choice was just to not allow them to mine, let them go away and leave our water dirty. The second I thought was more prudent _ to get our water cleaned up."

But Kleberg County residents who leased land to URI say they wished their families hadn't bought into promises 25 years ago of easy royalties, regional prosperity and better-than-before cleanup.

"It's been how many years now that we cannot farm the land?" said Elizabeth Cumberland, whose family leased land to URI in 1980. "I personally believe we have simply lost that land."


Kleberg residents oppose new uranium mines

By Lynn Brezosky, The Associated Press

Sunday, July 31, 2005

RICARDO, Texas - The extended Garcia family has lived for five generations in a cluster of frame and trailer homes known, with some irony, as Garcia Hill because its compound sits maybe a foot higher than the surrounding scrub.

The Garcias have another local distinction: Their water is contaminated with uranium at levels so high the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration has told them to stop drinking and see their doctors because of a high risk of cancer.

The government and the company that has been mining uranium in the area for the last 20 years told the Garcias the contamination is natural seepage from the vein of the radioactive material that runs near their well, the very uranium that attracted Lewisville-based Uranium Resources Inc. to Kleberg County in the first place.

The Garcias and other Kleberg County residents don't accept that explanation.

"That's weird that it's the only place and nobody else has it," Humberto Garcia said. "It just kind of raises questions. A quarter mile away we have relatives, and their well is OK."

The Garcias and other local residents see the family's plight as an emblem of the problems they say URI has dumped on them for decades.

URI well casings stick out of the ground on Garcia Hill. In the 1980s and early 1990s, URI pumps sucked uranium-filled water from deep underground for processing.

The activity ended when prices plummeted from more than $30 a pound to around $7. Claiming financial problems, the company left without cleaning up the area or restoring the water below.

"The promise was they would take all the uranium and leave the water clean," said Teo Saenz, president of STOP (South Texas Opposes Pollution). "They didn't."

STOP members, who number about a dozen, say an engineer mapped the underground for them in the mid-1990s and accurately predicted that contamination from the mine field would migrate first to the Garcia wells. They now fear poisoned water will seep toward the water supply of nearby Kingsville, population 26,000.

The county reached a settlement in December with URI to clean the water. Under the agreement, the company must clean up its first old mine before starting mining on the third, the second mine before completing the third, then the third mine before starting on the fourth, County Judge Pete De La Garza said. The company also must pay the county $20,000 for an expert to monitor their cleanup.

At a public hearing Monday, Garcia and other local residents will make their case against the company mining a new area, arguing that since the company failed to clean up its former operations it shouldn't be allowed to do more. The administrative judge will make a recommendation to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

STOP members hold little hope that they'll stop what will be URI's third and fourth mines. They said Kleberg County officials let them down by signing the settlement agreement.

"The settlement basically says they will make a 'good faith effort' to clean up the water," Walsh said. "It was a very big blow to us."

De La Garza said the agreement was the county's best route toward getting at least $5 million worth of cleanup done.

"We had two choices, the way I see it," he said. "The first choice was just to not allow them to mine, let them go away and leave our water dirty. The second I thought was more prudent - to get our water cleaned up. We're talking about millions of dollars."

Mark Pelizza, a URI vice president, said URI has operated prudently and that the residents can't see what cleanup they have already done. He said their operations have nothing to do with the Garcia Hill poisoning.

"I think the evidence is the uranium deposit underlies their houses, and it is established that it natural," Pelizza said.

The URI mines use a process known as in-situ mining, by which injection wells introduce mining solutions that mobilize uranium and other metals (including arsenic) so it can be pumped to the surface. Chemicals draw the uranium from the water.

Pelizza explained that a reverse osmosis system removes salts and other minerals used to isolate the uranium before the water is pumped back into the aquifer.

He said removing the well casings was the last step of the cleanup and could not be done until the state approved.

He said STOP's concerns about their operations affecting water in Kingsville are unfounded.

