MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2006-04-08

China Update

8th April 2006

China and Australia have agreed a deal to allow Australian mining companies to sell uranium to China, despite serious and considered opposition from within Australia - particularly over the inadequacy of any safeguards. It is those giants of Anglo-Australian mining, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, who stand to gain most. Not surprisingly they claim to be very contented. Ian Head of Rio Tinto, says China is "absolutely" a good business partner, and it appears obvious that -if this agreement lasts -it will further tie these companies into deals with China. However, despite perhaps more muted opposition to the agreement as a whole, there are ominous warnings that opposition to opening new uranium mines will be more vociferous.

Not all the news is dominated by uranium though, as a recent BBC article once again emphasises the huge loss of life that accompanies coal mining in China. (In a recent incident this includes the loss of life of women miners, despite a law that says women cannot work in Chinese coal mines.) However, there is still a link to the uranium story, given that concerns over the health of Chinese workers dealing with the material was one of the real concerns raised. Judging by how the country is dealing with its coal miners, this seems a very real risk.

Australia and China Set to Sign Uranium Trade Deal

Planet Ark (Reuters), AUSTRALIA -

3rd April 2006

CANBERRA - Australia and China are set to sign a nuclear safeguards deal to allow Beijing to import Australian uranium for power generation when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao meets Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Monday morning. Australia, which has about 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, only allows uranium sales to members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) who also agree to a separate bilateral safeguards deal.

Australia currently has only three operating uranium mines, owned by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and General Atomics of the United States, and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said big uranium exports to China were unlikely to start until 2010.

"Australia is already fully committed in terms of uranium production through until about 2008, bearing in mind that the signing of this agreement means that this is really only the start of the process," Macfarlane told Australian radio.

He said once the safeguards deal was signed, China would then need to begin commercial negotiations with uranium producers in Australia, and new mines would probably need to be developed that would need to be licensed by the government.

"Realistically in terms of any significant quantity we are probably looking at some time past 2010," said Macfarlane, who met with Wen in the Western Australian state capital Perth on Sunday.

Wen and Howard are due to sign the nuclear safeguards deal on Monday morning, which some analysts say will test Canberra's skills at juggling growing ties with Asia's emerging power and its strong alliance with the United States.

Australia's willingness to embrace Beijing has highlighted differences with its close ally the United States, which remains wary and has questioned China's military and economic ambitions.

Australia has 19 bilateral nuclear safeguard agreements, covering 36 countries, including the United States, France, Britain, Mexico, Japan, Finland and South Korea.

China is expected to build 40 to 50 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.

The NPT obligates the five nuclear-weapon states -- the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China -- not to transfer nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices, or technology to non-nuclear-weapon states and those which haven't signed the treaty. (AUSTRALIA-CHINA, Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Richard Pullin)


Let them eat Yellowcake: National Protests at Uranium Sales to China

From the Newswires

5th April 2006

Across Australia today community, environment and peace groups held yellowcake stalls to protest the signing of a deal to sell uranium to China.

“Selling uranium is a crumby idea at the best of times,” said Louise Morris, spokesperson for Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Melbourne. “but we could really get our fingers burnt with this most recent deal.”

China is a nuclear weapons state with around 400 nuclear warheads. For them to have access to a reliable source of cheap and plentiful uranium is just the icing on the cake.

“The half baked assurances that Australian uranium won’t go into nuclear weapons programs are laughable,” said Nat Wasley, spokesperson for Arid Lands Environment Centre - Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Alice Springs

“China loses hundreds of workers to industrial and mining accidents each year, and sees untold environmental damage as a result of these too,” stated Scott Ludlam, spokesperson for Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia. “Adding yellowcake into the mix is just a recipe for disaster.”

Ms Morris concluded by saying, “The major political parties are playing packet mix politics to the mining lobby – just add water to get the instant policy you want.

“But the Australian community have shown time and again that they are willing to turn up the heat to stop nuclear projects, and we will do so again.”

Groups in Alice Springs, Melbourne and Perth tested their recipes today, with Canberra preparing for a "pie on ya face" gallery on Friday and Brisbane keeping their concoctions a secret until Sunday.

