(May 7, 2004) What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news "then" and "now".
In WISE Bulletin 5 we reported on a demonstration against uranium mining in Australia: "On April 6th and 7th, major rallies took place in all major Australian cities. […] Organisers say this is the largest ever anti-nuclear demonstration in Sydney." (WISE Bulletin 5, May/June 1979)
Uranium ore was discovered in Australia in the 1890s and was initially mined as a source of radium. Primarily intended for the U.S. and U.K. weapons programs, mining for the element uranium began in the 1950s and was followed in the 1960s with mining for civil nuclear energy. Australia's uranium is exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union countries. (Uranium Information Center Issues Briefing, February 2004)
Uranium mining is polluting, costly and negatively affects aboriginal landowners whose local environment is threatened by high levels of radioactivity contained in uranium tailings. Leaks have resulted in the contamination of the areas surrounding the mines. Mining is capital-intensive, which means low employability per invested dollar, and in the 1990s uranium prices dramatically fell below actual production costs. Sacred sites of cultural and spiritual significance to aboriginal landowners are regularly destroyed. (Uranium Mining in Australia, Movement against Uranium Mining, July 1991)
Studies have shown that the living conditions of aborigines have not been improved by mining activities as was claimed by the industry. Employment levels for aboriginals are extremely low as are their social circumstances. According to the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights act, the traditional owners have the right to veto commercial activities on their territories. But in 1978 the federal government made an exception for uranium mining. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999)
In 1983 the Labour Party won government elections and introduced the "Three Named Uranium Mines" policy. This policy limited mining to the Ranger, Nabarlek (now closed) and Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) mines with the intention of eventually phasing out uranium mining in the long term. In 1996, however, a Liberal-National coalition came to power and abandoned the three mines policy.
The liberal government also allowed the operation of three new mines: Beverly, Honeymoon and Jabiluka. Suggestions for more new mines have been made at six other locations. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004)
Beverly began operation in late 2000 but following a trial operation, the Honeymoon mine lies idle as financing remains unclear. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004; WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 600, 19 December 2003)
In 1998, the federal government approved mining at Jabiluka, known for being one of the world's biggest uranium reserves. The mine is located near a unique nature park (Kakadu National Park) and the proposal raised strong protest from the traditional landowners. Following much protest, the traditional owners finally won. Although exploitation had begun on a small scale, the uranium ore was returned to the mine and the mine was cleaned up in 2003. In April 2004 the Northern Land Council, acting on behalf of traditional owners, adopted an agreement with owner ERA that gave them the right to veto future development of the mine. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999; The Age, 22 April 2004)