"That issue was reviewed thoroughly in the past and it's been determined that is not a problem," he said.

But Kleberg County residents who leased land to URI say they wished their families hadn't bought into URI's promises 25 years ago of easy royalties, regional prosperity, and better-than-before cleanup.

"It's been how many years now that we cannot farm the land?" said Elizabeth Cumberland, whose family leased land to URI in 1980. "I personally believe we have simply lost that land."

Cumberland's ancestors came on the first train to bring new settlers to the area in 1904, not long after ranch scion Robert Kleberg's well digger found water 700 feet down.

In protest of URI "tearing things up," the Garcias haven't cashed their annual URI lease check, usually around $1,100, in several years.

"We just started sending the checks back," Garcia said. "All these things kind of bother you a little bit. People trying to make a lot of money."

They were shocked to get a letter from the EPA in October 2004 informing them they should stop drinking their water and see their doctors. The letter told them they had an elevated risk for cancer.

Tom Poeton, an EPA environmental engineer, said the EPA isn't responsible for testing private water sources and sent the letter as a courtesy.


Australia, China to Begin Formal Uranium Talks

August 10, 2005

Planet Ark, Reuters

CANBERRA - Australia plans to begin formal talks on a pact to allow China to buy uranium for its growing energy needs, while ensuring the mineral is not used to build weapons, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Tuesday. The formal negotiations come after nine months of informal, exploratory talks on a possible safeguards agreement -- ensuring the safe use and disposal of uranium and its by-products -- to allow Australia to export uranium to China.

A spokesman for Downer said a date had not yet been set for the first round of discussions.

"China is the world's second-largest energy consumer and has a high projected growth in electricity demand. China's plans to meet this demand include a four-fold increase in nuclear energy production by 2020," Downer said in a statement.

Australia, which has about 40 percent of the world's uranium but only mines a fraction of the metal, restricts exports to 36 countries that have signed a bilateral nuclear safeguards deal.

"Opening up this export opportunity with China is consistent with the growing trade and economic relationship between our two countries, and Australia's position as a secure supplier of energy resources," Downer said.

Australian Industry and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said last month he hoped a deal could be reached within a year, but government sources said a pact could be agreed by Christmas.

Macfarlane announced last week that the country's remote Northern Territory would be opened up to new uranium mining, allowing Australia to exploit strong demand for the fuel used in most of the world's nuclear power plants.

Australia exported 7,765 tonnes of uranium in 2004 worth more than A$410 million ($308 million). Australia is the world's number two exporter of uranium after Canada.

Uranium prices have more than tripled in the past five years to record highs, in step with higher oil prices, as nuclear energy emerges as an alternative source to fossil fuels.

Australia has three uranium mines, which are owned by BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc, Rio Tinto Ltd./Plc and General Atomics of the United States. ($US1=A$1.32)


Baker Lake reacting to news of uranium exploration plans

CBC North radio news

August 8, 2005

People in Baker Lake are responding to the news that a Saskatchewan-based company will be exploring for uranium near the hamlet. Cameco is the world's largest uranium producer. The company has reached an agreement to prospect for uranium on ground held by DeBeers, the world's largest diamond producer. The Aberdeen Lake property is about 150 miles from Baker Lake. In the late 1980s, the community voted not to support a proposed uranium mine project 80 km west of the hamlet. Joan Scottie was part of a local group that lobbied against the project. Scottie says other people in the hamlet may have changed their minds about uranium mining, especially if the mine would bring jobs to Baker Lake. But she says she's still opposed to any uranium project anywhere near Baker Lake.

"Aberdeen Lake is part of Baker Lake and part of the Thelon River. The concerns we have are still there. To our water system and to other issues like radioactive waste."

Scottie says she's not too worried about the uranium exploration plans at this point because they still have to go to a lot of regulatory hoops before they could even propose a mine. Baker Lake mayor David Aksawnee says he needs to find out more about the exploration agreement and get more feedback from the community before he'll comment.