Dr Jim Green, Friends of the Earth Nuclear Campaigner: “While the China National Nuclear Corporation busies itself converting Australian uranium into Weapons of Mass Destruction, all that is required under the terms of the agreement is that at some, unspecified part of the nuclear fuel cycle, an equivalent amount of nuclear material is subject to safeguards. Verifying that such a transfer has occurred is easier said than done. As the government’s documents also acknowledge, IAEA inspections of China's facilities are carried out on a "selective" basis.”

"With proposed exports of 10,000 tonnes of uranium per year, the Chinese regime could build 2,000 nuclear weapons per year using Australian uranium - without even breaching the terms of the disgraceful agreement struck between the Howard government and the Chinese regime..."

The afterlife of uranium's militant opponents

5th April 2006

OLD anti-uranium campaigners never die: they maintain their rage — or occasionally cool off a bit and change their minds.

The "old" bit refers not to the state of mind or body, or even to the number of years veteran warriors such as Terry Norris, Joan Coxsedge, Ian Cathie and Joseph Camilleri have between them, but simply acknowledgement that opposition to uranium mining in Australia probably peaked about three decades ago.

The comparison between then and now pains actor and former Victorian Labor MP Mr Norris, as he struggles to digest the Federal Government's decision to sell uranium to China and Taiwan.

"There's barely a ripple of protest," says an explosive Mr Norris, who accepted an invitation from The Age to meet at the Collingwood headquarters of environment group Friends of the Earth yesterday.

"One looks back at what reaction you'd have had bloody 30 years ago — there'd be bloody thousands of people in the streets."

Mr Norris gives Friends of the Earth anti-uranium campaigners Jim Green and Louise Morris an admiring glance. "You guys are young, and you've got energy and that's just great," he says. "My position (on uranium mining) hasn't altered in the slightest, but the position in the general community has altered."

"I don't think the general community gives a toss," suggests his former parliamentary colleague Ms Coxsedge, who has since dumped Labor over what she regards as a series of sell-outs. She is enraged about the prospect of Labor abandoning its opposition to new uranium mines, but says the ideological contamination began in the early 1980s when the party adopted its three-mines policy. "I was a delegate and teller at the national conference when it (the policy) was passed and people were actually crying because they knew it was a fundamental betrayal."

Mining uranium should never be acceptable because of environmental hazards posed by nuclear waste and the risk of weapons proliferation, Ms Coxsedge says. She blames a docile Australian media for letting the heat out of the debate and thinks the profit motive is blinding Canberra: "These guys would sell their grandmothers for a bloody stale cheese sandwich."

But not all their former comrades agree. "I think it (the stance) probably made sense at the time, but the debate's very different now," says Ian Cathie, a former Cain government minister and once staunchly anti-uranium mining. Today it is clear that coal is a far dirtier energy source than nuclear power, he says. Nuclear proliferation might be a risk but it is one to be handled by "the United Nations and common sense." When Mr Cathie's position is put to Mr Norris and Ms Coxsedge they say, almost in unison: "Ian was always a pragmatist."

Joseph Camilleri, who helped establish the Movement Against Uranium Mining in Australia in the late 1970s, remembers the days when "tens of thousands" of anti-uranium activists would meet weekly in Melbourne alone. Teachers, nurses, doctors, churches and eventually the Labor Party joined the push to limit Australia's involvement in the industry.

The passions are still there today, but the detail is lost as issues such as global warming tend to take precedence. "It wouldn't surprise me if in the next four to five years there's a resurgence of interest … especially if a few unpleasant things happen," Mr Camilleri says.

The young guard, Mr Green and Ms Morris, agree. They point to the recent campaigns against the nuclear waste dump in South Australia and the Jabiluka mine as evidence the issue can still galvanise. They plan a fun "yellowcake protest" in the city today.

These days, says Mr Green, only about 70 campaigners meet each week — and that's across the country.

