Is time up for Australia’s uranium industry? ABC , DAVE SWEENEY , 18 Dec 13, Times are tough for Australia’s yellow-cake industry. It is best to put the whole thing out of its misery? ”………The Australian uranium industry has long been a source of trouble. Now it is increasingly in trouble. The commodity price has collapsed, projects across the country have been stalled, deferred or scrapped and the recent Kakadu spill has again raised community attention and concern.
Business as usual in a most unusual business is not an option and there is an urgent need for an independent review. For those who make judgements on the basis of evidence rather than enthusiasm the alarm bells have been ringing loud for a number of years.
In March 2011, the world held its breath and the name Fukushima entered the global vocabulary. Fukushima means ‘fortunate island’ but the region’s luck melted down along with the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the earthquake and tsunami.
The continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis was a game changer — not just for the hundreds of thousands of people directly affected whose lives will never be the same, but for the global nuclear industry. The industry has since witnessed the death of its public-relations-fuelled dream of a nuclear ‘renaissance’.
In October 2011 the director of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office formallyconfirmed to the Senate “that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors”.
Fukushima started inside a big yellow truck in Australia. Rocks dug up in Kakadu and northern South Australia are the source of the radioactive fallout now spread across Japan and well beyond — wandering in the winds, circulating in the currents.
And, appropriately, the market fallout from Fukushima has hit the industry hard. For a year the industry response was a combination of wait and see. Now it is increasing pack and run.
This vote of no-confidence has been echoed and played out across the wider Australian industry.
Last year BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company, pulled away from a plan to commit over $20 billion to a massive new development at its Olympic Dam mine in northern South Australia. Despite sweetheart deals and a raft of government favours, the then BHP boss Marius Kloppers cited the “soft” uranium price and the “uncertain” future of the uranium market as a primary reason for the decision to put the plans on ice.
In a true case of voting with your steel capped feet, BHP went further, selling its undeveloped uranium assets in Western Australia and disbanding its dedicated uranium unit.
More recently, one of Australia’s few approved and operating mines closed its doors. In November, theHoneymoon mine in South Australia ceased production and moved to extended care and maintenance status, again citing the poor uranium price.
Hard on the heels of this came the news that Marathon Resources, a uranium junior which had big ambitions to develop a mine in SA’s gorgeous Gammon Ranges had instead decided to give the entire uranium game away, declaring the sector’s “risks are more likely to exceed rewards” (pdf).
And in Queensland, uranium hopefuls and the Australian Uranium Association are in closed door dialogue with the LNP state government seeking ‘royalty relief’, before they have even lodged an application to mine. Hardly the sign of a buoyant economic trade.
For the uranium sector it really does look like the Honeymoon is over and the Marathon is finished. And just as the sector was limping to the line for season 2013 the danger of Ranger became clear to all.
The most recent independent assessment of the Australian uranium industry — a Senate Inquiry in October 2003 — found the sector was characterised by underperformance and non-compliance, an absence of reliable data to measure contamination or its impact on the environment and an operational culture focussed on short term considerations.
Uranium mining is a high-risk, low-return sector that poses unique, unresolved and long-lived threats and does not enjoy secure social license. It is time for our politicians to stop accepting industry promises and start genuinely examining industry performance.
The uranium sector in Australia and internationally is cutting costs and cutting corners, the risks are growing and we have enough warnings. Now we need some action.
Seeking to assuage community concern after the Ranger spill federal Resource Minister Ian Macfarlane stated last week, “what we need to do is just have a process where the facts can be laid on the table.”
We agree. It’s called an independent public inquiry into the costs and consequences of Australia’s troubled uranium industry.http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2013/12/18/3913291.