Australia Uranium Sales Up as World Demand Rises

Planet Ark

September 8, 2005

SYDNEY - Australian uranium export earnings grew dramatically in fiscal 2005 as global demand for the once-shunned metal pushed prices up sharply, government trade figures released on Wednesday showed.

Earnings from uranium, increasingly prized to drive nuclear generators as nuclear power regains favour worldwide as a viable source of energy, rose 30 percent year-on-year in the 12 months to the end of June to A$475 million ($361 million).

Australia holds about 40 percent of the world's uranium but has no nuclear industry of its own, relying solely on exports to 36 countries holding bilateral safeguard agreements for revenue from the material.

It hopes shortly to begin formal talks on allowing uranium exports to China.

Uranium demand waned in the 1980s as cheap oil and other energy sources such as solar power compounded a public perception that nuclear power was unsafe. Prices for the material sank to as low as $10 a pound, as what demand did exist was more than fed by a huge supply overhang.

But with much of the surplus now gone, record-high oil prices and growing concerns over coal emissions, uranium has been making a comeback, analysts said.

"Currently the world has 441 operable commercial nuclear power plants and a further 30 are under construction, principally in Asia," said commodities forecaster Resource Capital Research. The amount of uranium plants use is also growing, it said, predicting current prices of around $30 a pound would stick through next year.

Australia has only three operating uranium mines, which are owned by BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc, Rio Tinto Ltd./Plc and General Atomics of the United States.

But as many as 25 mining companies are exploring for the metal in Australia's remote Northern Territory alone, according to the Australian Minerals Council.

"Coking and steaming coal continue to top our resource charts ... but uranium is coming through as a potentially strong performer for Australia," Australia's Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, said in a statement.

Strong global demand for coal, iron ore and other industrial raw goods lifted total Australian mineral export earnings almost a third to A$67.4 billion in fiscal 2005, according to te Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

It said the minerals and energy sector reaped a 29 percent lift in export earnings, with coking coal needed to make steel recording the biggest rise, up 65 percent to A$10.7 billion.

Iron ore export revenue grew 53 percent to $A8 billion, while revenues from steaming coal used in power generation was up 45 percent to A$6.3 billion.

($US1=A$1.30)


China's demands for uranium leave Australia with political dilemma

By Richard McGregor and Gwen Robinson, Financial Times

September 28 2005

When a Chinese general warned that Beijing could use nuclear weapons to destroy "hundreds" of American cities if the US intervened in a war over Taiwan, Washington was not the only one to take notice.

Major General Zhu Chenghu's comments in July also alarmed Australia, a close US ally negotiating a nuclear co-operation agreement with China to export billions of dollars worth of uranium there.

The politics of uranium exports, and Beijing's nuclear ambitions, are more complicated than the lucrative supply contracts Australia and other resource-rich countries have landed to provide China with iron ore, coal and other minerals.

With the world's largest proved reserves, Australia is the second largest uranium exporter after Canada, accounting for about 22 per cent of the global market, while Canada accounts for about a third.

China's ambitious nuclear power programme - it plans to add 27 new plants to the existing nine by 2020 - could easily push Australia into first place within a decade, but only if the sales to China are approved.

Uranium prices have almost trebled since 2002 to about $30 a pound, boosted by rising global demand as countries replace old reactors with larger ones and Soviet-era stockpiles from decommissioned nuclear weapons dwindle. With the outlook for continuing high oil prices, heightened concern about greenhouse gases and growing energy demand, prices are set to rise further.

"China's demand for uranium by 2020 could be roughly equivalent to Australia's entire current annual exports," Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, said recently. "As the holder of the world's largest uranium reserves, we have a responsibility to supply clean energy to other countries - even if, so far, we have chosen not to use nuclear energy ourselves."

