Another Political Event Couldn’t…

…achieve anything useful.

APEC protest Gandhi riot police
Over the weekend of 8-9 September I was in Sydney for my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding, but I won’t bore you with that. That weekend also happened to be when the 2007 APEC meeting was held in Sydney and the powers that be of Sydney were in lock down mode. The government and police were just a little bit paranoid about their visiting celebrities and there was just a smidgeon of security overkill.

APEC protest APEC protest

Australia’s government was very proud of the $1 billion worth of uranium per year deal struck with Russia. Australia’s Senator Minchin said,

the uranium deal Prime Minister John Howard signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin is a historic agreement…This will allow the supply of uranium to Russia in accordance with our long-standing and very strict safeguards agreements.

APEC protest Some are worried that this uranium may be used in nuclear weapons. In answer to this, President Putin was adamant they have much higher quality uranium for their weapons (and that makes it better!?). I’m more worried about the nuclear power plants to which the uranium is going and the pillaging of Australia’s land to mine the uranium.

I first read about nuclear power not being a cost effective solution to climate change in the editorial of the spring 2006 issue of Dissent [1]. Currently I’m reading Reaction Time: Climate Change and the Nuclear Option by Ian Lowe (Black Inc, 2007). Professor Lowe began his scientific career in 1968 as a nuclear scientist, and is now President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He wrote,
solar and wind, not coal or nuclear

There is no objective proof about the future performance, cost and safety of nuclear reactors…The nuclear option does not make sense on any level: economically, environmentally, politically or socially. It is too costly, too dangerous, too slow and has too small an impact on global warming…The rational response to our situation is to combine vastly improved efficiency with an investment in renewable energy technologies. [2] (p.6)

In the late 1990s a uranium mine was proposed at Jabiluka in the World Heritage Area of Kakadu National Park. After much protest from local communities and environmental groups it never opened. The Ranger Uranium Mine is located in Kakadu National Park, but the area it occupies was excised from the park. It was opened in 1969, and only agreed to by the land’s traditional owners under duress.

After the uranium is removed from the mined ore, the leftover material is stored in huge reservoirs (containment ponds). This radioactive sand is called uranium tailings. Although

the hazard per gram of mill tailings is low relative to most other radioactive wastes, the large volume and lack of regulations for their containment have resulted in widespread environmental contamination.

The containment ponds Ranger uses for its uranium tailings are not adequate because of the monsoonal rainfall in the far north of Australia (this rainfall was not calculated for in their design). The mine has released water from these ponds into the Magela Creek system. In 1991 the Office of the Supervising Scientist found

losses of contaminants to the environment are increasing and their presence is measurable in local water bodies and streams. [3]

Even if tailings are properly contained, when the mining company finishes extracting what it wants and leaves the area, the radioactive tailings are left for future generations to deal with.

After mining, the uranium needs to be enriched before it can be used in electricity generation. The ore is a combination of two types (isotopes) of uranium and it needs to be processed to increase the proportion of the more radioactive isotope. This is very expensive and energy intensive. [2] (p.43)

After the enriched uranium is used in electricity generation, more radioactive waste is produced. This waste is also left for future generations. Whatever storage option is decided on may be altered in the next hundred or thousand years (either deliberately or accidentally), while the waste is still radioactive.

After nearly fifty years of nuclear power, the world has produced more than 250 million tonnes of radioactive waste, with some 10,000 tonnes of it highly radioactive, yet nobody has found a permanent solution to the storage problem. In the absence of such a solution, expanding the rate of waste production is irresponsible. [2] (p.22)


Offline sources

  1. Davidson, Kenneth (2006) “Editorial” Dissent, no.21.
  2. Lowe, Ian (2007) Reaction Time: Climate Change and the Nuclear Option Melbourne, Black Inc.
  3. “The Performance of Ranger” (1998) in Kakadu: Worth Fighting For supplement in Habitat Australia vol.26, no.2.

Stop Bush APEC protest

3 thoughts on “Another Political Event Couldn’t…

  1. Excellent report Claire, combining reportage with research. Thank you.

    When are the Australian elections? I’m really, really hoping Howard will go. :)

  2. I wrote a nice response and then I lost it, so I’ll try again. No, it wasn’t lost, the computer thought it was spam, when I (the owner of the blog) was logged in! Stupid computer!

    I too would like Howard to disappear…

    Australia has to have an election by January 2008, but its thought it will be held in October or November 2007. The government in power announces it three weeks before (i think) and they like to keep everyone guessing as to the exact date.

    You can find out all you Australian election news here.

  3. Checked out your ABC link which led me to various reports on recent Howard ‘policy’ announcements regards environmental matters. I’ve blogged on it over at The Coffee House here in London.

    Thanks for highlighting that link. :)

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