8. DISPOSAL OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE
8.1 The Committee's terms of reference required it to 'inquire into
and report on the environmental impact, health and safety and other
implications and effectiveness of security agreements in relation to
the mining, milling and export of Australian uranium'. The most significant
environmental impact of Australia's involvement in the mining and export
of uranium is that the end product of the nuclear fuel cycle is the
accumulation of large quantities of intractable radioactive waste.
8.2 In the five decades since the start of nuclear age no solution
has yet been found to the problem of disposing of the waste produced
by nuclear reactors. Every country which is involved in the nuclear
industry is facing the growing problem of what to do with this waste.
Although several processes for permanent storage of waste have been
extensively investigated none have reached the point where they have
been able to be used on any but an experimental basis. Meanwhile the
stockpiles of waste continue to accumulate.
8.3 Some people may wish to pretend that this problem does not exist,
or might point to the fact that Australia has not legal commitment to
receive and treat, or store, the waste produced from its uranium. This
attitude is morally indefensible. If Australia continues to export uranium
it has a moral obligation to consider how that uranium will be used
and how the resulting nuclear waste will be disposed off.
8.4 This problem may become more than a moral one for Australia. The
view has often been put in the countries that use Australian uranium
that the country which produces the uranium should receive back the
subsequent waste and be responsible for its storage. If this view becomes
accepted as normal international practice Australia could find itself
responsible for the storage of tens of thousands of tonnes of highly
toxic nuclear waste for a period of tens of thousands of years. When
viewed in this light uranium mining, far from boosting Australia's economy,
is a potential economic disaster.
8.5 These reasons by themselves dictate that Australia should not be
involved in the mining, milling and export of uranium.
9.1 The world uranium market is driven by the need for uranium and
plutonium in nuclear reactors. There has been a downturn in the world
uranium market as it has had to compete with recycled concentrated material
from warheads, a downturn in new nuclear reactors and more uranium mines
opening in Canada.
9.2 World wide nuclear reactor capacity has dropped 10% in the last
10 years. Many countries have ended nuclear power plant construction
and many planned reactors have not been built. In 1986, there were 394
civilian reactors with another 160 planned, however in 1996 there are
only 434 with just 34 reactors under construction, the smallest number
in 30 years. 
9.3 The uranium market will not be sustained in the longer term by
nuclear energy production . Australian
resources would be better spent on alternative energy research and the
production of energy from sources which are sustainable, long term,
and without the risks to the environment and public health that uranium
10.1 Uranium mining supports the production of nuclear energy which
is unsafe, non-renewable and expensive compared with alternative energy
options. The expert group on Renewable Energy Technologies in Australia
has concluded that wide scale application of solar technologies would
be capable of producing electricity for around 5 cents/kWh within a
few years at a cost 40-60% below the cost of nuclear power in industrialised
10.2 Solar cells, wind energy and other technologies have now been
developed to efficiency and can be accessed widely and at different
levels of demand.
|1. A levy should be imposed on uranium mining
to support the research and development of alternative, renewable,
|2. Uranium mining should be phased out in
favour of the further development of renewable energy sources.
11.1 In the majority report the Committee has recommended the establishment
of a Commonwealth Uranium Authority. In principle the concept of having
a single statutory authority to oversee every aspect of uranium mining
in Australia has considerable merit. However, there are some major concerns
with the proposal contained in the report.
- Triennial audits of environmental performance at mines would be
not provide any real level of scrutiny.
- Although the report states that export licences would be conditional
on compliance with directions issued by the authority there is no
explanation of how this would be implemented. It is highly unlikely
that any Federal Government would revoke an export licence even in
the case of a serious failure to comply and there would appear to
be no other remedies available to the Authority.
- The suggested level of funding would be inconsistent with the Authority
playing a significant role in regulating uranium mining.
- There is no indication of how the Authority will be funded. Will
a levy be imposed on uranium exports to cover the costs of the Authority?
- If the Authority is required to rely upon 'reports and returns required
by State and Territory legislation or otherwise submitted to existing
authorities' rather than its own inquiries it is difficult to see
how it will be able to enjoy the confidence of the Australian public.
- While an annual report to Parliament may provide a useful record
of developments it will not allow the Parliament or the Government
to respond rapidly to problems as they emerge.
- The make-up of the consultative committees at each mine will ensure
that they can be dominated by the mining company and government (pro-mining)
appointees. Aborigines should be allowed to choose their own representatives,
instead of having one forced on them by state governments, and the
committees would benefit from having clearly independent members with
- While the committees will have the function of overseeing each mine,
it appears that they will have no power to require the mine to remedy
problems. Nor is there any mention of them being empowered to report
their concerns directly to either the Parliament or an appropriate
11.2 The proposal to create a Commonwealth Uranium Authority certainly
deserves further examination. However, the scheme outlined in the majority
report looks more like an emaciated toothless tiger than the ferocious
watchdog which is required.
12.1 It is interesting that one of the very few recommendations to
emerge from the majority report is that the 'Procedure Committee examine
the implications of globalisation for parliamentary scrutiny of government,
administration and public policy.' This is a rather circuitous way for
the Committee members from the major parties to say that Senate Committees
should be able to go on overseas junkets. We strongly disagree with
13.1 On the basis of the evidence presented about the ethical, social,
environmental and economic impacts of uranium mining in Australia, this
minority report recommends against the expansion of the uranium industry,
opposes all new uranium mining proposals in Australia and recommends
the cancellation of all export licenses for uranium mining and the refusal
of any new export licenses for further uranium mines in Australia.
13.2 Should the government decide to continue permitting the export
of Australian uranium then the other recommendations contained in this
minority report should be implemented to minimise the adverse effects
of Australia's uranium mining.
|SENATOR DEE MARGETTS
||SENATOR MEG LEES
15 May, 1997
 Greenpeace Australia, Submission 73.
 Friends of the Earth Sydney, Submission 40. pages