While Mr Downer said Canberra had to ensure the trade did not have an adverse impact on international non-proliferation efforts, he argued that a supply deal with China "would enable Australia to promote its nuclear safeguard standards throughout" Asia.

A powerful domestic lobby, however, sees Australia's political responsibilities in a different light. Australia's decades-old restrictions on the mining and sale of uranium are partly a legacy of the cold war, when the issue became a totemic rallying point for the left opposed to the nuclear arms race.

The country's debate over the need for a bilateral safeguards agreement before any export deal with China is secured is developing a similar flavour across the political spectrum because of fears Beijing's nuclear arsenal could be bolstered.

Strict safeguards built into Australia's supply agreements require a commitment from importing countries to use the uranium for power generation only and to submit to international inspections of all their nuclear power facilities.

China has already signalled its reluctance to commit to such inspections, conducted on Australia's behalf by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Beijing has agreed to past IAEA inspections of some of its existing nuclear facilities but these inspections are limited to specific plants.

Even if China agrees to Australia's safeguards, that will not reassure Australia's anti-nuclear lobby. Such a deal could be worthless, argues Gavin Mudd, of Monash University, as Australian sales could free China to use its own uranium to build nuclear weapons.

But the mining industry is getting ready. BHP Billiton, the country's largest company, plans to treble uranium production at its Olympic Dam mine and about 40 companies are exploring for uranium deposits.

Geoff Prosser, chairman of a parliamentary inquiry investigating the country's resources, has urged Australia to seize the opportunity to boost exports. "Most countries are coming to the view now that if they wish to meet their emissions targets and reduce global warming, about the only way they can do that is with nuclear power."


Churches split on uranium mining

By Richard Baker, The Age

October 18, 2005

AUSTRALIA's leading churches are divided over whether the country should increase uranium mining and consider building nuclear power plants.

The Anglican Church may review its uranium policy after its investment fund, Glebe Asset Management, recently overturned a ban on investing in companies involved in uranium mining.

But the Uniting Church and Catholic Church remain opposed to increasing uranium mining and nuclear power which, they say, threaten communities and the environment.

The chairman of the Anglican Church's national public affairs committee, Ray Cleary, said the church should review its uranium policy — which has historically opposed uranium mining and nuclear power. "In the current context we are open to take a fresh look at the whole issue," he said.

Concerns about fossil fuels being big contributors to climate change and the improvement in the safety of nuclear power were good reasons to reconsider the use of uranium, he said. But the Anglican Church still held concerns about the expansion of uranium mining because of the potential misuse of the materials.

"The two big moral issues are how to treat the nuclear waste and the misuse of the material in creating weapons of mass destruction," Dr Cleary said.

In August, the Anglican Church's investment fund, Glebe Asset Management, lifted its ban on uranium mining shares after a three-month review found many clients did not object to uranium as strongly as to other industries, such as gambling, tobacco or pornography.

But the Uniting Church's UCA Funds Management, which manages about $550 million, has kept its ban on uranium stocks and sold its BHP Billiton shares after it took over uranium miner WMC earlier this year.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into uranium resources, the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania argued that any economic benefits gained through increased uranium mining were outweighed by moral concerns about nuclear technology.

Uniting Church Moderator Sue Gormann said recent comments by senior Federal Government ministers, along with the initiation of the inquiry into uranium, appeared to "signal an interest in the expansion of the uranium mining industry".

Describing the debate about increasing uranium mining as the most important facing Australia, Ms Gormann said the Government should be giving more support to renewable energy technologies because nuclear power was only a short-term solution to climate change.

Catholic Earthcare chief executive officer Colin Brown said the Catholic Church was opposed to the growth of the industry, which he said had a poor environmental track record.

He said there was general unease in the community about the secrecy that surrounded uranium mining operations. While the Catholic Church was not against open debate about nuclear power, Mr Brown said the Government should be putting more effort into expanding Australia's renewable energy industries.

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