The letter below is from the Chair of the Anti Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia, former Senaor Jo Vallentine.
There are details here that Government and the mining/uranium industry have yet to address, read on and ask your own questions of those in charge of our future.
Department of Planning and Local Government,
GPO Box 1815, Adelaide, SA 5001.
Re: Proposed BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Uranium Mine Expansion
On behalf of the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia, I make this submission: there should be no expansion of the uranium mining operations of BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam.
Our organization, working to challenge the nuclear industry in all its forms, has been operating since 1997. We are comprised of twelve determined community based, not-for-profit groups.
There are four parts to my argument:
1. WARMING: Since around 2003 -4 the global nuclear industry has positioned itself as part of the solution to climate change. In what has been an unprecedented attempt to fool governments and the public about its merits, and to minimise its dangers, the nuclear industry has been cavalier with the truth, to say the very least.
It claims that it is greenhouse friendly, and therefore should be a sought-after energy source for the future. The only part of the nuclear industry’s operations which is not a heavy greenhouse gas emitter is the boiling of the water in the reactor. At every other stage in the chain, from uranium mining, to milling, to transport, to enrichment, to construction of reactors, to re-processing, to storage of waste (probably requiring more transport), to making of weapons, to de-commissioning of reactors, greenhouse gases are emitted. Just take the reactor construction and deconstruction as an example of what is never referred to by the industry’s proponents. The making of cement is widely acknowledged as a huge contributor to CO2 emissions, and there is a massive amount of cement used in both operations ….. especially in de-commissioning of ageing reactors, which will become a common, but likely unacknowledged feature of the industry in the coming decade. So, concrete and steel manufacturing emissions should be included in any assessment of the carbon footprint of this industry.
Likewise, transport components are also huge …… uranium ore to ports, across the seas to clients, to enrichment, then reactor plants and so on. Going one step further back …… consider the diesel used in the gigantic trucks and other machinery required to dig the rocks out of the ground, and to mill those large pieces into powder. Most of the fuels used to generate nuclear power in all its stages, comes from the consumption of fossil fuels. Why are those greenhouse (and monetary costs) not accounted for in either the greenhouse or financial costs of nuclear power production? (Ref.: Jan Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, “Can Nuclear Power Provide Energy for the Future? Would it solve the CO2 Emission Problem? ” , October 12, 2004.)
Another component, often overlooked in this consideration of the dirty, rather than “clean” industry is the production of CFC’s in the enrichment process. Going against the trend to limit the production of chlorofluorocarbons according to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, as the U. S Department of Energy acknowledges, the nuclear industry’s enrichment plants emit most of the 114 gas still produced in the United States, which is an ozone layer destroyer (James Bruggers, “Uranium Plants Harm Ozxone Layer, Kentucky, Ohio Facilities Top List of Polluters …. The Courier Journal, May 29, 2001).
Various studies show that CO2 emissions depend on the grade or uranium ore ….. high grade ore, requiring less energy input than low grade ore. In most cases a nuclear power station must operate for three years to generate the amount of energy it costs to install and get the reactor operating (by comparison, wind power requires only about six months of generation of energy, in order to “pay” for its installation in energy terms(Danish wind Industry Association 1997 “The Energy Balance of Wind turbines).
However, with low-grade ore, containing less than 0.01% yellowcake, at least 10 tonnes of ore has to be mined in order to obtain 1 kg. of yellowcake, entailing a huge increase in the fossil energy required for mining and milling. Consumption of fossil fuels then becomes so large that nuclear energy emits total quantities of CO2 comparable with those from an equivalent combined cycle gas-fired power station (van Leewen & Smith, 2005 “Can nuclear power provide energy for the future; would it solve the CO2 emission problem?”)
The vast majority of the world’s uranium reserves are low-grade. With the current contribution by nuclear energy of 16% of the world’s energy production, the high grade reserves would only last several decades if nuclear energy were to be expanded, as the industry hopes.
