The Flinders News | 21st August 2009 + PLUS RELATED ARTICLES
Uranium mining in the far north of South Australia at the Beverley location near Arkaroola Wilderness Resort is being openly challenged by Aboriginal Traditional Owner Mrs Enice Marsh.
She is concerned that the new Beverly Four Mile uranium mine is destroying sacred sites, polluting the environment unnecessarily, and promoting a culture of bullying.
"If mining continues to expand it will be a total disaster all round: what will happen to the land, the water, the bush tucker and the animals?" she said.
"There's no independent monitoring up there, Mrs Marsh said and "the mine only has a life expectancy of eight to ten years but would leave a legacy of damage for generations to come"
Mrs Marsh feels it is her duty as an Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner to speak out publicly about the destruction of culturally significant sites that she has witnessed first hand and about the risks of uranium mining.
"A lot of people are intimidated, frightened and confused about what is happening.
"Native Title has failed to protect our sites and the governing body that should be representing the interests of the whole community is failing in its duty of care.
"This mine offer no career path for Aboriginal workers, just unskilled labour in the short term and local people living in the area will be left with the mess forever," she said. Mrs Marsh said community consultation is a joke.
"The use of technical and legal language is hard to understand especially for older people, and the mining company actively encourages disrespect toward women during cultural site inspections"
Mrs Marsh's daughter, Jillian Marsh, has been doing a case study research of the Beverley Uranium Mine to explore the 'impact assessment' and 'decision-making' processes used when the mine was first approved by government.
The literature she has looked at about the method of mining shows that in-situ leach mining pollutes the underground water tables and sloppy environmental regulations by government these mining companies are able to operate at a very low standard.
"Other modern nations have banned what they are allowed to get away with here" she said. Ms Marsh's research suggests the Environmental Impact Assessment does not adequately cover Indigenous issues.
"It's too focused on Western science" she said.
Water (called 'awi' by Adnyamathanha) is a sacred yet everyday part of Adnyamathanha cultural knowledge and practices.
The study shows people are hurt and angry that Adnyamathanha spirituality is being destroyed.
"People say that Akurra the giant spiritual snake made these waterways and lives in the natural springs, and Mt Gee represents the head of the Adnyamathanha Spiritual Creator; these places are now being drilled, polluted, and destroyed by exploration and ; others say the land is like a church to them'.
Elder Enice Marsh claims the proponent Heathgate Resources has not conducted a valid heritage survey and she insists this must be done as soon as possible.
"Until a proper survey has been conducted, the proponent should be forced to cease operation on the Four Mile site.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Jay Weatherill must act responsibly and use his powers under the Aboriginal Heritage Act to make sure due process is being followed," Mrs Marsh said.
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New push for uranium mines on Aboriginal land
Paddy Gibson| solidarity.net.au | February, 2009
Conservative Indigenous ALP political figure Warren Mundine has taken a position on the board of the Australian Uranium Association (AUA), the industry’s peak lobby group. He is also co-convener of a new Indigenous "dialogue group" established by the AUA.
The new group includes Indigenous academic Marcia Langton. Both Mundine and Langton have been crucial to providing support for the racist NT Intervention, bitterly opposed by communities suffering under the policy.
The ALP 2007 national conference narrowly passed a motion abandoning opposition to new uranium mines. Mundine told The Australian, "We know that most of these mines are going to be on Indigenous land, our people need to receive the benefits".
Labor have approved a new mine at Honeymoon in South Australia, while advancing projects at Nolan’s Bore in the Northern Territory and an expansion of the Beverly mine in SA.
They support a massive expansion of Roxby Downs, which would make it the biggest uranium mine in the world. A ban on uranium mining in WA was lifted following the election of the Liberal party state government in September 2008. In the NT alone, more than 200 new uranium exploration licenses have been granted in the past two years.
Aboriginal activists from the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) lashed out at the establishment of the new " dialogue group".
ANFA cite a 2008 Native Title working group study of hundreds of mining projects on Aboriginal land, which found that less than 20 had brought significant benefit to local communities.
Jillian Marsh, an Adnyamathanha custodian fighting to close down the Beverly mine said, "It is cynical for the uranium industry to act as if it can deliver for Aboriginal people. The main lasting effect of uranium mining for Aboriginal people is radioactive waste on their country".
Jillian Marsh of the Adnyamathanha Clan, Austrailia
Jillian Marsh grew up in the coal-mining town of Leigh Creek, in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. To Jillian and her clan the ranges are Adnyamathanha yarta, the country of the rock people. She remembers: "The coal itself, and where it's located, are central to our Muda, our Dreaming, yet nobody bothered to ask our Elders for permission to extract it. It was a fundamental blow to the continuity of our ceremonial and spiritual life." That was back during the 1950s.
