Australian Senator Calls For A Moratorium On Uranium Trade
By Scott Ludlam
18 September, 2012
This adjournment speech in the Australian Senate was dedicated to Antony Samy of Koodankulam
In the context of what is happening around the world this week in the nuclear industry, I would like to dedicate this speech to an Indian gentleman called Antony Samy, who was 40 years old and not somebody that I have ever met before.
This week just gone is being hailed as the worst ever for the nuclear industry. I suspect that is contestable; there is obviously a lot of competition. The worst week might have been when Soviet engineers blew the Chernobyl plant apart and showered much of Western Europe, and then the Northern Hemisphere, with radiation.
You could say the worst week might have been in March last year, when the ongoing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi began. Of course the worst week in the nuclear industry really depends on where you stand. The worst week for the Aboriginal mob living around Maralinga was probably sometime in the 1950s when the British were lighting up that mob’s country with the light of a thousand suns, and showering their traditional home grounds with fission products from nuclear weapons.
But last week was a real shocker, which brings me to the story of Mr Antony Samy. He was shot dead in Tamil Nadu in India, by Indian police, for being part of the demonstration against the Koodankulum nuclear reactor. He was part of demonstrations that are tens of thousands strong across India, not just in the southern part, in Tamil Nadu, but across the country, where nuclear plants are being forced on people literally at gun point.
This is a part of the world where our own Prime Minister will visit in mid-October and if she is continuing to do the bidding of Minister Martin Ferguson, who really only sees the dollar signs when he contemplates uranium, she will be there, presumably, to advance the pouring of Australian uranium into reactors that have some of the worst health and safety records in a state that is armed with nuclear weapons, in a state that has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and in a state where nuclear technology is desperately unpopular, particularly with the people close to the plants.
This is linked to the fortunes of the nuclear industry worldwide. These demonstrations are part of a much larger, global campaign to bring the nuclear age to a close that is now into its third generation.
Last week the Japanese government made a decision to phase out nuclear power by the 2030s. That, I suspect, will anger some of my Japanese colleagues and many of the tens of millions of people who are campaigning not simply for a closure at some time in the future but for the reactors never to be restarted again in this small, seismically active country.
It is highly significant for us here in Australia—it is certainly very significant for those who live in Japan—that one of the countries in the world, a very high-tech, technologically sophisticated country but one of those most invested in nuclear energy, has finally listened to its population and said, ‘Enough is enough’. Having lost a large part of Fukushima Prefecture, they know just how much worse that situation could have been and now they are moving for a total phase-out. It is the same with the governments of Germany, Italy and Switzerland, where full phase-outs of this technology are now underway.
In Japan the struggle of fishing communities and the community around Kaminoseki celebrated their work, which is now in its fourth decade, to prevent their livelihoods being destroyed by a proposed nuclear plant. Their fight was an extraordinary show of endurance and I am happy to pay it tribute. When the company would come to dig, the community would thread their boats together effectively blocking access to the port. This community resisted for 40 years. This week they won.
Last week two reactors were indefinitely shut down in Belgium due to cracks found in the reactor vessels. Last week Spain decided not to renew a plant’s licence to operate in Carona in July next year.
In Canada the government agreed to close the Gentilly-2 reactor on safety grounds.
The President of France—another country that some Australian pro-nuclear advocates look to as being technologically sophisticated and also a nuclear weapons state which relies to a large part on this technology so it is much more vulnerable to this technology than even the people of Japan for energy supply—announced that the oldest reactor there will be decommissioned. In fact, the ruling party wants to reduce nuclear’s share from 75 to 50 per cent of energy by 2025. This is another country that demonstrates that if this technology is so great, why is it backing away as rapidly as alternative sources of supply will allow?
Not surprisingly, last week the uranium spot price fell to below US$48 per pound, the lowest level since December 2010 and down from $73 a pound just before the disaster in Tohoku in March last year.