China: Uranium Deal With Australia Stirs Contrasting Views

By Breffni O'Rourke, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty -

5th April 2006

China and Australia signed a nuclear-safeguards agreement on April 3 that opens the way for China to buy vast quantities of Australian uranium to fuel its expanding civilian nuclear -power industry. Australia contains an estimated 40 percent of the world's uranium reserves, and Chinese orders -- possibly as high as some 20,000 tons annually -- will make a major impact. But not everybody thinks supplying China with the basis for nuclear fuel is a good idea.

This week's agreement has brought into focus differing perceptions of China and whether it poses a threat to the Asia-Pacific region.

The bilateral safeguards agreement is meant to ensure that China does not use for military purposes any uranium that it buys from Australia. As such, the document reinforces China's existing commitments under the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The government-to-government safeguards deal opens the way for Australian mining companies to compete to supply as much as 20,000 tons of uranium oxide to China annually -- double Australia's entire present production.

Popular Decision?

A senior political correspondent of the respected Australian daily "The Age," Michelle Grattan, says that as she sees it, the Australian people largely support selling uranium to China:

''[The Australian public] quite accept exporting to China; Australia sees itself as having quite a deal of common interest with China," Grattan says. "China is already a big buyer from Australia, a big market, and of course a lot of Chinese goods are exported to Australia. The two have had a very strong trade relationship for a long time."

Not Without Risk

Grattan says that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has gone out of his way in recent days to say that he sees no merit in the argument for "containment" of China.

However, not everyone shares that view. Senator Christine Milne, the head of the Australian Greens Party, says the conservative Howard government is dazzled by the potential profits, and is turning a "blind eye" to the dangers.

Milne says she does not believe the safeguards deal will be effective.

"Australia is saying under the safeguards agreement that everything will be fine, that somehow the uranium will be able to be guaranteed to go to the nuclear power cycle," Milne says.

Impossible To Safeguard

But she says that China, as an acknowledged nuclear-weapons state, has the power to nominate which particular facilities can be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and can withdraw that permission at any time. This essentially makes control of uranium stocks impossible.

"So there is no real safeguard about where Australian uranium will go, and [further], the facilities in which the uranium will be converted and enrichment are likely to be military facilities, which do not come under the safeguards at all," Milne says.

Milne gives little credence to the sentiments expressed by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jaoboa to journalists in Canberra on April 3: "China and Australia are conducting nuclear cooperation and this is solely for peaceful purposes. We must observe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty principles."

Milne, speaking from the Tasmanian city of Launceston, notes that China had already transferred nuclear technology to a highly volatile part of the world. She says that calls into question its reliability.

"China is a country which has previously sold and made available nuclear technology to Pakistan," Milne says. "China said last year that it did not have enough uranium for both its civilian power stations and its military program. So whichever way you look at it, Australian uranium will either go directly to the weapons program via the uranium-enrichment facilities or [it] will displace Chinese uranium."

Keen Business Partners

The business community in Australia is understandably pleased at the safeguards deal.

Ian Head is public-relations chief of Rio Tinto, a Melbourne-based conglomerate that produces some 5,800 tons of uranium oxide annually from its mine at Kakadu in the Northern Territory.

He says China is "absolutely" a good business partner.

"Both Rio Tinto and Australia have had trade relationships with China for quite a number of years, in the case of Rio Tinto companies, [supplying] Iron ore, aluminum, industrial minerals, we have been dealing with China for 30 or 40 years, in some cases longer than that," Head says.

BHP Billiton, also based in Melbourne, produces some 4,000 tons annually from the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state. Media-relations chief Samantha Evans stresses how important Chinese business already is to her company.

"China is our biggest single country customer in that sense; sales to China account for 16 percent of our global sales," Evans says.

With the ink barely dry on the safeguards agreement, business people say it will be at least 2010 before the move translates into actual supply of Australian uranium to China.

China okays uranium deal with Taiwan

Zee News -

4th April 2006

Beijing - A day after inking a major uranium deal with Australia, China today said it has okayed a similar arrangement with its arch-foe, Taiwan under IAEA safeguards as well as a non-government entity.

"We have taken note of relevant reports. The Chinese government has made some related arrangements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the safeguard and monitoring of China's Taiwan's nuclear activities," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters when asked to comment on the Australia-Taiwan uranium deal.

