MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Activist slams miner

Published by MAC on 2005-04-27

Activist slams miner

The Australian

April 27, 2005

Australia has a responsibility to store other countries' nuclear waste if it continues to export uranium, an environmental activist said today.

Greenpeace nuclear campaigner James Courtney, who confronted uranium miner Energy Resources Australia Ltd (ERA) at its annual general meeting in Sydney today, said the mining industry support was growing for Australia to accept nuclear waste.

"If we mine uranium and export it we've got a responsibility to take it back as waste," he said.

"That's certainly being discussed within the industry, although it's not being discussed publicly.

"We offer vast open spaces where other governments would love to dump their waste."

During today's meeting Mr Courtney questioned the safety of ERA's Ranger Mine in the Northern Territory, which last year was forced to close temporarily after 28 workers drank or washed in uranium-contaminated water.

Following the accident, the company decided to build a water treatment plant at the mine, at a cost of around $28 million.

"The reality is that the Ranger Mine is ageing, the infrastructure is failing and they're desperately trying to keep the plant operating safely but not at too huge an expense," Mr Courtney said after the AGM.

"They are trying to keep expenses down because if they go up too high then the mine won't be viable anymore.

"If you look at the history of ERA, I have confidence that they will say the right thing, I don't have such confidence that they will be able to avoid accidents in the future."

ERA chairman David Klingner said the company was committed to the health and safety of its workers, telling the meeting ERA was "working hard to improve our performance in these areas".

Mr Courtney also claimed today there was no way of knowing whether Australian uranium was being used in nuclear weapons programs overseas.

"France and the US both have nuclear weapons programs and there's no way of keeping Australian uranium separate," he said.

"It is quite clear that countries with nuclear weapons programs are stockpiling materials.

"The Australian government says it is against nuclear proliferation but at the same time it is supplying these countries with the materials they need to make nuclear weapons."

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