Against this backdrop Australia comes in. What did the Australian Uranium Association do during this most dismal week for the nuclear industry with its wave of closures and proposed closures around the world? The AUA was up in Queensland with the Queensland Resources Council pushing for the Queensland government to lift the ban on uranium mining. Premier Newman was pretty tight-lipped and presented quite an ambiguous position to the people of Queensland before the last state election which was disappointing, but his government has not lifted the ban as yet.
The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Mr Andrew Cripps—who obviously has not been keeping up with world developments in the nuclear fuel market—joined the predictable call for ‘discussion’ in Queensland. Well, discuss away, Mr. Cripps, as long as you are doing so in possession of the facts about what is occurring in this industry.
Our uranium customer base—the people we rely on as a market to sell this material to—is drying up because the technology is disastrous.
BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers attributed the Olympic Dam postponement not to the carbon price, as Mr Abbott would have known if he had bothered to the read the statement on the night that BHP announced this but what he said was:
What has changed is the capital cost of construction. What has changed also is that post-Fukushima there is a different and still developing outlook on uranium.
Let us talk a little more about that developing outlook.
It is very interesting and a bit sad, because I have a lot of regard for Senator Williams of the National Party who took a shot at my colleague Senator Rhiannon for having in his words ‘investments in ERA,’ a uranium-mining company that takes uranium from Kakadu and sells it all over the world. Senator Williams used the word ‘investments’. This is a single share held by Senator Rhiannon for the purpose of going to AGMs and being able to ask hard questions as a shareholder of the company. Senator Rhiannon is not hoping to make a handy profit out of her $8 ERA share. In fact, if she were I would advise her to sell it because in a couple of years it is going to be worthless.
For Senator Williams to take a shot at Senator Rhiannon and say she is somehow voting against her principles by buying a single share in a uranium-mining company makes me think of two words: shareholder activism. Perhaps that is something the National Party would consider. I would advise Senator Rhiannon to sell that share if she were in it for the money, but of course she is not. Having attended a number of uranium company AGMs over time, I know they are not pleasant experiences but they are extremely worthwhile.
Likewise I would be advising investors in the Toro project to sell up their stake before their shares become completely worthless which will happen if Toro goes ahead, against market advice, with a capital raising to build its mill. This would dilute the value of its existing shareholders. Toro has sponsored a number of speaking tours, including by Dr Doug Boreham who promoted radiation as ‘anti-carcinogenic’ at the Paydirt uranium conference in Adelaide. This is a bit like the tobacco industry promoting doctors who say that cigarettes are anti-carcinogenic—if you could find such a doctor—and then getting this doctor on TV.
That is the kind of behaviour that the uranium industry is conducting, and its peak body, the Australian Uranium Association, did it not call the industry out. That is the kind of ethical practice or malpractice that we are dealing with. Toro is in quite a desperate situation. It has a small geologically intractable calcrete deposit which it proposes to mine across a lake bed. It has no experience in mining, no cash reserves, no joint venture partner, and parent company Oz Minerals calls Toro a non-core assets. Toro is in serious trouble. If you are holding an investment in this company now is probably a very good time to get out.
As we speak, a group of extremely determined people are walking to protest this uranium mine on a lake bed at Lake Way. The Walkatjurra Walkabout is being led by a friend and colleague of mine Kado Muir, a traditional owner from the Yeelirrie area of the goldfields. These people are walking for country to reconnect people with land and culture. He says in his invitation to join the walk, ‘This pilgrimage across Wangkatja country in the spirit of ancestors is being held together, so that we as present custodians can protect our land and our culture for future generations.’ Kado is linked with Mr Samy and with the child put in hospital by being hit on the head by a teargas canister. He and his friends and allies around Australia are working to an end of this insidious, poisonous and obsolete industry. They are linked with the 25,000 in Tamil Nadu demonstrating against the construction of a nuclear reactor in their backyard that no right-minded person in Australia would want to live next to. I call on the Prime Minister to hear these voices.
Scott Ludlam, Senator, Green Party of Australia
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