Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

No to nuclear – No to Uranium

Nuclear power doesn’t reduce Greenhouse Gases. As environmentalists such as John Busby point out CO2 is released in nearly every component of the nuclear fuel cycle: “Fossil fuels are involved in the mining, milling and enrichment of the ore, in the fuel can preparation, in the construction of the station and in its decommissioning and demolition, in the handling of the spent waste and its re-processing and in digging the hole in the rock for its deposition,”. Not only that but nuclear power is only capable to produce a very small percentage of the required world energy needs.

Howard’s nuclear power plan is not a serious examination of clean energy alternatives, but a campaign to ensure that uranium mining is expanded in Australia. Australia produces 40% of the world’s known uranium deposits – much of it at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine South Australia. Western Australia also has many deposits. Nuclear power is very big business.

While a Rudd Labor government has ruled out the use of nuclear power in Australia, they hypocritically support the increased mining and exports of uranium to supply nuclear power stations, in China and India for example. This year the ALP reversed its ‘three mines policy’ held since 1984, which restricted uranium mining to three sites – Ranger (NT), Beverly (SA) and Olympic Dam (SA). Their new policy would allow for an expansion of uranium mining in Australia beyond these sites, and by 2013, with the Olympic Dam expansion, we will be the biggest exporter in the world with the biggest mine in the world.

We know that the current global environmental crisis requires global solutions, and the mining and the export of uranium will create serious environmental threats around the globe. As a form of energy, nuclear power is far too dangerous.

In Britain, between 1950 and 1976 there were 177 nuclear plant incidents that were serious enough to warrant an investigation. As late as last year there was a leak of 83,000 litres of highly radioactive liquid from a tank at the Thorp plant in England. It is estimated by the President of the Australian Medical Association for the Prevention of War that between 34,200 and 38,500 people have or will die, due to the Chernobyl accident.

The nuclear industry have yet to address the question of the vast amount of highly radioactive waste that is a by product of nuclear fission. This waste remains deadly to human health for hundreds of thousands of years.

The mining of uranium threatens the health of mine workers and the communities surrounding the mines. In the short term, uranium mine sites wreck the ecology of the local region; in the long term, they pose a risk to a much broader area.

According to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, uranium mining has been responsible for the largest collective exposure of workers to radiation. One estimate puts the number of workers who have died of lung cancer and silicosis due to mining alone at 20,000.

Collectively, uranium miners suffer the highest radiation doses of all workers in the nuclear fuel chain (apart from accident cleanup crews). Low-level radiation is also implicated in birth defects, high infant mortality and chronic lung, eye, skin and reproductive illnesses.

While the health risks of uranium mining are now quite well known, they are still aggressively disputed by the multi-billion dollar mining industry. In twenty years time, when the health effects of uranium are emerging, it will be ordinary people who will be left to pick up the costs, just like the workers who have been affected by asbestos before them.

As socialists, we argue, that we urgently need alternative forms of energy supplies and employment. While mining currently represents around 1 per cent of employment, the renewable energy sectors a growing source of employment as international examples show. For instance, Germany’s fast-growing renewable energy industry already employs more than its coal and nuclear industries combined, while Spain’s wind industry supports more than 30,000 jobs, and will support twice that many by 2010. The Climate Institute notes that a solar industry that received strong support from the Australian government could create 31,000 jobs by 2020.

One key point that needs to be raised in this debate is that you can’t control what you don’t own. If you leave the energy industry in the hands of multinationals and corporations it will be a recipe for continued environmental disaster. Instead, The Socialist Party argues for the phasing out of nuclear energy and fossil fuel consumption to be replaced with investment in existing forms of renewable energy supplies like wind and wave generators and for serious investment into research and development of new forms of energy generation like hydrogen cells and bio-fuels.

By Kylie McGregor