Far from being any part of the answer to global warming, I submit that the nuclear industry is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions. As Storm van Leewen argues: “The Nuclear Industry should commit itself to publish a thorough analysis of the emissions of carbon dioxide and all other greenhouses gases in all processes of the fuel chain before claiming that nuclear energy is carbon free or greenhouse gas free.” (J.W. Storm van Leewen. “Uranium and Greenhouse Gases” August 13, 2005, as quoted by Helen Caldicott in “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else” – Melbourne University Press, 2006)
Specific to the Olympic Dam expansion, it is incongruous for the government to allow a $350 million subsidy in diesel fuel rebates, and for the company to plan for an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1.2 million tones of CO2 per year, up to 5.9 million tonnes per year by 2020. This would increase South Australia’s current total emissions of 33 million tonnes a year by up to 14% by 2020, and severely compromise the potential for urgent action on deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions overall. There is no sense in that. It is a license for the big polluters to continue with business as usual, and is totally unacceptable when communities, small businesses and households are expected to (and in most cases are keen to) reduce their emissions.
ANAWA is clear that BHP Billeton’s plans for expansion of the Olympic Dam operation should be disallowed on the grounds that there will be a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the plant.
The nuclear industry has had sixty four years to figure out waste disposal. It has failed, utterly and universally. This isn’t just any toxic waste disposal, which might damage waterways, or pollute the air, or contaminate the soil, although it does all of those things. This is radioactive waste with the capability of altering the gene pools of all living things on the face of the earth. It is a very serious charge: the possibility of affecting the reproductive organisms, interfering with the DNA of every facet of life on earth.
Yet this industry continues to promote itself as some sort of “saviour” when the global community is faced with the challenge of climate change. It is a big challenge, but not ne which will be assisted in any way by introducing more nuclear waste on the scene. There are already mountains of waste to be disposed of securely, safely, for the unforeseeable future. This is a shameful legacy to be leaving future generations – they will have to deal with the folly of this twentieth century failed experiment.
The problem of nuclear waste begins with the uranium mining process. Huge volumes of lower level radioactive wastes are left behind at abandoned minesites, as much as 680 parts of finely ground rock for every part uranium oxide extracted. At Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, there are constantly overflows from the tailings dams during a heavy wet season. At Olympic Dam, it’s a different problem (usually) of high winds sending the tailings blowing in the wind. The proposed expansion would add a further mountain of tailings, which could not be guaranteed against leakages, seepages, windstorms.
BHP Billiton’s proposal to spend at least five years digging the world’s largest open pit, to be 3 kms. by 3 kms. at the surface, and 350 metres deep, just to reach the ore body, will leave not only a huge hole in the ground, because there are no plans to rehabilitate, or to fill in that pit, but also, the storage proposed would cover an area of up to 44 square kms. to a height of up to 65 metres. This toxic mountain will probably leak as all tailings dams/pits do, for the duration of the open pit mine’s life, which is predicted to be until 2050. From ANAWA’s perspective, this scenario is totally unacceptable. We call on the government to reject the BHP Billiton proposal for expansion.
Because whatever happens at an Australian uranium mine is directly linked to the wider international nuclear picture, because we sell uranium to overseas clients for use in nuclear power plants, and indirectly for making bombs, and producing waste elsewhere, we make further comment on other situations regarding waste.
There have been numerous international scientific attempts to find a solution to the storage of spent fuel from reactors, like synroc, once touted as the magic answer. Still not proven. But no company, either involved in uranium mining, or nuclear power generation, or weapons production, is taking the ultimate responsibility of dealing with its contaminated waste until the radioactive e materials are no longer dangerous. This responsibility will have to be borne by governments and communities long after the companies involved now have made their profits, and cut and run.
A very serious attempt was made in the United States to establish one single waste depository for high-level waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Opponents said for years that it was not a suitable site for many reasons (earthquake zone, porous rocks included). The industry persisted against the wishes of the people and against scientific data, and after twenty years and the expenditure of more than eleven billion dollars (mostly taxpayers’ dollars), President Obama has called it quits. Yucca Mountain is not going ahead. So, the United Sates nuclear industry is back to square one in its search for a suitable site, or for new technology to deal with the waste.
