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Fukushima puts Australia's uranium industry on the defensive

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The Australian nuclear industry feels the heat after the Fukushima calamity, but spins on gamely. Noel Wauchope reports.


With plummeting uranium prices, and increasingly bad news about Fukushima radiation, Australia's uranium industry is well and truly on the back foot. But the industry battles on with religious fervour in its belief in the future uranium boom.

The Australian Uranium Association has put out a four page *promotional brochure,  which illustrates the anxiety that underlies that belief.  Indeed the second half of the brochure is almost a plea to the industry to be extra careful, and a prediction of

"…an extended period of uncertainty.....A mistake by one operator or explorer or project developer in our industry affects all of us."


The purpose of the brochure is to jolly up business, and anyone connected with the uranium industry, and to shore up solidarity with "our peers in the nuclear fuel cycle".  It is a call to "reinvigorate the case for the nuclear industry", to put "the compelling case for the nuclear industry to be re-stated" and that "Fukushima is a test for the global nuclear industry".

The first two pages of the brochure put pro-nuclear arguments that are predictably full of self-serving half-truths and lies.

  •  Environmental impact of uranium mining is "no more substantial than any other kind of mining", which of course conveniently neglects the specific question of radioactivity.

  • Waste disposal: says "geological storage and disposal is the technical answer favoured by recent scientists and most countries", which doesn’t mean that it is in any way a satisfactory disposal answer.

  • Energy security: the brochure makes a weak case for "expanding or creating nuclear industries" as a means of diversifying energy sources. This one is a puzzler from an industry that aims to export the fuel.  Surely, if a country with nuclear power is relying on importing Australia's uranium, then it obviously does not have energy security. Then there's the need for countries to export the nuclear wastes. Solar, wind, wave energy really do provide locally controlled energy, with no need to import fuel or to export waste, which in the case of nuclear power is incredibly toxic for many thousands of years.

  • Greenhouse emissions: the brochure claims that nuclear, in the whole fuel cycle, is a low greenhouse gas emitter, somehow producing less greenhouse emissions than solar power!

  • Costs.  A strange argument is put here that nuclear power is proven to be not expensive because of the investments made in the past and the ones "taking place now". No mention that only government funded nuclear plants are being developed now – that there is virtually no private investment in the industry. And, of course, there is also no mention of the reason why the nuclear industry wants to keep today's aging reactors alive—because (a) they can't afford to "decommission" them and (b) they can't afford to build new reactors.

  • The brochure goes on at length about security and transport of uranium before a long and rather cloudy section on water — making a very dubious case that the uranium industry is not water intensive.

    In the final section, Rob Atkinson, Australian Uranium Association Chairman and CEO of Energy Resources of Australia, spells out the anxieties for the nuclear industry.  Having expressed his “firm belief" that nuclear power is going to be "absolutely essential" for many countries, Atkinson goes on to say:

    “…events at Fukushima at the very least look certain to complicate planning for nuclear expansion for the coming years in all countries that have been looking either to expand existing nuclear programs or commence new ones".  


    Despite Rob Atkinson's faith in the future of the nuclear industry – and despite his repeated promises of the nuclear industry's high standards of safety, responsibility, stewardship – this latest promotional treatise from the AUA does nothing to inspire confidence in the future of Australia's uranium industry. Instead it raises the question of whether it can be trusted to provide the full picture of the real and alarming risks and dangers their industry poses to all our children’s futures.


    * The brochure 'The consequences of Fukushima and what can be done about them - Australian Uranium Association' can be found online at http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/18059953/1798110710/name/20110829111801489.pdf


     
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