NGOs release alternative report to Uranium Implementation Committee

High Risk – Low Returns: the case against uranium mining in Queensland is the NGO and civil society response to the LNPs undemocratic decision to go ahead with uranium mining in our state.

In October 2012 the LNP government broke its clear commitment not to allow uranium mining in Queensland. This commitment was the position of the LNP at the March 2012 state election and was reaffirmed after they took office. In the absence of open, inclusive and evidence based policy making the Newman LNP government has set up the Uranium Implementation Committee. The Committee has not sought broad community input and has not been asked to assess the arguments for and against uranium mining in Queensland. The Committee’s mandate is the far  narrower task of recommending how uranium mining should be managed, not whether it should occur.

Why should Queensland forego the economic benefits of uranium mining when some other states permit uranium mines? In a nutshell, it is because the economic benefits are grossly overstated and are outweighed by the wide-ranging environmental, public health and weapons proliferation problems and risks.

Uranium accounted for 0.19 per cent of Australia’s export revenue in 2011/12 (the last available figures). By the most generous estimate, uranium accounts for 0.015% of all jobs in Australia. For Queensland, there is the additional limitation that the state has around just 2% of Australia’s uranium resources. Clearly, the industry has no capacity to deliver significant economic or employment benefits.

Instead of acknowledging the extremely limited economic potential of uranium mining in Queensland the LNP state government, the Australian Uranium Association and the Queensland Resources Council have continued a pattern of extravagant and unsubstantiated claims regarding jobs, revenue and royalties. Enthusiasm is no substitute for evidence and limited sectoral self-interest is not the same as the public interest. The assumptions and analysis of those promoting the uranium sector in Queensland needs to be challenged and reviewed.

Most companies interested in uranium in Queensland are foreign companies, any profits of which would not remain in Queensland. The mining industry has a history of fly-in fly-out contract employment, which does not necessarily bring many or lasting jobs or significant prosperity to local economies. And once the ore is extracted, the company will leave the community to manage the radioactive tailings, effectively forever. Private profit would leave the region while increased public risk and legacy would remain.

Uranium mining poses a significant threat to Queensland’s unique environment and way of life. It is implausible that the limited economic benefits associated with any future uranium operations in Queensland could outweigh the diverse problems and risks associated with uranium mining detailed in this paper.

The specific radioactive and fissionable characteristics of uranium make uranium mining fundamentally different from other types of mining. Uranium mining is associated with:

  •     radiological risks to workers and the public;
  •     direct and continuing contamination threats to ground and surface waters and the environment surrounding and downstream and downwind from mine sites
  •     risks to other industries such as agriculture and tourism due to environmental damage and contamination from tailings and mine wastes,
  •     the flow-on risks of the nuclear fuel chain and the risks inherent in nuclear power, including the fact that Australian uranium directly fuelled the continuing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
  •     the generation – at all stages of the industrial process – of large volumes of long-lived radioactive wastes, including intractable high-level nuclear waste created in nuclear reactors.
  •     the spread and legitimization of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

It is our considered view that the uranium mining sector fails key sustainability, safety and social benefit tests and should not be permitted or advanced.

This week a joint effort by Unions and NGOs will release an alternative to the QLD government’s Uranium Implementation Report: “High Risk – Low Return: the case against uranium mining in Queensland”.

Read the report here.

Supported by:

Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
Electrical Trades Union
Friends of the Earth
North Queensland Conservation Council
Queensland Conservation Council
Queensland Nuclear Free Alliance
The Wilderness Society