MAC: Mines and Communities

FILM REVIEW: Most crucial issue in 28 years

Published by MAC on 2007-12-15

FILM REVIEW: Most crucial issue in 28 years

15th December 2007

"A Hard Rain"

Directed by David Bradbury, Frontline Films, 2007

[For a short video clip, see: <> ]

David Bradbury, award winning activist filmmaker from Australia has produced a range of documentaries relating to uranium and nuclear issue.

Below is a press release accompanying the launch of his most recent film, followed by the director’s own reflection on its launch in Roxby Down, the town where the uranium mine the focus of the film, BHPs Olympic Dam project, operates.


Press announcement by Frontline Films, 22 April 2007

While the politicians debate the pros and cons of nuclear power and climate change, Australia’s most controversial and decorated documentary filmmaker David Bradbury is heading into the heartland of BHP Billiton – Olympic Dam - to screen his latest anti nuclear film – A Hard Rain.

The twice Oscar nominated filmmaker’s visit has been made possible by the sale of BHP Billiton shares by a disillusioned shareholder who after seeing Bradbury’s film says she does not want the planned triple expansion at Olympic Dam to go ahead.

The shareholder, Helen Lewers will present a cheque for $20,000 from the sale of the shares at a special screening of A Hard Rain, November 5th in the mine service town of Roxby, adjacent to BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam – the world’s largest deposit of uranium.

“It would have been unconscionable to profit from a company whose uranium mine is going to bequeath an appalling legacy on the countryside surrounding its mine and even as far afield as Melbourne and Sydney,” says Ms Lewers who lives in Ballarat in Victoria.

Bradbury, who has specialized in the nuclear issue having now made four nuclear based documentaries, believes both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have missed the most damning point in this nuclear debate – the uranium mine is one of the dirtiest stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.

“All that glitters is not gold. Short term windfall profits for BHP Billiton and a handful of jobs if the next federal government approves the Olympic Dam expansion will reap a spiral in cancer rates and birth defects the like of which this nation has never known,” says Bradbury.

“When they mine uranium to extract the yellowcake, more than 80% of the radiation stays behind at the mine in the form of radioactive tailings,” says Dr Rosalie Bertell, a world leading epidemiologist who appears in the film.

“The tailings contain radioactive thorium, polonium, bismuth, radium and radioactive lead in sizable quantities and are carcinogenic,” Dr Bertell says. (Dr Bertell is a Canadian nun of the Sacred Heart order and one of the world’s leading epidemiologists who has specialized in radiation. She lead an international medical team into Chernobyl after the nuclear meltdown occurred there. She also lead the international medical team which investigated the Union Carbide chemical disaster at Bophal, India).

In the case of Olympic Dam, the radioactive tailings include over a third of the original uranium (35%) which was mined because of the poor extraction process BHP Billiton uses. This discarded uranium has a radioactive half life of 4.5 billion years.

BHP Billiton want federal and state government approval to bring 40 million tonnes of radioactive ore to the surface every year for the next 50-100 years. Because of the sheer volume of tailings – the waste material left over after the uranium and valuable minerals are extracted - will be largely dumped on the surface at the minesite.

“Where once the radioactive ore was safely cocooned deep below the earth’s surface below a thick granite sealed cone in the case of Olympic Dam, it has now been brought to the top, pulverized into fine dust size particles and dumped there, ready to blow in the wind or weep into the water,” says Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney.

“Radiation travels on the wind. The finely ground tailings dust contains alpha radiation. It is carcinogenic and causes birth defects,” says Bradbury.

These fine radioactive particles can easily blow to the dense population centres of Sydney (l300k), Melbourne (l000k) or Adelaide (522k) away from the Olympic Dam minesite,” says Bradbury.

The red dust of central Australia regularly turns up on the snowy mountain slopes of far away New Zealand.

“Its not good enough for the company to say they will throw some dirt over it. Radiation leaches out and the tailings has to be stored safely for hundreds of thousands of years - millions of years in the case of the uranium tailings that are left over,” Bradbury adds.

Uranium mining also releases deadly radon gas. Olympic Dam will be turned into a massive open cut mine, the largest hole ever made in Australia - three kilometres wide and l.5 kilometres deep which will allow more radon gas to escape because of the large surface area.

Radon is a very deadly and carcinogenic gas. It is seven times heavier than air so the gas doesn’t evaporate into space. It’s a very mobile gas, so it can easily travel l,000 kilometres in its radioactive half life of 3.8 days. On just a light l0 kilometre breeze, it can easily reach Adelaide or the other east coast cities.

Radon is odourless so you don’t know you’re breathing it in. It causes birth defects to a baby in utero.

In making the film, Bradbury says he has unearthed new scientific evidence in Europe and North America with implications for all Australians. Scientists are now discovering it doesn’t take much internal radiation exposure to break the double strand of the DNA which leads to cancers and birth defects.

