U Enrichment ‘a dangerous path to pursue’

December 15, 2006

Territory and national environment groups today condemned the notion of the Northern Territory developing a uranium enrichment industry, despite apparent interest from the CLP to pursue this path.

Hot on the tails of the Federal Government’s Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review (UMPNER), the CLP central council is accepting public submissions on the viability of an enrichment industry in the Territory, but environmentalists point to numerous economic and political obstacles that make the idea both unviable and undesirable.

The groups query why the CLP is investigating enrichment when the UMPNER draft report, released last week, stated “there may be little real opportunity for Australian companies to extend profitably” into enrichment, with the market “very concentrated (and) structured around a small number of suppliers in the United States, Europe and Russia”. The report also noted that the enrichment market “is characterised by high barriers to entry, including limited and costly access to technology, trade restrictions, uncertainty around the future of secondary supply and proliferation concerns”.

Dr Jim Green, nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth Australia, welcomed this conclusion, adding concerns that enrichment technology produces high volumes of depleted uranium waste that can be used in munitions, such as those used by the US and NATO in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Dr Green emphasised the issue of proliferation, noting; "While Prime Minister Howard likes to compare uranium enrichment to value-adding in the wool industry, enrichment plants can be used to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons. Establishing a nuclear weapons production capacity by pursuing enrichment would be foolish and could encourage other countries in south-east Asia to develop a weapons production capacity."

Natalie Wasley from the Arid Lands Environment Centre, Alice Springs, stated that “the CLP appear keen to pander to Howard’s vision of a Nuclear Territory. Dave Tollner and Nigel Scullion supported the legislation forcing the Commonwealth waste dump here and now they are canvassing for uranium enrichment. This would produce long- lived waste the Territory will inevitably be responsible for storing”.

“The CLP could spend the resources being used on this inquiry investigating how to deal with the legacy of radioactive waste from uranium mining in the NT before discussing how to produce more. It is a joke that they claim to be standing up for the Territory when they are actively working to sacrifice it”. Ms Wasley added.

Contact: Dr Jim Green 0417 318 368 Natalie Wasley 0429 900 774

------ Beyond Nuclear Initiative Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) Cummins Plaza, 67 Todd Mall / PO box 2796, Alice Springs, NT Australia 0871

ph: 08 8952 2011 mobile : 0429 900 774 email: natwasley@alec.org.au