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Walk Away from Uranium Mining - adjournment speech

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 24 Aug 2011

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (19:07): I rise to speak briefly on an issue that is very close to my heart and an issue that in many ways brought me into this chamber in the first place. The day before yesterday I woke up at a rock pool about 20 kilometres from Wiluna in the north-east goldfields of Western Australia to see off about 100 people who are taking part in the walk against uranium mining. Just the sheer logistics of getting a hundred people to Wiluna in the first place was quite an extraordinary feat. It was a wonderful little camp in a really beautiful part of the world, only a couple of dozen kilometres from where Toro Energy plans on opening up, effectively, quite a shallow strip mine for uranium on the shores of Lake Way, a salt lake in Western Australia.

This gathering plans to walk around a thousand kilometres to Perth via Kalgoorlie over the next couple of months. They will be arriving in Perth on 27 October. They are on their way now. As I am speaking here, all the way across the country in Canberra, those walkers are on their way to Yeelirrie, which some senators might know as a pastoral station just to the west of Leonora. They are out there at the moment, and will have made camp. They are walking with a determination that I think really embodies the antinuclear campaign, which is now in is third generation. It started in 1945 with the explosions that lit up Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and those people now are carrying the work that was done by those very first victims of the nuclear cycle-the hibakusha of those twin cities in Japan.

The campaign, now in its third generation, is carrying the hopes of people all around the world that we will close this nuclear cycle. They are not marching for safer uranium mining, they are not marching for slightly better regulation of this toxic industry; they are marching-and I am here to add my voice to theirs-to close this industry down once and for all. We know that the legacy of uranium mining absolutely will not be over and done with in my lifetime or in the lifetime of the children who come to visit us in the public gallery every day, because the toxic products and by-products of this industry are deadly for so many hundreds of thousands of years. But we can play our part to prevent more of these carcinogenic places from being exploited and opened up by the mining sector.

 

So this walk, run by Footprints for Peace, has Marcus and KA, good friends of mine, and their newborn little Shea going on one of these walks that they have been doing for many years as they have gone around the world. We have guests from France who are campaigning against the French nuclear industry, we have got guests from Arizona who are bringing the devastating Navajo experience of uranium mining and spreading that word here and telling traditional owners in townships from Wiluna through Leonora through Kalgoorlie and then across the wheat belt to Perth, 'Don't let them get started. It killed so many people in the southern and western states of the US and across Canada, again on Native American lands, as it takes place on Aboriginal lands here in Australia.' Don't let them start, because the promises might sound good but the reality is very different. Uranium is different to other forms of mining. This industry mines a carcinogen and the residues that they leave behind cause cancer just as surely as cigarettes do. The diseases take in some cases years or even decades to manifest but they are no less real for that.

 

Those on this extraordinarily courageous walk will pass through communities throughout central Western Australia and I wish them well. I hope to join them and I encourage other senators to spread the word and to join them as well on their epic walk into Perth against the nuclear industry. We in Western Australia are at the front end of the nuclear fuel chain and our colleagues and friends and brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who might know very little about uranium mining and where the industry comes from know a great deal about the end products of the industry.

 

Public opinion, which has flatlined the progress of the civil nuclear industry since the 1980s when most countries simply stopped building these facilities, has turned sharply against the industry. The industry believes this is simply a consequence of the Fukushima disaster on Japan's Pacific coast, but the roots run much deeper than that. Public opinion has reasserted itself in countries and places where public opinion is taken seriously. I cannot provide you an opinion poll from China because I am not even aware if such things are taken, but I can provide one courtesy of an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by MV Ramana, who provides links to the polls. I will just mention a couple. Support for civil nuclear power-this does not go into the weapons issue-in Chile is 12 per cent, not a very popular industry in Chile. It is 16 per cent in Thailand, 34 per cent here in Australia and 35 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 57 per cent of French citizens want to abandon nuclear energy-in France, which we are told is one of the pillars of the nuclear industry around the world.

 

Between 41 and 54 per cent of Japanese oppose nuclear energy but many say it is much higher. I think the politics of nuclear energy in Japan will take some time to work through. In 2005 a poll showed 82 per cent of Japanese favoured nuclear industry. The consequences of the horrific disaster in Tohoku I think have changed that and have changed it permanently, right up to the very highest levels of Japanese politics. The interest groups are still very well entrenched; the vested interests pushing the reprocessing and the civil nuclear power and the research side are still terribly well entrenched in Japan. But this is one of our major client countries and public opinion there has shifted very quickly. In the middle of April 17,000 people protested at two demonstrations in Tokyo, and 60,000 people marched in demonstrations in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukushima in June of this year. In July of this year Hidankyo, the group that represents the 10,000 or so survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan, the first generation of hibakusha, called for the very first time for the elimination of the civilian nuclear industry.

 

In Germany 60,000 people participated in a protest on 12 March, forming a 45-kilometre human chain from Stuttgart to the Neckarwestheim power plant in Germany. And 110,000 people demonstrated in 450 other German towns on 14 March.

This is a country that had intimate experience with the far end of the nuclear fuel chain, which seems such a long way from Lake Way in the north-east goldfields of Western Australia, when they were showered with cesium, strontium, iodine and other toxic, carcinogenic by products of the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986. On 26 March a quarter of a million people demonstrated against nuclear energy in four cities in Germany, so of course, at the end of May, the German Chancellor announced the full phase-out of the German nuclear industry.

 

In Switzerland, 20,000 people turned out, marching peacefully near the Beznau nuclear power plant, the oldest one in Switzerland. In Taiwan, 2,000 people demanded an immediate halt to the construction of the country's fourth nuclear power plant in March of this year. In Russia, the environmental groups Ecodefense and Groza risked a great deal by recently demonstrating in front of Rosatom. We do not hear a great deal here in Australia about the Russian antinuclear movement. Those are people who take risks that I could not even imagine to do the kind of work that I do here. People have been killed in Russia for expressing their views on the so-called peaceful nuclear industry and the extraordinary carnage that has been writ in the Russian and Eastern European populations by this industry.

 

In India last Wednesday a hunger strike was held at the Koodankulam reactor, where a plant is currently under construction. I have had a bit to do with the Indian antinuclear movement over the last 12 years or so. They are amazingly inspiring. They carry, I think, the original intent of Gandhi's ahimsa into their campaigns against these appallingly misconceived and very, very dangerous projects in India.

 

In the United States, two dozen groups launched a legal challenge to the US nuclear regulator to stall the extension of the operation of ageing reactors.
The industry is in such grave and serious trouble around the world because very few countries have been building these plants since literally the late 1970s, before the Three Mile Island near disaster at which the evacuation of a million people was contemplated. It has bankrupted a generation of utilities and investors and it will do so again. We have a different proposal, which is the orderly phase-out worldwide of this industry that has brought such misery in so many places. People have died in this struggle, from Karen Silkwood to Fernando Pereira, who died in 1985 when the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in a terrorist operation conducted by the French government. Hilda Murrell, the aunt of Rob Green, the retired UK navy commander, died in 1984 and the investigation into the cover-up of her murder is ongoing. Anna Mae Aquash, a Native American woman, was murdered in 1975 for opposing uranium mining at Pine Ridge, and a Russian antinuclear activist was killed in 2007 in a protest outside a future uranium enrichment site. The industry would do well to pay attention. These voices are not from the fringe. We are not going anywhere and we will not rest until this industry finally has been closed down.

 

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