Saturday, September 17, 2005

Huge risks in uranium exports: Caldicott

Huge risks in uranium exports: Caldicott - Breaking News - National - Breaking News

September 16, 2005 - 2:24PM

Exporting Australian uranium is akin to exporting disease, international anti-nuclear campaigner Helen Caldicott says.

Dr Caldicott, paediatrician and Nobel Peace prize nominee, called on the federal government to halt uranium mining, saying the mineral was a medical time bomb.

"The nuclear industry is about cancer and we are talking about nuclear waste that lasts over 25 million years," she told a federal parliamentary inquiry in Sydney into the future of Australia's uranium industry.

"We should not be mining uranium because what we are actually doing is exporting a disease ... that is the legacy that this industry will bequeath to future generations."

Australia has about 40 per cent of the world's uranium resources and supplies about 20 per cent of the world stocks.

While Western Australia and Queensland have banned uranium mining, it is still allowed in the Northern Territory and South Australia.

Dr Caldicott warned against exporting the mineral, saying the gamma radiation emitted from mined uranium damaged ordinary body cells.

Advertisement"All it takes is a single mutation in a single cell," she told the inquiry.

"The incidence of testicular cancer is rising, cancer in general is rising; we spend millions of dollars every year trying to cure cancer and we spend countless hours waiting for people to die."

Because politicians were often scientifically ignorant they underestimated the profound medical ramifications of mining uranium, Dr Caldicott said.

"Decisions made on a purely economic basis are inappropriate," she said.

"We are talking about something that is going to affect people and other species for the rest of time."

Richard Broinowski, a former ambassador to South Korea and a nuclear proliferation expert, told the inquiry the government must ensure the standards for monitoring, regulating and reporting on the industry are substantially improved.

Commercial considerations govern Australia's policies towards the extraction and export of uranium, Prof Broinowski said.

"We are looking at the short term, the expedient and the commercial - we are not looking at the long term," he said.

The professor called on the government to revise the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and update its safeguards on uranium exports.

"The erosion of our standards has increased the likelihood that nuclear material will find its way into nuclear weapons," he said.

"The safeguards have been modified because of commercial needs ... the system is broke, it needs fixing."


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