MAC: Mines and Communities

Churches Split On Uranium Mining

Published by MAC on 2005-10-18
Source: The Age ()

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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