To the Editor,
At its Annual General Meeting yesterday, BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers said the company will not relinquish the legal privileges contained in the Roxby Downs Indenture Act. This 1982 legislation largely exempts the Roxby Downs (Olympic Dam) uranium/copper mine from South Australian environmental and Aboriginal heritage protection laws and also curtails the Freedom of Information Act.
Kloppers said yesterday that the mine expansion requires the certainty that only an Indenture Act can Provide. Perhaps so, but that’s no excuse for weakened environmental and Aboriginal heritage protections. BHP Billiton proposes digging a pit of about 20 cubic kilometres, increasing uranium production to 19,000 tonnes per year, increasing water consumption to 150 million litres daily, and increasing radioactive tailings production to 70 million tonnes per year. Yet the company wants to retain its wide-ranging exemptions from the SA Environment Protection Act and the Natural Resources Act (including water management issues).
Mike Rann’s Labor government in SA has promised to apply the “strictest environmental standards” to uranium mining but seems unwilling to budge from the current practice of applying far weaker standards at Roxby Downs than those that apply to every other project in the state.
The projected annual export of 19,000 tonnes of uranium is sufficient to fuel 95 nuclear power reactors, which will produce enough plutonium to build 2,850 nuclear weapons each year. BHP Billiton (and state and federal governments) could minimise the risk of diversion through careful selection of uranium customer countries – but they don’t. The Roxby Downs expansion is heavily geared towards China with BHP Billiton planning to export 1.6 million tonnes of uranium/copper concentrate to China annually.
BHP Billiton also wants to export uranium to Russia even though International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards inspectors haven’t set foot there since 2001 and there is no requirement in the Howard/Putin uranium agreement for any IAEA inspections in future. Nor is there any provision in the Howard/Putin agreement for Australian inspection of nuclear facilities and stockpiles in Russia so we would be entirely reliant on international inspections – which are non-existent! Foreign Minister Stephen Smith will decide whether to allow uranium sales to Russia in the coming months.
Dr Jim Green
Friends of the Earth