Jillian tells us: "During the 1990s I joined a small group of my Adnyamathanha cousins, aunts and uncles who were part of a volunteer organization called Flinders Ranges Aboriginal Heritage Consultative Committee (FRAHCC). Together we provided a safe and respectful forum for all Adnyamathanha to raise concerns, particularly in regard to maintaining our heritage. Two of the biggest issues we faced during this period were coming to terms with the introduction of Native Title legislation, designed to right past wrongs, and facilitating meaningful community consultation on the exploration and mining proposal for Beverley Uranium Mine."
The partnership between government and the mining industry ensures that uranium exploration and mining continues undeterred by Indigenous or general public concerns in a section of Jillian's homeland her people call virdni yarta: poison country. In August 2002, Jillian told a Senate inquiry that mining proponent negotiations with the Adnyamathanha claimants to obtain their Native titles was "misrepresentative, illinformed, and designed to divide and disempower the community". Today, with the expansion of the uranium mining lease, Jillian, squaring off against the partnership of government and industry, points out that consultation and negotiation processes are "still illequipped to give a fair and equitable voice to the Adnyamathanha community."
A uranium hole in the heart
Daniel Clarke | greenleft.org.au | 22nd August 2009
A typically dusty drive 25 kilometres south of central Australia's Alice Springs brings you to an unlocked gate beside the old Ghan railway line.
Behind the fence, among the rolling red desert hills, drilling workers are boring 120 holes into an area of earth said to contain about 12,000 tonnes of uranium oxide. The ore is worth up to $2.5 billion.
The uranium deposits, named Angela and Pamela, were first discovered in the 1970s and '80s, but lay dormant until a new exploration licence was granted by the Northern Territory government late last year.
Canadian company Cameco and Australian-owned Paladin, the two businesses involved in the joint venture, hope to build Australia's fifth uranium mine — well inside the Alice Springs water catchment boundary.
In July, environment minister Peter Garrett approved the nation's fourth uranium mine at the Four Mile site in South Australia. The Angela Pamela exploratory licence is part of the NT's push to expand its mining industry in response to a global surge in demand for uranium.
But a growing chorus of Alice Springs residents and tourism operators say the health risks of a uranium mine outweigh any economic benefits.
Family and medical groups have expressed grave concerns about Cameco's recent history of radioactive leaks and flooding accidents in its uranium mines.
If built, the Angela Pamela uranium mine will be less than 15 kilometres away from existing and proposed bore fields for the Alice Springs' drinking water.
Cameco, the world's largest producer of uranium, flooded its Cigar Lake mine in Canada in 2006, leaving the world's single largest uranium deposit underwater. Efforts to remove the water have so far failed.
In 2007, the company detected a radioactive leak at its Port Hope conversion plant. A similar leak was uncovered in 2001. Last year it paid US$1.4 million to the US state of Wyoming for failing to comply with a host of environmental standards at its Smith Ranch-Highland facility.
Cameco said its preliminary groundwater tests had found no connection between the uranium deposit and the Mereenie Aquifer, which supplies water to Alice Springs. However, it refused to guarantee that contamination won't occur.
In contrast, NT chief minister Paul Henderson gave his "absolute assurance" in October 2008 that Alice Springs residents would be safe.
Arid Lands Environment Centre coordinator Jimmy Cocking told Green Left Weekly the chief minister's promise "demonstrates the government's arrogance towards the people of central Australia".
"We've got a big mining company, which has caused all these groundwater problems around the world, coming into our town and telling us to trust it with our precious water source", he said. "It's an unacceptable risk for Alice Springs and an unacceptable precedent for the government to be setting.
"Both the nuclear industry and the government are relying on the fact that because we're so far away from the big cities this issue will be out of sight, out of mind.
"If this is allowed to happen a lot of families will leave the town and we need to stop this now before exploration is finished and a full mining application is submitted.
"Who really wants to go to a place where if the wind blows up from the south — like it does here almost every day — there's a possibility that you're breathing in radioactive dust?"
Tempers flared at a community meeting in March when NT primary industries minister Kon Vatskalis admitted he did not know about Cameco's history in Canada before he granted it an exploration licence.
Vatskalis told GLW any proposal for a new mine was subject to strict environmental approvals processes. "Where a proposed mine is in the vicinity or catchment of a town water supply, thorough hydrogeological studies would be required to establish that there is no likelihood of contamination of the water supply before any approval to mine is granted."
