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Why dig up the most toxic substance on Earth?

Media Release
Scott Ludlam 22 May 2009

Nuclear proponents are playing down the vast environmental impacts and health risks of allowing a uranium mine in WA, the Australian Greens say.

“The latest proposal by BHP Billiton for a mine at Yeelirie, 550 kilometres east of Geraldton, would employ at most 700 people for a period of two years, after which the proponents say it would employ less half that number, all of whom will be fly-in, fly-out,” Greens Nuclear Spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam said.

“This is a relatively small number of new jobs, especially compared to renewable energies such as solar, which has created lasting employment for 250,000 people in Germany.

“In its referral document to the Federal Department of Environment, BHP revealed that through an on-site leaching process, the proposed mine would produce 110 million tonnes of radioactive waste.

“It proposes that this huge amount of rock and sludge would be stored at the mine site in an open pit or tailings dam, where it would remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

“This means that once the mine opens, mine workers and anyone else in the area would be at risk on windy days of breathing in dust or radon gas blown off the tailings. These radioactive materials greatly increase the risk of cancer if ingested.

“BHP says 10,000 hectares of mostly well vegetated land would be disturbed by the mine and this area is home to six threatened animal species, 11 migratory birds and a number of rare and priority-listed plant species.  The site experiences intense rain at times, causing water to flow in sheets off the proposed mine site towards nearby lakes.

“Bearing in mind that the Federal Government recently admitted that 100,000 litres of contaminated groundwater is seeping from tailings at Ranger uranium mine into Kakadu each day, the potential impact of large-scale dewatering of the mine site at Yeelirie combined with heavy downpours is alarming.

“The mine’s yellowcake product is proposed to be taken inside sealed drums on existing roads from Yeelirie to a “secure” rail facility near Kalgoorlie and then by train to Adelaide and then Darwin before going overseas.

“If we count this with the vast amount of embedded energy that goes into building a nuclear reactor, it is hard to see how anyone can possibly describe this industry as a low-carbon solution to greenhouse gas emissions,” Senator Ludlam said.

“However, this large amount of overland travel within Australia raises another concern. According to the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport, there are more than 2,000 serious truck accidents on WA roads each year, while the Australian Transport Safety Bureau reports there are on average more than 35 serious train derailments and collisions annually in WA.

“Yellowcake powder, or uranium oxide concentrate, is the consistency of talcum powder – so should a serious road or rail collision occur, people using the same transport routes or living nearby would be at risk of breathing in the dust. This could be disastrous for their health.

“The direct risks to health from this proposed mine are serious enough to rule it out.

“In the 10 years since multinational, Pangea, was in Australia lobbying hard for the establishment of an international nuclear waste here, the global nuclear industry has still not developed a solution to its waste problem.

“If a uranium mine opens in WA, WA can once again expect international pressure to take global nuclear waste.”

For more information or media enquiries please call Eloise Dortch on 0415 507 763

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