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Ranger uranium mine AustraliaIn Sydney, Australia, at the ALP National Conference on 31 July 2007, Peter Garrett, the then Shadow minister for Climate Change and Environment and Heritage, made a speech which included this statement:

"I have long been opposed to uranium mining, and I remain opposed to it.  I am unapologetic about this.  In fact, I am proud of it."

On December 3, 2007, The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP was appointed Australian Government Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

Last month, July 2009 Mr Garrett,  the former anti-nuclear campaigner, approved the country's fifth uranium mine and gave the go-ahead for the Four Mile mine in Wonthaggi, South Australia, 132 kilometres south-east of the city of Melbourne.  Four Mile will be Australia's first new uranium mine for nearly a decade and the 10th biggest in the world.

Mr Garrett has stated "the new mine poses no credible risk to the environment."

With annual production of about 1400 tonnes, it will boost national output by 13 per cent to 12,100 tonnes and would earn about $260 million a year in revenue at current prices.(1)

The proposed mine is a joint venture between Quasar Resources Pty Ltd, who own 75 per cent of the project and Alliance Resources Ltd, who own the remaining 25 per cent. Quasar Resources is affiliated with Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of US-based General Atomics.

So what is the story?  Why was uranium mining opposed one minute and approved the next?  What risks are involved? Lets take a closer look at the uranium industry and its major players.

Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on earth.  Uranium is found as an oxide or complex salt in minerals such as pitchblende and carnotite.  It has an average concentration in the earth's crust of about 2 parts per million. (2)

Uranium is the first element in a long series of decay that produces radium and radon.  Uranium is referred to as the parent element, and radium and radon are called daughters.  Radium and radon also form daughter elements as they decay.  Uranium has a half-life of 4.4 billion years, so a 4.4-billion-year-old rock has only half of the uranium with which it started.

The half-life of radon is only 3.8 days.  If a test tube was filled with radon, in 3.8 days only half of the radon would be left.  However, the newly made daughter products of radon would also be in the test tube, including polonium, bismuth, and lead.  Polonium is also radioactive.   It is this element, which is produced by radon in the air and in people's lungs, that can hurt lung tissue and cause lung cancer.

Radon levels in the air range from about 4 to 20 Bq/m 3.  Indoor radon levels have attracted a lot of interest in recent times and in the USA they average about 55 Bq/m 3, with an EPA action level of 150 Bq/m 3.

Canada was the first country to produce and process uranium.  It was used to produce nuclear explosives for the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

This marked the beginning of the Uranium industry.  Its main use now is for civilian nuclear reactors.(3)  It has been used to produce nuclear weapons for more than 50 years and electricity for more than 40 years.

Today, Canada remains the world's largest producer and exporter of Uranium, accounting for 20.5% (9,000 tonnes) of world output in 2008(4).  Only Australia has more known uranium resources.  The worldwide production of uranium in 2008 amounted to 43,853 tonnes, of which important uranium producing countries in excess of 1000 tonnes per year include Namibia, Russia, Niger, Uzbekistan, and the United States.(5)

What are the advantages of nuclear power?

There are many different ways to generate electricity – including coal, oil, gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, and solar.

The advantage of nuclear power comes from the amount of power that is produced from a small amount of uranium.  The power from one kilogram of uranium is approximately equivalent to 100,000 kilograms of oil.(6)


In contrast to fossil fuel plants (coal, oil and gas), nuclear power plants do not produce any carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions, which are major contributors to the greenhouse effect and acid rain, respectively.

However, as with all industrial processes, nuclear plants produce waste.  Nuclear waste from a power plant is unique in that it can be highly radioactive.

Currently, used nuclear fuel is stored at the nuclear power plants in steel-lined, concrete pools or basins filled with water or in massive, airtight steel or concrete-and-steel canisters.

In the USA, used nuclear fuel remains stored at nuclear power plants in the near term.  Eventually, the government will recycle it and place the unusable end product in a deep geologic repository.(7)

In 2002, Congress approved Yucca Mountain (see footnote), Nev., a remote desert location, as the site for a centralized deep geologic repository for used nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste.

Nuclear waste can be generally classified a either "low level" radioactive waste or "high level" radioactive waste.

Low level nuclear waste usually includes material used to handle the highly radioactive parts of nuclear reactors (i.e. cooling water pipes and radiation suits) and waste from medical procedures involving radioactive treatments or x-rays.

Low level waste is comparatively easy to dispose of.  The level of radioactivity and the half- life of the radioactive isotopes in low level waste is relatively small.  Storing the waste for a period of 10 to 50 years will allow most of the radioactive isotopes in low level waste to decay, at which point the waste can be disposed of as normal refuse.