He said Cameco had been operating in the NT for 16 years and had "consistently met their social and environmental responsibilities".
"They have a good record of environmental performance in the Territory", he said. "Any application for the mining of uranium would trigger a formal environmental assessment under Commonwealth legislation that will include a rigorous assessment of dust and water contamination issues."
But Don Wait, owner of Wayoutback Tours, is furious the government would consider risking the red centre's multi million-dollar eco-tourism industry.
"What bloody idiot came up with the idea of a uranium mine in the water catchment?" he told GLW. "Governments are responsible for looking after people, not putting them in jeopardy.
"Travellers come here from all over the world to experience our unique untouched natural landscape. The investment in tourism in this area has been massive for a large number of years and you can ruin our reputation overnight by plonking a uranium mine right next to Alice Springs. The consequences are just outrageous.
"They say it's going to create jobs but there is a glut of work in this town. I have to get backpackers to fill positions."
A survey of 306 travellers carried out by Wait's company found 20% would not return to Alice Springs if a uranium mine went ahead. Forty-four percent said they were unsure.
Vatskalis said the mine would have "a relatively small footprint and is not likely to be visible from any of the major tourist attractions in and around Alice Springs".
"The presence of the Ranger uranium mine within Kakadu National Park has not prevented a thriving tourist industry in that region", he said.
Beyond Nuclear Initiative campaigner Nat Wasley said it was "ludicrous" for the federal and territory governments to use the Ranger uranium mine as an example of good practice.
"The Commonwealth's own scientist revealed in March that 100,000 litres of contaminated water is leaking from the [Ranger] mine into the ground beneath Kakadu every day", she told GLW.
"If those are the problems they're having at the most heavily regulated uranium mine in Australia, if not the world, one can only imagine what might happen down the track at Alice Springs."
The federal Labor party controversially dumped its "no new mines policy" in 2007. Since being elected, the Rudd government has tried to sell Australia's credentials as a dominant supplier of uranium. Australia has the world's largest supply of uranium — about 24% of the planet's known reserves.
But Monash University civil engineering lecturer Dr Gavin Mudd said US President Barack Obama's push for a cut in the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles would lead to a collapse in uranium prices.
"A lot of the uranium from those nuclear warheads would flood the energy market post-2013 and make the arguments for new mines completely botched", he told GLW. "You can already see the jitters from uranium miners over some of these concerns."
"With expanded production capacity coming out of South Australia's Olympic Dam it's really hard to imagine a scenario where a project like Angela Pamela is going to be economically viable."
Mudd said it was "silly" to say a uranium mine posed no risk to the Alice Springs water supply.
"If they've got an open-cut mine or an underground mine they have to build a tailings dam. The fact remains that every tailings dam leaks. It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of how much and what the potential impacts are likely to be."
Cameco's project manager Stephan Stander said there was a lot of misinformation about the company's overseas operations and that it was "extremely focused on environmental management".
"I don't think anybody can give a 100% guarantee that we won't have a [contamination] event somewhere in the future", he told GLW. "But I honestly don't think any such event would be unmanageable and I don't think it would impact meaningfully on the town's water supply or anybody's safety.
"All the indications in terms of water quality that we've tested at that site indicate there is not a connection between the site and the town's water supply."
He said the Angela Pamela deposit was an attractive mine site because of its proximity to infrastructure, its shallow location and its potential for relatively easy extraction. It was likely that Cameco-Paladin would use an underground mining method with a "very small open-cut area".
Stander said a mining application licence would be submitted by the end of next year and that Cameco, which has already opened an office in Alice Springs, was committed to establishing itself as a "valuable and important part of the community".
"Our ultimate aim is for at least 40% Indigenous employment, which is the percentage we have at some of our Canadian operations", he said. But he admitted it would be a challenge to find sufficiently skilled people from the local region.
Mitch, a spokesperson for affected Indigenous families at Angela Pamela, said Aboriginal people were being forced to override their cultural rules by joining the uranium venture.
"You have to take the job that's offered to you because under the intervention you get your welfare payments cut off for eight weeks if you don't attend job appointments", Mitch told GLW. "They've pushed our people into a really hard situation."
"They're not high-paying jobs and Indigenous people will be on the pick and shovel because they don't have the skills in the industry.
"We see it as a breakdown in our social networking and we open ourselves up to a mining culture that we don't want."
Mitch said under traditional beliefs the Angela Pamela uranium deposits were located on "poison" land.
"It's all women's country through there and we have strong laws that this part of country can't be touched because it is poisonous; it is no good land.
"We've tried to tell that to Cameco-Paladin but they're able to break down the culture through money. We feel powerless in that way."