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Issue #1483      1 December 2010

Protesting the mining of uranium

Last month both inside and out of the Perth Convention Centre protesters let the board of directors of BHP Billiton know that they were seeking transparency and accountability for all Australians and not just those hoping to increase the rate of exploitation of workers and of the mineral resources.

Inside the hall, former Nuclear Disarmament and Greens Senator Jo Vallentine was putting depleted uranium on the agenda when she asked BHP Chairman Jac Nasser, “I am wondering whether members of the BHP management and shareholders are aware of the role played by Australian uranium in the huge spike in cancer incidents and birth deformities experienced in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq since the massive strike against them by allied forces since 2005. Can management describe why there are no safeguards for the use of Australian uranium in depleted uranium munitions and whether BHP Billiton supports such safeguards coming into force?”

The question drew a stunned silence from the 500 plus crowd in the auditorium and only a muted reply from Nasser who said he was unable to comment on a war situation – though BHP Billiton does profit from war as a resource giant that feeds various sectors of the military industrial complex.

Ms Valentine’s clearly audacious question in front of the resource Goliath emboldened others to ask questions. They were either shareholders or proxies of the corporation and Aboriginal elders who asked about safeguards and whether mining should go ahead at the BHP’s Yeelirrie uranium mining deposit in the WA’s northeast. There were also concerns expressed about the large amount of water needed to extract and process the uranium ore and what safeguards existed for the tailings and leaching ponds to ensure that these did not poison the environment.
There was also a deputation of villagers from la Guajira region of Colombia present at the AGM who were angry about BHP’s role in the displacement of villagers in the area of the Cerrejon Coalmine of which BHP has a 33.33 percent stake.

Unions WA secretary Simone McGurk sought a commitment from BHP Billiton for a National Register of Workers who are exposed to radiation from working in mines extracting and processing uranium

As the colourful copies of a glossy annual report were being presented to shareholders, outside protesters could obtain a 24 page copy of the Alternative Annual Report 2010, “Other sides to the story”, also available online at www.bhpbillitonwatch.net.

Noongar Elder Ken Hayward, a member of WA Nuclear Free Alliance and one of the organisers of the protest along with the Conservation Council, Ban Uranium Mining Permanently (BUMP) and ANAWA (Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA), asked, “What is the point of having resources into the future when there is not a liveable planet on which to have this future?”

Further rallies are planned for November 28, at the Cottesloe Civic Centre at 11am to protect the Kimberley region and especially its coastal environment and on Saturday December 11, at 12 noon outside the Wesley Church against greenhouse gas pollution and for a massive expansion of renewables.  

 

Next article – Communist movement in 21st Century – Confronting offensive from neoliberalism

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