High level radioactive waste is generally material from the core of the nuclear reactor or nuclear weapon.  This waste includes uranium, plutonium, and other highly radioactive elements made during fission.  Most of the radioactive isotopes in high level waste emit large amounts of radiation and have extremely long half-lives (some longer than 100,000 years) creating long time periods before the waste will settle to safe levels of radioactivity.

There are means to recycle this waste.

One such design is the breeder reactor.  Even as fuel is consumed, new fuel is created as a byproduct.   However, the resultant byproduct is plutonium.  Since plutonium is a material used in nuclear weapons, governments have been hesitant to allow their construction.

Is there risk of nuclear explosion from the nuclear plants?  Are the actual structures of the atomic reactors safe from earthquakes or terrorist attack?

The nuclear power plant accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in Ukraine are well known and are due to human error.

To combat earthquake and other explosive reactions affecting the plant, the nuclear reactor is usually contained in a reinforced concrete or steel structure.(8)

In July 2007, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex in Niigata Prefecture, leading to suspension of all its seven reactors.

With a combined output of 8.212 million kW, the complex is the world's largest nuclear power generation complex.

On May 9, the No. 7 reactor, an advanced boiling-water reactor, was restarted on a trial basis after one year and 11 months' suspension.

On May 11, a malfunction occurred in the reactor's core isolation cooling system.  The company said this provided no risk to the environment.

It is expected that the No. 6 reactor will be able to be reactivated by the end of this year but it remains unknown when the operations of the No. 1 to 5 reactors will resume.

This showed that quake tremors, bigger than the reactors were originally designed to withstand, do happen.  Local residents are still concerned about the nuclear power complex's quake resistance.(9)

What about normal day to day operations?  What effects have they on the environment?

Strict siting regulation ensures that nuclear power plants have minimal impact to their surrounding areas. (10)

However, nuclear power reactors do contribute a measurable increase in radiation to the environment around a nuclear power plant.  This increase, is relatively small compared to natural background radiation, and is less than the radioactivity released from a typical coal plant.(11)

This is just as well because in 2007 Delaware officials confirmed a cancer cluster near the Indian River coal power plant; the rate of cancer cases in the area is 17 percent higher than the national average.

Despite this finding, the Division of Public Health was unwilling to study the cluster further.  The Department cited a lack of resources and historical difficulty in connecting environmental causes to cancer rates.(12)

Again in 2008, State health officials ruled out any immediate probe after eight newly identified cancer clusters across Delaware were reported but said they now plan monitoring and yearly updates of research that revealed the problem.

A report on cancer rates in 27 districts around the state found eight areas where cancer rates exceeded state averages by as much as 44 percent.(13)

Despite having lower radioactive release than coal plants, is there any evidence of carcinogenic effect in surrounding areas of nuclear power plants?

Ernest J. Sternglass of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, ("The Health Effects of Nuclear Fallout and Releases from Nuclear Power Plants.")  has concerns that nuclear power plants have similar effect.

He pointed out that studies in the north central Texas area indicate large increases in cancer rates since the start-up of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in Somervell County southwest of Fort Worth. (14)

Dr. Sternglass states data indicates that cancer mortality in the counties surrounding the power plant – Somervell, Hood, Johnson and Erath – increased dramatically, 27 percent, during the second five-year period while the rate for the state increased 15 percent for the same period.(15)

In Hood County, breast cancer increased 190 percent over the previous five-year period, and total breast cancer deaths for all four counties increased by 51 percent while the statewide increase was 12 percent for the same period.

More recently, using mortality statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mangano and Sherman found that in 1985-2004, the change in local child leukemia mortality (vs. the U.S.) compared to the earliest years of reactor operations were:

* An increase of 13.9% near nuclear plants started 1957-1970 (oldest plants)

* An increase of 9.4% near nuclear plants started 1971-1981 (newer plants)

* A decrease of 5.5% near nuclear plants started 1957-1981 and later shut down

The 13.9% rise near the older plants suggests a potential effect of greater radioactive contamination near aging reactors, while the 5.5% decline near closed reactors suggests a link between less contamination and lower leukemia rates. Because of the large number of child leukemia deaths in the study (1292)  it makes many of the results statistically significant.

The Mangano/Sherman report follows a 2007 meta-analysis also published in the European Journal of Cancer Care by researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina.  That report reviewed 17 medical journal articles on child leukemia rates near reactors, and found that all 17 detected elevated rates.(17)

A January 2008 European Journal of Cancer article that found high rates of child leukemia near German reactors from 1980-2003 is believed to be the largest study on the topic (1592 leukemia cases).(18)

How many nuclear sites are there?

