Aboriginal people say: keep Australian uranium in the ground, don’t sell it to India or anyone else
At the end of last year the Australian Labor Party Conference, led by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, voted in favor of allowing uranium sales to India, overturning previous policy of not selling Australian uranium to countries that were not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Ms. Gillard will be making an official visit to India next week, from 15th to 17th October, and hammering out the bilateral safeguards agreement, so that uranium exports can actually begin, is reportedly on the top of the agenda.
At the centre of strong movements against uranium mining in Australia are Australia’s indigenous people, whose traditional lands often happen to be where uranium is found and who have therefore experienced first hand the adverse health affects, loss of land and destruction of environment that uranium mining causes.
Cressida Morley spoke with Peter Watts, Co-chair of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA), whose traditional lands are in Arabunna, South Australia, about how radiation has affected him and his family personally and about how Australians feel regarding uranium sales to India.
How have you personally been affected by uranium mining/nuclear testing on your lands?
Peter: My family has been personally affected by nuclear testing which was conducted in the 1950’s adjacent to our lands, which took my grandmothers life at the age of 34 years. Since then, my family has suffered ongoing health impacts which we believe stem from the bomb: my mothers youngest sister can’t conceive; we lost my baby brother at a few weeks; my sister had bone marrow disease as a baby; my brother found it hard to start a family; extended family experienced birth defect; and we now suffer fears for future health impacts.
Our country has been directly affected by uranium mining, in terms of the removal and desecration of some places; taxing our precious local water supply (in the hottest, driest part of the driest continent). For example, Olympic Dam Uranium Mine consumes 37 million litres of water every day of every year with serious impacts on the precious Mound Springs.
What was the reaction amongst your people in the wake of the Fukushima disaster?
Peter: Utter disgust that uranium from our peoples’ lands were responsible for the massive devastation without the consent of the people whose land this was mined from, we want no association with the entire industry.
What is your message to the PM Julia Gillard as she embarks on an official visit to India this month to discuss uranium sales? What is the general feeling amongst the Australian people regarding uranium sales to India?
Peter: A clear majority of Australians oppose uranium sales to India – 61% according to a recent Lowy Institute poll, nearly double the level of support. Two-thirds of Australians oppose uranium sales to nuclear weapons states, a majority believe (correctly) that the crucial nuclear safeguards system is ineffective.
Australia used to prohibit uranium sales to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty but not anymore. It sets an awful precedent – for example countries such as South Korea, at present a non-nuclear state, could develop nuclear weapons, pull out of the NPT and do so with the expectation that there would be little or no disruption to their domestic nuclear power industries and their nuclear export industries. This is a direct result of Australia and other countries abandoning bans against nuclear trade with countries outside the NPT.
There is also growing understanding that uranium contributes almost nothing to the Australian economy – it accounts for just 0.02% of jobs in Australia, and just 0.2% of national export revenue. No way those trivial ‘benefits’ could be said to outweigh the serious problems and risks.
Last month in the Australian Parliament, Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens Party drew links between the protestors on the Walkatjurra Walkabout, a march of one month across 250 kilometres through land that is earmarked for uranium mining, and the protests that are taking place at Koodankulam. This walk is described as “a pilgrimage across Wangkatja country in the spirit of ancestors… so that we as present custodians can protect our land and our culture for future generations.”
There are certainly strong parallels with the struggle at Koodankulam, both in the objectives of the protestors and in their treatment by their respective governments. Although the Australian protestors have not been charged with sedition, beaten or shot dead, the ability of corporate and profit led governments to deny their citizens rights to their own land and failure to respect or even understand that the connection of these citizens to that land is not based simply on dollars and rupees but on life and livelihood and protection of the next generation, is the common base between Julia Gillard and Manmohan Singh as they meet next week. Now is the time to raise our voices together, in both India and Australia, to demand that democracy at least is upheld and that the voices of these citizens and the legitimate questions they raise be addressed instead of suppressed, violently or otherwise.