There is one possibly viable project underway in Olkiluto in Finalnd, where the government is paying billions of dollars constructing a deep depository to take the spent fuel rods from its four reactors. It is way behind schedule. It remains to be seen whether the technology is deemed safe for the long term (how can that be proved with material that is radioactive for 250.ooo years?) before a license would be granted for it to continue operation.
Here in Western Australia, we experienced the push from an international consortium seeking a permanent waste depository, deep underground in the desert, which was considered expendable. The Pangea company wooed the government and offered massive financial inducements. But the people sent Pangea packing, even finally gaining the support of the conservative Court Government, which passed legislation outlawing the dumping of international nuclear waste in Western Australia. That legislation still stands, and is supported by current Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, despite his enthusiasm for uranium mining. This is neither an ethical nor a consistent policy. The rationale for excluding international waste would b e a lot stronger if no uranium mining was exported from this state. This is a position towards which ANAWA continues to work.
South Australia successfully challenged Prime Minister John Howard’s plan for a national waste depository in that state. Aboriginal people and their land had already suffered contamination from British nuclear testing in the 1950’s and sixties, and they were not going to let that kind of contamination occur again. Fortunately, they were supported by the people and Government in their strong stand.
Now the Northern Territory is experiencing the pressure to make way for a national nuclear waste dump (and Australia’s stored nuclear waste is miniscule, compared with countries which have major nuclear programmes) – Labor’s promises to reverse the Howard government’s plans remain unfulfilled. A real concern is that once a national repository is confirmed, the international nuclear industry will be lining up, again (new name, same crowd, Arius?), with huge inducements for Australia to take the waste from many countries desperately trying to get rid of the material which is mounting up exponentially in all countries with nuclear power stations.
Why on earth would we want to add to that dangerous stockpile by further increasing uranium mining operations in this country?
Most of the worlds 440 plus nuclear reactors are ageing, and due for de-commissioning. The industry keeps on trying to get them re-licensed to continue for a few more years. Finally they become too radioactive to continue. The mothballing required to segregate the large buildings, requiring massive amounts of concrete, leaves monuments dotted around the countryside as testament to this failed technology.
Then there’s the question of so-called “depleted” uranium. This is highly toxic material, used by the United States military wherever it has been fighting wars, since 1990. Depleted of U235, it is still highly radioactive as U238, which is very dense – an ideal anti-tank weapon which can penetrate heavy metals, like a hot knife cutting through butter. It ignites on impact, disintegrating into a fine powder which is blown by the wind …. this radioactive mist has half-life of 4.5 billion years. The Pentagon admitted to using 360 tons of DU in the anti-tank shells in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the 1991 gulf War. Probably more was used in the second Gulf War , beginning in 2003. ‘Since 1991, there has been a sevenfold increase in both childhood cancers and gross congenital abnormalities in the Basra region of Iraq’ (Helen Caldicott, “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else,” op. cit., p. 52).
It is also important to recognize the international global Nuclear Energy Program devised by President Bush, and signed on to by Prime Minister John Howard, which could be interpreted as an obligation by a uranium exporting country to accept the radioactive waste generated by its primary product overseas. This is yet to be tested.
ANAWA considers the production of more nuclear waste a gross violation of the human rights of future generations, and a gross violation of the integrity of our global environment into the unforeseeable future. This is not a right of this generation, but we have a responsibility not to add to the enormous problem which already exists, and to which there is no answer on the horizon. That argument alone, our organization to strongly resists any moves by the Government of South Australia to consider expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mining operation.
In the driest state of the driest continent on earth, it is unwise, to put it mildly, to consider expanding the Olympic Dam operations. Already a huge water guzzler, taking 35 million litres of water daily from the great Artesian Basin, this is an industry out of control, and out of line with the thinking of most Australians who are increasingly realizing that water is our most precious resource, and that we shouldn’t be squandering it on any unnecessary projects. The Olympic Dam expansion is an unnecessary project. It is a gross waste of water, whether that water is sourced from the Great Artesian Basin, at considerable cost to the unique and fragile Mound Springs, listed as an endangered ecological community, or from a specially commissioned de-salination plant, 500 expensive kilometers away. The fact that the water currently taken from GAB is free of charge, adds insult to the injury of water wastage. BHP Billiton plans to increase that water usage to at least 42 million litres per day – this must be rejected outright. ANAWA calls on the S.A. Government to phase out all water extraction from the GAB’s Borefield A as soon as possible.