In the USA there are 104 operating commercial units at 64 sites.  There are also 34 research reactors at various universities.  These numbers do not  include government reactors operated by the military or DOE.

Nuclear power capacity worldwide has been increasing steadily with about 30 reactors under construction in 12 countries.  Today, there are some 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries.

In 2006, these provided about 16 percent of the world's electricity. About 34 power reactors are currently being constructed in 11 countries, notably China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region with India leading the way.  Three new reactors — two units at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-5 and 6) and the fourth unit at Kaiga in Karnataka — would be commissioned between this year and next year.  Plans are firming for new units in Europe, the U.S. and Russia.(19)

At the present, France produces most electricity from its nuclear power plants around 80 % of total consumption.

The leading nuclear energy company in France is AREVA.  The French State owns more than 90%.  First half 2009 sales revenue: 6.5 billion euro (8.5 billion dollars) , up 6%. (20)

Its main shareholder is the French-owned company CEA, but the German company Siemens also retains 34% of the shares of AREVA's subsidiary, AREVA NP

Spencer Abraham

In 2006, Spencer Abraham, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, was named non-executive chairman of AREVA Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of AREVA.

Prior to his appointment as Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of AREVA Inc. in 2006, Spencer Abraham was the longest serving Secretary of Energy in U.S. history.  His tenure as energy secretary was preceded by six highly effective years in the U.S. Senate, during which time Mr. Abraham authored 22 pieces of legislation signed into law.

Mr. Abraham is also currently the Chairman and CEO of The Abraham Group, an international strategic consulting firm that provides assistance for clients seeking opportunities on the U.S. and global markets.

This is a help for Aleva because France is lacking in Uranium resources. I t is reliant on mined uranium from other countries.

One of the world's leading companies in this the field is General Atomics.  The company was conceived in 1955 at San Diego, California for the purpose of harnessing the power of nuclear technologies for the benefit of mankind.

GA and its affiliates also have operations in Berlin, Dresden, Moscow, Tokyo, Adelaide, Washington, D.C., Denver, Los Alamos, Oklahoma City, Tupelo and Ogden.

GA and its affiliated entities involved in uranium mining and processing also manufacture, operate, and service unmanned aerial vehicles, and provide nuclear instrumentation, aircraft launch and recovery systems, superconducting magnets, systems for hazardous material destruction, magnetic levitation systems, medical diagnostic products, information technology and many other products and services for government and industry.

Currently GA's largest profits come from it's manufacture of the Predator unmanned aerial drone vehicle.  Privately held General Atomics says its revenue  from the drone business totals about $150 million annually.

Since 1986, the company has been owned by brothers Neal Blue and Linden Blue who brought

George bush skull and bones

it for $50m from Chevron. Condoleezza Rice was a former member of the board of directors (Chevron) and also headed Chevron's committee on public policy until she resigned on January 15, 2001, to become National Security adviser to  President George W. Bush.


Both Blue brothers went to Yale university – the same educational facility as the Bush Dynasty.  In 1958, Linden Blue was an elected member of the same Yale secret society, the notorious Skull and Bones of which the Bush clan were members.(21)

Yale's super-elite Skull and Bones, a 200-year-old organization whose members include some of the country's most prominent families: Bush, Harriman, Phelps, Rockefeller, Taft, and Whitney.

Barack Obama's economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, was initiated into the club in 1991.

Previously advising GA were directors Jay Keyworth – Former Science Advisor to President Reagan and  John Vessey – Former Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With these high profile political and military connections it would seem the new 4 mile uranium mine in Australia is in safe hands.

But is it?

In October 1991, three years after General Atomics purchased Sequoyah Fuels Corp who operated in a uranium processing plant at Gore, 135 miles east of Oklahoma City, the plant was ordered to be shutdown by the nuclear agency.

The shutdown was prompted by an inspection in August 1990 during which an agent from the nuclear agency's field office in Arlington, Tex., discovered unusually high concentrations of uranium in water at the bottom of a construction pit at Sequoyah Fuels.(22)

The Government found uranium in the water at levels 35,000 times higher than Federal law allows.

In 1992 it was found Sequoyah Fuels Corp, a GA subsidury left 20, 000 pounds of uranium contaminated soil beneath  the main processing building. (23)

GA offered to pay $5m to clean up the contaminated area.  The costs were estimated to be 100x higher resulting in GA closing the mine down completely stating it could not afford the clear up costs.

In May 2002, at its Beverley mine in South Australia, a section of PVC pipe broke apart, releasing 14,900 liters of water containing uranium into the Australian outback.

South Australia state officials had already ordered urgent changes to rules on reporting leaks after revelations that Heathgate had logged some two dozen spills since the mine was opened in 1998.

