The Guardian May 12, 1999


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.

Back to index page