The nuclear industry generally is a heavy water user. As Tim Flannery says “Coal fired power plants have large water requirements for cooling and steam generation, but these are dwarfed by the water needs of nuclear power.” (Friends of the Earth and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, 2008).
Water for nuclear power stations can be sourced from a river, lake, dam, or the ocean. It has two uses: it is converted to steam to drive a turbine, and cooling water then converts the steam back to water. Per megawatt, existing nuclear power stations use and consume more water than power stations using other fuel sources. Depending on the cooling technology utilised, the water requirements for a nuclear power station can vary between 20 to 83% more than for other power stations. Water outflows expel relatively warm water which can have adverse local impacts in bays and gulfs. In recent very hot summers in Europe, some French nuclear reactors had to be switched off, because the cooling water became not only too hot to be effective in the reactors, but too dangerous for the outflows.
Water pollutants, such as heavy metals and salts, build up in the water used in the nuclear power plant systems. A U.S. report ‘Licensed to Kill: How the Nuclear Power Industry Destroys Endangered Marine Wildlife and Ocean Habitat to Save Money’ (Greenpeace, 2007), details the nuclear industry’s destruction of delicate marine ecosystems and large numbers of animals, including endangered species. Water shortages, driven by climate change, drought or heat waves have caused reactors to be taken off line periodically, reducing their effectiveness in being reliable producers of baseload power.
ANAWA therefore believes that adding to the myth that nuclear energy can assist with the global warming climate crisis is grossly irresponsible because of the industry’s voracious appetite for water. Therefore the Olympic Dam’s expansion would not only add to Australia’s water usage pressures, but add to global water issues as well. ANAWA strongly recommends that the Olympic Dam expansion be rejected because of its extraordinarily high usage of our most precious and scarce resource, water.
This is another vexed area of deep concern, and one which no doubt BHP
Billiton does not want to address. But the bald facts are undeniable: nuclear weapons cannot be produced without the raw material of uranium being mined, and secondly, that every country which has acquired nuclear weapons, has done so by association with the nuclear power programme within their country.
By exporting uranium, despite safeguards galore, Australian uranium at very least, frees up uranium from other sources to be used in bomb-making programmes, and at worst, Australian uranium could be used directly in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. There is no way to prove that Australian uranium oxide, once it leaves Australia’s shores, does not end up in other countries’ nuclear weapons programmes. A case in point is the Tricastin plant in France, which is owned and operated by the French government, which serves both the military and civilian sectors. Atom by atom, Australian uranium cannot be separated from uranium sourced from other countries once it enters the nuclear fuel chain. And what country would want to admit that its uranium has been diverted for use in the North Korean nuclear weapons programme? Every exporter claims innocence!
It was Al gore, former U.S. Vice President who said “In the eight years I served in the White House, every weapons proliferation issue we faced was linked with a civilian reactor program.” (Guardian Weekly 9-15 June, 2006)
The International Energy Agency, like a fox in charge of the chicken house, has a dual role: to promote “peaceful” application of nuclear energy, and to guard against nuclear ;weapons proliferation. Despite the attempts of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with its five yearly Review conferences, nuclear weapons have proliferated, but probably not as much as they would have without that treaty being in existence. However, as recent former head of the IAEA, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei has said: “the IAEA’s Illicit Trafficking Database has, in the past decade, recorded more than 650 cases that involve efforts to smuggle nuclear and radioactive materials” and “IAEA verification today operates on an annual budget of about $100 million – a budget comparable to that of a local police department. With these resources, we oversee approximately 900 nuclear facilities in 71 countries. When you consider our growing responsibilities – as well as the need to stay ahead of the game – we are clearly operating on a shoestring budget.” And “we are only as effective as we are allowed to be.” And “If a country with a full nuclear fuel cycle decides to break away from is non-proliferation commitments, a nuclear weapons could b e only months away.” And “the IAEA’s legal authority to investigate possible parallel weaponisation activity is limited.” (from “An Illusion of Protection” Australian Conservation Foundation and Medical Association for the Prevention of War – 2006).
