As the fallout from Japan’s nuclear disaster continues, uncertainty reigns over the future of uranium mining in Australia. While the major uranium miners in this country eye the prospect of expanding their operations, a word of caution has been handed down from inside their own industry.
Last month the annual Paydirt Uranium Conference convened in Adelaide. Addressing the guests was Mr Mark Chalmers, chairman of the Uranium Advisory Council and a widely-respected uranium mining expert.
Mr. Chalmers declared at the conference that “second chances” were very difficult to achieve in the uranium sector. It was of utmost importance for mining companies to “get in right the first time”.
According to Mr. Chalmers, “no element can polarise the population or political system more than being confronted with, and having to manage, some failure in the domestic uranium or nuclear sector”.
The general theme of Mr. Chalmers’ speech was that Australia’s uranium miners must tread more carefully than ever before. As demonstrated by the events in Japan, a nuclear accident can badly damage the credibility of uranium mining, and Australian miners must act with extreme caution to maintain public faith.
These words of warning come as mining companies face intense scrutiny from anti-nuclear groups. It is suspected that Australian uranium was being processed in Japan’s Fukushima reactor during the earthquake disaster, and anti-nuclear campaigners have seized on this with renewed calls to end uranium mining in Australia.
The ultimate fate of Australia’s uranium sector remains unclear. Whatever direction the industry takes, there is a new post-Japan reality for uranium mining. Uranium companies are now under the spotlight more than ever before, and must be prepared for new levels of public accountability.