Deception and double dealing:
Cracks in the nuclear industry
by Peter Mac Between 1966 and 1996 the French Government conducted 193 nuclear bomb tests above and below the Moruroa and Fangataufa coral atolls. After decades of denying that anything was amiss with the testing program or the reef ecosystem as a result of the tests, French authorities last year disclosed that radioactive plutonium has actually entered the Moruroa lagoon. They have now admitted that there are huge fractures in the coral of the atolls, as a result of the testing. As a result of the revelations, Greenpeace Australia's campaign manager Benedict Southworth has called for an independent scientific investigation of the two sites. He noted: "The news about Moruroa raises serious concerns about radioactive leaks. The French have created a massive nuclear waste dump against the wishes of the People of the South Pacific. France has spent years telling the world that its testing program was safe, and now it is taking the community years to uncover the hidden facts that it is not." Radon in the atmosphere Closer to home, a Federal Senate Estimates hearing has now been told that contrary to earlier reports, Australia's first acid-leach uranium mine at Beverley, in South Australia's Flinders' Ranges, would actually allow radioactive Radon gas to escape to the atmosphere during operations. Construction of the mine was approved by the Federal Government in February this year, in the light of assurances that Radon gas would under no circumstances escape to the atmosphere. The implication is that the Federal Government has either been deceived or has been party to a deception concerning radioactive emissions. The Australian Democrats' spokesperson on nuclear issues, Senator Lyn Allison, last Wednesday noted that: Radon has a half-life of 3.8 days, meaning that it is intensely radioactive for this period. It is particularly dangerous as it decays into solid, intensely radioactive isotopes of polonium, bismuth and lead. "Radon is a heavy gas that stays close to the ground and can travel up to 1,000 km in four days in just a 10km per hour breeze. The people of Adelaide, a mere 539 km from Beverley, should therefore be asking some serious questions of the Government." Senator Allison noted that the approval of the mine constituted a weaker standard for environmental pollution than those imposed on mining companies in the US, and that a mine of this type in the Czech Republic had contaminated over 28 square kilometres and 200 billion litres of ground water, with similar problems occurring in the former USSR, Bulgaria and Germany. She noted: "The Minister (Senator Minchin) has paved the way for a mining technique that has wreaked havoc elsewhere.... The US has never allowed the use of acid-leaching in uranium mines on a commercial scale. Also, the same company operating in the US would not be allowed to inject their radioactive liquid waste into local ground water, yet (the mining company) Heathgate are allowed to do this." The approval followed preparation of an independent report on the mining proposal by the consultants American Geoscience, which concluded that it could not say with certainty whether contamination of the Beverley aqufer would affect other ground water in the area. Heathgate, the mining company which proposes to construct and operate the Beverley Mine, is an Australian division of General Atomics, a major contractor to the US Defence Department and one of the biggest US firms involved in nuclear energy and military technology. Senator Allison noted that: "Ministers Minchin and Hill are prepared to fudge the science and allow the pollution of their own country so that a nuclear and military technology multinational giant can profit from Australian uranium. Their priorities are seriously askew." Nuclear waste dump The issues raised by the Beverley mine proposal are highlighted by a monstrous proposal for establishment of an international nuclear waste dump in South Australia, and further proposals for a series of uranium mines in Western Australia, and a new nuclear power plant in Georges Heights in Sydney. The nuclear industry is vast and powerful, and is a rapacious profit taker with a reputation for a cavalier approach to safety if those potential profits are affected by considerations of human safety or conserving the ecosystem. All of the recent proposals for Australian facilities involve a huge investment of capital and potentially massive profits. The proposals have all been accompanied by reassurances, delivered with the utmost seriousness by the proponent companies, about the safety and security of the proposed installations. The evidence from all the similar establishments to date indicates that those calling for the total rejection of the proposed installations within Australia are fully justified.