“The latest overseas science says human beings cannot withstand the level of radiation that is already occurring in our environment. Scientists I spoke to in the film say our health authorities should radically lower the current standards of radiation exposure the regulators find ‘acceptable’ both for miners and the general public.

The main regulations on radiation exposure were not changed for 40 years, not until 1990 when worker levels were lowered by 60% and exposure of the general public by 500%. As with signing the Kyoto protocol, Australia and the U.S. have not yet accepted this lowering.

“Current regulations used by BHP Billiton allow for miners to have a maximum radiation exposure of 50 milli-sieverts in a year. Yet scientists in Germany have demonstrated that the double strand of the DNA snaps at exposure rates of one milli-sievert. Miners at Olympic Dam are currently measuring exposure rates of ll milli-sieverts radiation in a year,” Bradbury says.

As we watch cancer rates spiral, the latest research now reveals that hese revised readings ,that Europe and Japan operate under ,are also outdated and need changing.

Science has recently discovered that something very strange happens once very low levels of radiation are inside our cells, something that defies hitherto conventional scientific logic. The impact of very small doses of radiation and cell mutation which leads to tumours is far greater than hitherto believed.

But we won’t immediately see the results of this exposure to increased radiation in our skies or food and water supply. Radiation taken internally acts like sleeper cells inside the body. It takes tumours five to twenty, sometimes as long as 50 years to reveal themselves – long after the company executives have moved on and the politicians who approved it have collected their superannuation payouts.

Since the Cold War, there have been no long term studies done anywhere in the world tracing the impact of uranium mining on workers or the general public over the necessary 20-30 year period. And miners themselves are traditionally a very young and transient population moving onto the next job before the cancers have time to surface and worrying trends to be revealed.

Bradbury says this is the most crucial issue he has addressed so far in his 28 years of filmmaking. Yet the media is remaining largely quiet on the issue of the health effects.

He believes it is because the media have not done their homework on this issue and are ignorant of the facts.

“I think it’s a case of out of site, out of mind. Like most Australians, the media don’t think what happens at Olympic Dam is going to have any direct consequence for them or their children. But we all breathe the same air and what goes around, comes around.”

“Over time, the cancers and radioactive fallout generated from the tailings and radon gas from Olympic Dam will dwarf the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and the countless tragic deaths the British atomic tests at Maralinga in the l950’s caused,” Bradbury said.

“But by then it will be too late,” he added.

By looking at the experience of countries overseas that have gone nuclear, A Hard Rain debunks some of the myths of the nuclear industry: that nuclear is safe, cheap, healthy and green with little chance of another Chernobyl happening.

The film exposes the hidden agendas behind this latest push for Australia to go nuclear.

A Hard Rain uses footage and knowledge Bradbury gleaned from his previous three nuclear documentaries (Public Enemy Number One, Jabiluka and Blowin’ in the Wind). A Hard?Rain takes a closer look at the global nuclear industry in its entirety ­ from the mining of uranium through to the nuclear power plant to the radioactive waste and weapons manufacturing.

Included are interviews with some of the world’s top scientists and environmentalists on the subject such as Dr Rosalie Bertell from Canada, Dr Chris Busby from the UK, Dr Eric Wright from Dundee University Medical school. From Australia, Dr Mark Dieisendorf (Ex CSIRO) from the Environmental Institute at the University of NSW, Dr Gavin Mudd, from Monash University’s Engineering Department, considered one of the world’s leading engineer authorities on uranium mining. Professor Ian Lowe, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Dave Sweeney nuclear campaigner from the ACF. ?

Reflections on Roxby: On returning to ‘civilisation from Roxby Downs, S.A.

by David Bradbury

View the web link below for a context on why we went to the Roxby:


When you first step into it, Roxby is a town where you know miners are ‘MEN’ and ‘greenie’ activists and filmmakers should be nervous. We’d come to the heartland of ‘the enemy’, the Belly of the Beast to show my anti uranium, anti nuclear latest doco – A Hard Rain. Roxby is the mining service town for BHP Billiton’s huge Olympic Dam in South Australia. Carved out of the middle of nowhere it’s home to the miners and their families. It boasts the largest deposit of uranium on the planet. As much as forty percent of the world’s known uranium lies deep beneath is ancient red soil. One deposit.

We were five environmental activists from Byron and Sydney, determined to give the miners an update on how uranium mining would impact on their health and give a serve to the largest resource company on Earth. BHP Billiton is putting all our lives at risk and encouraging nuclear weapons proliferation with the export of the most dangerous heavy metal known to humankind. Olympic Dam is set to see a triple expansion in mining approved whichever major party is returned after the federal election.

