MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Green group accepts uranium mines

Published by MAC on 2006-05-04

Green group accepts uranium mines

Amanda Hodge, The Australian

4th May 2006

ONE of the nation's largest environment groups, WWF Australia, has accepted the federal Government's push to expand uranium mining and exports.

WWF chief executive Greg Bourne, former boss of BP Australasia, told The Australian yesterday the nation was "destined under all governments to be mining uranium and exporting it to a growing world market".

"We have been mining uranium and exporting it for many years and we're doing more because demand is going up, whether people like it or not," he said. "The key issues are if we're going to be a nation exporting uranium, we have to know absolutely it's only being used for peaceful purposes and waste products are being stored safely."

The move is likely to drive a wedge through the environment movement, which is fighting to make the Government's planned uranium exports to China - and the nuclear power debate - a federal election issue next year.

Former Greenpeace International executive director Paul Gilding, who is now an environmental consultant, yesterday defended WWF's uranium position.

"I think it's rational to say: we oppose nuclear power, but given there is nuclear power let's make sure we make it as safe as possible," he said. "The risk to anybody in this area is it's such a highly ideological, almost religious, debate."

Mr Gilding said WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, had "always been the one closest to the corporate conservative side, and good luck to them. Someone needs to be."

Mr Bourne's comments come just weeks after John Howard signed a uranium export deal with China under which billions of dollars of Australian uranium could be shipped to the Asian powerhouse to fuel as many as 40 new nuclear power plants.

As a condition of the deal, China has agreed not to use Australian uranium in nuclear weapons. Environment groups argue there are insufficient monitoring and safety procedures in place to prevent that occurring.

Labor is reconsidering its long-held opposition to expanding uranium mining. While resources spokesman Martin Ferguson has called for Labor to ditch the policy, environment spokesman Anthony Albanese, from the Left, is fiercely opposed to change.

Mr Bourne said all Australians should demand transparency in any uranium export deals to ensure the mineral was being used for peaceful purposes only. But his position has provoked a furious response from Wilderness Society leader Alec Marr, who called last night for the WWF chief to consider going "back to industry where he came from".

"Uranium mining, anywhere, any time, is an immoral act and the job of all environment groups should be to stop every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining," Mr Marr said.

"WWF should do something other than simply tread the footsteps of the Liberal Party when it comes to uranium."

Mr Marr claimed Mr Bourne was out of step with WWF International's anti-nuclear power policy and called for him to "either toe the line or leave".

WWF International opposes nuclear power as a clean-energy alternative to greenhouse intensive coal-fired power, citing contamination risks, waste problems and security concerns.

But as head of WWF Australia, Mr Bourne has publicly acknowledged nuclear power will play a role in the world's move towards clean energy, while maintaining Australia has no need for nuclear power because of its abundance of renewable energy resources.

He told The Australian yesterday that the current nuclear debate in Australia was a "red herring" drawing attention from the need to stem climate change.

"We don't believe nuclear power is the solution to global warming," he said. "(But) there are something like 440 nuclear power stations around the world and 20 more on the books.

"Others might wish the Pandora's box had never been opened, but we have the honesty to recognise there are some big issues and as the world seeks ... to move away from a global-warming catastrophe, (it's) going to explore all sorts of things."

The comments are unlikely to improve relations between WWF and other environmental groups in Australia, which view with suspicion its close relationship with the federal Government.

Last year, the Australia Institute claimed the WWF's federal funding had gone up in direct proportion to its increased support for commonwealth policy

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