Uranium Exploration Risks Still Too Great

(4.36pm 6 March 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

I oppose the Mining Legislation Amendment (Uranium Exploration) Bill 2012 because I oppose uranium mining, regardless of the extent of uranium stocks in New South Wales. I am concerned about the potential for environmental damage from the exploration processes. I am opposed to uranium mining because:

  • it can produce radioactive waste and pollute the environment
  • because of the risks that the uranium can be used to develop weapons
  • because of the potential for mass destruction caused by nuclear power plant accidents as occurred in Fukushima last year, and
  • because the carbon savings from nuclear energy remain disputed.

The bill would apply the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 to allow uranium exploration to go ahead without development consent. This puts uranium exploration on a par with other mineral exploration, making it subject to inadequate environmental assessment and inadequate public scrutiny.

The assessment will involve only a preliminary review of environmental factors, a process that the Environmental Defender's Office of New South Wales tells me has proven flaws. The office reports environmental reviews with limited departmental oversight; inaccurate data in proponents' reports; and poor transparency, given that reports only become public after approval has been given. Uranium exploration should not be treated in the same way as exploration for other minerals but should be subject to rigorous environmental assessment, public consultation and strict conditions of consent. Uranium exploration should be subject to comprehensive environmental scrutiny, as is now the case for certain exploration activities for coal seam gas.

I understand from the Environmental Defender's Office that the Northern Territory has had significant problems with poor disposal of waste from uranium exploration. In 2008 the South Australian Government approved a new dumping site for uranium exploration waste after the mining company Marathon Resources was caught burying 22,800 bags of waste—including low level radioactive material—in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. New South Wales does not want similar problems. Given the risks involved with radioactive waste, I believe the New South Wales community would want the most rigorous environmental assessment possible for uranium exploration.

The Environmental Defender's Office suggests that uranium exploration could be included in clause 7 of the Mining State environmental planning policy, which lists development that requires consent; it could be declared designated development in a State environmental planning policy or in the environmental planning and assessment regulation; or it could be subject to the State and regional development State environmental planning policy. Any of these proposals would improve environmental assessment. Environment groups oppose nuclear energy, stating that mining is environmentally destructive and there is the threat that uranium can be used to develop nuclear weapons. In 2006 the then Greenpeace Australia Pacific Chief Executive Steve Shallhorn said:

Nuclear energy is no solution to climate change. Even if there was a doubling of global nuclear energy output by 2050 it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent.

In 2010 the City of Sydney unanimously passed a resolution in support of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. I share widespread opposition against the sale of uranium to any country that is not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. I believe the wider New South Wales community does not support uranium mining or uranium exploration.

Click HERE for Legislative Assembly debate.