Australia has in place various safeguard agreements with its client states, but ANAWA has little confidence in such measures. In June 2006, The Weapons of Terror report by the Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Dr. Hans Blix had this to say: “The Commission rejects the suggestion that nuclear weapons in the hands f some pose no threat, while in the hands of others they palace the world in mortal jeopardy. The three major challenges the world now confronts – existing weapons, further proliferation and terrorism – are interlinked politically and also practically: the larger the existing stocks, the greater the danger of leakage and misuse.” (from “An Illusion of Protection” Australian Conservation foundation and Medical Association for the Prevention of War – 2006).
Under article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear weapons states are obliged to disarm their nuclear weapons. The recognized five nuclear weapons states (at the time of the NPT’s inception in 1970) were Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China and the United States of America. It’s no accident that they are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with the power of veto. They have not fulfilled their obligations. Yet we still sell uranium to some of those states. Other countries have acquired nuclear weapons since that time, including Israel (undeclared, but a real threat to peace in the Middle East) and India, which previous and present Government toys with as a potential client state.
ANAWA believes that Australia has a moral responsibility not to add to the stockpiles of weapons-available material on the world market, whether such materials are available by legal or illegal means.
ANAWA calls on the Australian and South Australian Governments to reject the Olympic Downs uranium mine expansion on the ground that it adds to the availability of material for manufacture, testing, storage of nuclear weapons – a big problem from any perspective, and one to which Australia need not, and should not contribute.
As well as the four headings above, and the recommendations to scrap plans for Olympic Dam expansion due to outstanding problems in the areas of global warming, water usage, waste disposal and weapons proliferation, ANAWA could site many more reasons for denying BHP Billeton’s request for expansion. These grounds include, but are not limited to
the scant regard for the rights of indigenous people in the area (people whose rights have already been trampled upon by the nuclear industry with the history going back to British nuclear testing, to despoilation of their water supplies) and
b) the outrageously unfair Roxby Downs Indenture Act of 1982, which allowed the then owner of the mine, Western Mining, to totally disregard any other legislation which might have bearing n that land, or their operations. ANAWA considers this extraordinary financial assistance, and exemption from Aboriginal Heritage and environmental considerations to be totally inappropriate, and calls for the abandonment of the aforesaid legislation: the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, 1982.
We believe that the grab for uranium by BHP Billiton and other uranium mining companies is a cynical grab for the grubby dollar while there is some vestige of hope for this ailing industry. It must be seen in light of the fact that this is a declining industry, with less nuclear power being generated each year (mostly due to ageing reactors being de-commissioned, or reactors with major problems being shut down “temporarily”) and the fact that more reactors are shutting down each year than opening, despite all the industry hype. The industry’s projections look rosy, but the new generation IV reactors are still only promises and the facts reveal that, on the other hand, renewable energies are growing at exponential rates, and would be proceeding even faster, if more research and development dollars were put their way, instead of propping up a filthy, failing industry.
Neither is it any argument whatsoever to claim that because coal is finally being recognized as a filthy power source (but without the radioactive legacy offered by the nuclear industry), and being mindful of the fact that there is no such thing as “clean coal”, that the world is forced to make a choice between the two. Both are bad. Both need to be phased out, as soon as possible. Why on earth would any sane nation think of jumping out of the coal-fired frying pan into the nuclear fire? It just doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is for Australian governments both Federal and South Australian, to invest strongly in the renewable energy sector, to stop bailing out old technology industries, to stop allowing the polluters to continue polluting, and to back up the community desire for transformation into the new technologies which we have to have to prevent runaway climate change occurring.
ANAWA re-iterates its profound concern for a multiplicity of reasons, if the Olympic Dam expansion is allowed to proceed. We call for the proposal to be rejected, and for a total phase out of uranium mining at the Olympic Dam minesite.
Document prepared by Jo Vallentine
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