A decision to sell uranium to India has reignited a heated debate in Western Australia. The state’s Liberal Government overruled a controversial uranium ban in 2008 but opposition to the mining of the radioactive element remains extreme. Green conservationists warn opening the door to India sets a dangerous precedent.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian Labor Party voted to lift a ban on uranium sales to India in December.
The policy-shift made headlines around the globe as Australia has some of the world’s richest uranium and mineral deposits. Removing the ban paves the way for sales of uranium to India, which is not a signatory to the international nuclear weapons Non Proliferation Treaty.
The move has reignited debate over uranium mining in Western Australia, which despite driving Australia’s current mining boom has left its rich uranium deposits – including Kintyre and Yeelirie – untapped. Radioactive uranium is not seen as an environmentally clean product, due in part to the impact of mining, including non-eco-friendly industrial liquid waste.
WA Opposition leader Eric Ripper has signaled the Labor party’s intention to make uranium mining a major issue at the next election. The WA Labor Party has remained firmly opposed to uranium mining, despite the decision by Federal Labor to allow sales to India.
“The next election is possibly the last chance to stop uranium mining in WA,” he said.
Premier Colin Barnett dismissed the possibility of uranium mining becoming a major election issue.
“This is a mining state; I think people are well educated, they understand that uranium and particularly nuclear power generation is a reality,” he said.
Mr Barnett said it was likely a uranium mine would be under construction in WA by the next state election, in 2013. South Australia has the world’s largest known uranium deposit, being mined by BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam. Another large-scale uranium mine is at Ranger, within the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park. The mine has been plagued by spills requiring environmental cleaning production.
Green revolution lobbyists have warned the decision to allow uranium to be sold to India sets a dangerous precedent. Conservation Council of WA campaigner Mia Pepper has argued that Australia’s disregard for the non-proliferation treaty sent a message to fellow signatories including China and Russia and non-signatories such as Pakistan and Israel.
“This is a dangerous precedent to set and one that undermines the only international agreement we have limiting the spread of nuclear weapons,” Ms Pepper said. “This decision also undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as India continues to test long range missiles and it undercuts the Roratonga Treaty, implicating the Pacific in an illegal trade of uranium.”
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