I was pleased to have the company of others. It’s one thing to slip silently into the town a lone figure as I did six months ago and parade as a harmless filmmaker making an innocent doco about BHP Billiton’s plans to turn Olympic Dam into a massive 3km wide by l.5km deep hole in the ground. It’s another thing to bring back that finished film to show the pro mining townsfolk and say that this mine is not only poisoning them and their kids but will do the same to those of us living further afield in the eastern states. Millions of tonnes of finely pulverised radioactive particles dumped on the mine surface each year, easily capable of blowing l000kms to Melbourne or l600kms as the wind blows to your doorstep in Balmain or Bondi.

By the time the week was over, none of us were sorry to pack our car and head out of Roxby for Adelaide and our flight home after five intense days campaigning on the streets, giving out free dvds of the film in the shopping plaza to circumspect locals, attending local church services to spread the anti uranium gospel, talking up the issue of radiation poisoning in the media and door to door leafleting inviting locals to come to one of two free screenings at their local council run cinema.

Most locals enthusiastically embrace the triple expansion because it means more money and more jobs and a guaranteed lifetime future provided you tow the company line. Many of these people have little chance of getting jobs elsewhere having walked off the land as farmers’ sons or come from far away with a real chance of paying off $400,000 mortgages for their new homes in Roxby and plasma screens. We were challenging their lives at the most fundamental level.

As one woman who refused to take an invitation said to me, “Ignorance is bliss. I don’t want to know how bad it is.”

Noticing she had two kids in tow under the age of five, I asked her, “What about your kids and their future? Surely you have other options?” She shrugged her shoulders. “This is our life,” she said with contented resignation.

We did our best to get word out and publicise the two free screenings.

We placed 3,l00 coloured and eye catching inserts in the local Roxby Sun newspaper which fell out onto the carpets and kitchen tables of the miners days before the first screening. A local journo did a news story in the same issue heralding our arrival in town and the offer of free screenings. We paid for a decent sized ad in the opposition pro mining paper, the Roxby Monitor.

I was interviewed on Adelaide ABC’s Drive Time and ABC regional radio as well as community radio in Brisbane and Melbourne. Channel Seven flew a news cameraman and reporter up for the opening night hoping to get some hot action.

I ruffled more than a few feathers when I made strident accusations on the community radio station, Rox FM – funded in part by BHP Billiton and largely staffed by volunteers who worked or had a direct association with the mine.

I was interviewed on Adelaide ABC’s Drive time and regional radio. Channel Seven flew a news cameraman and reporter up for the opening night hoping to get some hot action.

This was like preaching fire and brimstone and eternal damnation in the local watering hole – the Roxby tavern where we went to place a bet and sip a cold one with the locals on Melbourne Cup day.

We didn’t know what to expect come the first night of our two screenings in town. Would a hostile crowd turn up? Would we be run out of town, stripped and tied down onto the red desert sands with honey poured over us to cook in the sun as the ants picked our bones?

The night commenced with a presentation by Helen Lewers, a single mum from Ballarat, Victoria who donated $20,000 to Frontline Films to bring the film to Roxby Downs, and to the clear outstanding debts from making the film. Helen had inherited a stack of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto shares (majority shareholders of Ranger uranium mine in the NT) but felt she could not keep or profit from them in all good conscience. So she sold them and gave half the proceeds to the Frontline Film Foundation and another $20,000 to the Australian Conservation Foundation.

As it turned out, 25 people turned out for the first screening of A Hard Rain at the Roxby Downs cinema last Monday night (Nov 5th). Most of those attending were employees of BHP Billiton including one of the miners who is interviewed in A Hard Rain.

The screening ended with a Question & Answer time but was initially met with stony silence. It was hard to know if they were stunned or angry! The audience was directly asked if there was anyone in attendance representing BHP Billiton. Despite more silence it was later confirmed by locals there were indeed two representatives present but they obviously chose to remain quiet. We were told the company had put word around the miners’ tearooms and workplace to boycott the screenings or else risk their jobs and any chance of promotion. All BHP Billiton employees must sign a contract which obliges them not to disclose anything or speak in public about their work at the mine. Otherwise they face legal prosecution. John Howard’s Workplace Australia.

A few questions were put forward about nuclear power and uranium mining as well as some disagreement about the information presented in the film. Free copies of the film and other materials were given out to people at the end of both nights. We left copies at the local library which was greatfully received and at the local highschool and hospital. We handed out dvd copies of the film to any mum we met who was open to taking it.

A more lively and heated discussion took place after the second screening. Despite a company inspired boycott, 35 people turned up and again, company reps who remained anonymous except to the company employees who later told us they dared not say anything while they were under observation.

We had made our mark on Roxby and it was time to hit the road. This film is recommended by Techa Beaumont, MAC's Australian editor]


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