"All the World's a Stage We Pass Through" R. Ayana

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Uranium mining poisoning Kakadu

The Destruction of a World Heritage National Park
The Ranger uranium mine

We hear time and again in the media  that Iran cannot be trusted to refine uranium, or to have any sort of nuclear power program. It’s too dangerous, we are told, to let states like Iran have access to nuclear technology because they might use it to build a bomb, or they may cause some sort of meltdown.
Recent studies into leakages from the Ranger Uranium Mine in [Australia’s] Kakadu National Park indicate that it’s at least as dangerous to let Australian companies mine the uranium in the first place.
A February 9 report made by environmental regulators from the Office of the Supervising Scientist to a Senate Estimates Committee found that water with a uranium concentration of 27,000 parts per billion has been seeping from the mine into waterways on the surrounding stolen Aboriginal land. This is over five thousand times the amount of uranium that naturally is found in the surrounding water, and compares to an accepted limit of 44 parts per billion that the American Environmental Protection Authority say is the most uranium groundwater should contain. Drinking water this contaminated with uranium can lead to kidney failure, wildly fluctuating glucose levels, radiation poisoning, cancer and potentially other health problems.
In addition, uranium is not the only radioactive or toxic metal being pumped back into the National Park. Thorium, radium, polonium and three isotopes of lead (two of them radioactive) were also found in this ecological time bomb.
While it’s known that this toxic sludge is leaking into the Kakadu National Park, what is not known at all is just how much of it is leaking. Scientists believe that the mine is leaking 100,000 litres of these tailings every day (enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool to overflowing each month), but, as Greens senator Scott Ludlam reported after being in the Estimates Committee:
“The biggest surprise is that despite knowing about this leakage for years, the regulators don’t know how much is seeping, where it is going, or how highly contaminated it is. The regulator suggested that directly sampling this contaminated water would be ‘impractical’.”
In short, a mining company (ERA) that made over a quarter of a billion dollars in profit is not only not required to clean up their mess, but they aren’t even required to measure it. They can keep dumping filth into a national park and never be held to account for their crimes – just like most other corporate criminals. And Ranger isn’t the only uranium mine dumping toxic garbage. According to a 1996 Parliamentary Enquiry Minority Report the Olympic Dam uranium mine polluted five billion litres of water – about what all households combined used in a day.
Making this entire mess even more despicable is the fact that it’s all occurring on Aboriginal land – land that the government’s Northern Territory Intervention is trying to drive these communities off. The NT intervention has always been about stealing even more land to boost mining profits. The intervention aims to make it harder for the traditional, legitimate owners and custodians of the land to defend it against plunderers like ERA. It makes it more difficult for Aboriginal people to survive on their land, and allows the government to pressure communities into signing over control of their land – and if they do sign it over, who knows what state it will be in when (and if) they get it back?
The Australian ruling class is pretty much united in its desire to see uranium mining continue or expand in this country, regardless of the damage it does. Even ruling class figures with no personal investment in the industry don’t want to see Aboriginal rights or concerns for the environment get in the way of other members of their class making money. As a result, we can’t trust them to conduct a serious investigation into these leaks, let alone to force the corporate scumbags responsible for the mess to clean it up.
The only way we will stop this ecological time bomb from detonating on Aboriginal land is to repeat the sort of campaign that shut down the Jabiluka uranium mine in the 1990s, or the anti-nuclear campaigns of the 70s and 80s that forced even the Labor Party to put up some opposition to the nuclear industry. We need to stand up for Aboriginal rights and the environment today, just as the last generation did.
After all, Kakadu National Park is too precious to be trusted to any government that includes [Australian Environment Minister and former anti-nuclear advocate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party] Peter Garrett. 

by Andrew Cheeseman 19 February 2010

Images - http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200704/r140498_483405.jpg

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