Liu said that the IAEA has all along conducted safeguards and monitoring of Taiwan's related activities on the basis of a non-governmental entity to ensure its peaceful nature.

Reports from Canberra said that two Australian mining companies recently entered contracts to sell uranium to Taiwan, an island of 23 million people which is viewed by Beijing as a rebel province that must be reunified, even by force.

Energy resources of Australia Ltd, and BHP Billiton Ltd/PLC confirmed that they had contracts to sell uranium to Taiwan.

Australia, which follows the "one-china" policy has an arrangement with the united states in 2002 that made it possible to export Australian uranium to Taiwan via the United States, although contracts were only entered into during the past year, the report said.

Bureau Report

The high price paid by China's miners

By Daniel Griffiths, BBC News, Beijing -

5th April 2006

Every time they go to work, Chinese miners are gambling with their lives.

Rescuers assist a miner after he was trapped following a blast at a Chinese coal mine Mining accidents are frequent

The country is desperate for coal to feed its booming economy.

Coal is needed to generate more than two-thirds of the country's electricity, making China both the world's largest coal producer and consumer.

But profit-hungry mine owners are desperate to take advantage of soaring coal prices and often ignore safety precautions in an effort to increase production.

And Chinese miners are paying the price.

Nearly 6,000 died last year alone in more than 3,000 fires, floods, explosions and other accidents.

All that has landed officials in Beijing with one record they would rather not have - China has the most deadly mining industry in the world.

Reform promised

Nearly every day a cursory flick through the pages of the Chinese newspapers reveals details of fresh disasters and public anger about the issue is growing.

The Chinese president Hu Jintao declared earlier this year that the country's development should not come at the expense of human life.

So now Beijing is promising reform. It says all mines with a production capacity of less than 30,000 tonnes will be shut down.

The government says these small mines produce more than one-third of the government's total output, but are responsible for three-quarters of all deaths.

Most are expected to merge with larger supposedly more safety-conscious mines - but accidents continue even at the bigger operations.

Chinese miners

Beijing wants to improve the mining industry's safety record

And previous government safety campaigns have had a mixed record. The government says the situation is improving and thousands of dangerous mines have already been closed.

But the worst disaster in China's mining history came only last year, when 214 people died in an explosion at a mine in the north-east of the country.

And already this year more than 150 people have died, according to the government's own statistics.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many local officials have shares in the highly profitable mines, making it harder to enforce rules that might threaten their cut.

This despite a ruling from Beijing last year that all officials should get rid of their holdings in mining operations.

Protecting interests

The issue is part of a broader pattern emerging in China at the moment, whether it's mines, the environment, or land development.

China's central government promises reform but often other senior officials or those lower down the chain of command in the provinces have financial interests to protect - putting profit before the Party.

In one well-documented incident last year, dramatic television footage emerged of a violent struggle between armed thugs and villagers resisting the takeover of their property by an electricity company which wanted to build a power plant there.

It emerged that there had been a similar clash earlier in the year, which had gone unreported. Several local officials were eventually sacked and the villagers won their claim to stay on the land.

But they were the lucky ones. Far more have lost than won in the battle with officialdom.

And that includes the nation's miners.

Making the country's mines a safer place is going to be a slow, drawn out process - and while the waiting goes on, more Chinese are going to their deaths, deep underground.

Four miners killed in coal mine explosion; four women were among those working underground

Xinhua News Agency -

7 April 2006

A gas explosion at a coal mine in central China's Hunan province has killed four miners and left five others missing. Four women were found among those who were working in the mine.

The accident occurred at the Dongtang Coal Mine in Lengshuijiang City on the evening of 6 April when nine miners, including four women, were working underground. The four women involved are yet to be identified, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Article 59 of China's Labour Law strictly forbids women from working in coal mines.

The Dongtang Coal Mine is a licensed colliery with an annual production capacity of 10,000 tons, according to Yuan Xinzhong, who heads the local coal mine safety inspection bureau.

In March, the provincial government of Hunan ordered all collieries with high risks, including the Dongtang Coal Mine, to suspend production, but the mine has since continued operating against the order, according to Yuan.

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