In one of the worst spills, 62,000 liters of radioactive uranium solution spewed from a ruptured pipe on January 12.

What other dangers are associated with uranium mining?

The main problem lies in that most grade deposits have less than 1% uranium.   Vast amounts of ore have to be processed to obtain useful quantities of uranium.  The leftover 'waste' rock is known tailings.

The waste from mining falls into four categories: waste rock from the actual mining, tailings from the ore processing (commonly called milling), industrial waste, and waste water.

The separation of metals from ores may be loosely broken down into two types of processes; smelting, and or wet chemical processing.  Uranium has generally been extracted by the latter type of process.(24)

After grinding the ore to the optimum size, it is leached by exposing it to chemicals that will dissolve the uranium.

The impurities that have been separated from the uranium are left as a sulfuric acid solution.   They contain all the radionuclides from the two uranium chains except the uranium itself.  The tailings are produced as a slurry, a mixture of fine solids in water.

Tailings have been placed in shallow natural depressions in the ground.  Valleys have been dammed to form tailings ponds.  Natural lakes have been used.  Where there are no favorable surface features, tailings have been placed in constructed surface ponds.

Problems have been experienced in arid areas in the past with tailings impoundments that were not covered before being abandoned.  Winds blew the dry tailings from the impoundment, spreading low level radioactive contamination over considerable distances.

Unlined surface tailings impoundments have also resulted in seepage that has contaminated groundwater systems.

Clearly, it is desirable to get tailings out of the surface environment, which avoids erosion, and avoids human intrusion.  These considerations lead to placement of tailings below the water table in mined-out pits.

Because radon is not reactive and because it has a half-life of 3.8 days, it can escape from tailings and waste rock and become airborne.  This is the source of the radiation dose that has been implicated in the lung cancer recognized as an occupational disease among early uranium and some other metal miners.

In the 1950s and 1960s, private firms processed most uranium ore mined in the United States.  After uranium mining came under federal control, companies abandoned their mill operations, leaving behind materials with potential long-term health hazards.

These mills contained low-level radioactive wastes and other hazardous substances that eventually migrated to surrounding soil, groundwater, surface water, and emitted radon gas.

From 1944 to 1986, nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore were mined from the land from over 500 mines, according to U.S. EPA.  When the Cold War ended, the demand for uranium disappeared and the mines on  land were mostly abandoned.(25)

Is there evidence of cancer in the environment near uranium mines?

The British Columbia medical association had this to say in 1988:

"Epidemiological and experimental evidence indicates that alpha radiation  [from radon]  is more effective (per unit dose) in producing cancer when exposure is at low dose rates over long periods of time, than when the equivalent dose is given at a high rate for short periods of time.(26)

`Uranium tailings will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and will require such expensive long-term surveillance and maintenance by government and the local citizenry as to make statements about uranium mining providing revenue very misleading'

They also concluded that nuclear industry proponents have tended to minimize risk through lack of knowledge, generalizations, quoting outdated studies, dilution of risk estimates, unsubstantiated arguments, personal bias, basing conclusions on inadequate studies, doublethink, and assuming people cannot absorb the full truth.(27)

Radium-226  [ released from uranium tailings ] is a superb producer of osteosarcoma  [ bone cancer ] .

Whether it has effects on osteoporosis is another concern.

Osteoporosis rates have risen dramatically in recent years.  One cause of osteoporosis is lead, a byproduct of radon. This is transported to the bone marrow via blood where it is stored for many years.  If infusion takes place in early childhood then an earlier onset of  osteoporosis is initiated.  However, confounding variables such as lead paint in the environment make direct links to radon and osteoporosis hard to substantiate.

Other deliberating diseases are not.

Cancer, for example. Cases among Aborigines near Australia's biggest uranium mine appear to be almost double the normal rate, according to a study by the Federal Government's leading indigenous research body.

The study compared Aborigines diagnosed with cancer in the Kakadu region with the cancer rate among all Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory from 1994 to 2003.

It found the diagnosis rate was 90 per cent higher than expected in the Kakadu region, with 27 cases reported.  If the diagnosis rate had been proportional to the territory's overall Aboriginal population, there would have been 14 cases.

The study also found there had been no monitoring in the past 20 years of the Ranger mine's impact on the health of local indigenous people.  Yet since 1981, there have been more than 120 spillages and leaks of contaminated water at the mine, located in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

In a shocking report, the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) has revealed facts regarding health hazards faced by miners working in the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in the form of a detailed survey report.

The survey was undertaken by the organisation affiliated to Germany-based International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in association with Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR).

The study was took place between May and August 2007.  It was conducted in two different phases.  While one survey concentrates on villages within the radius of 2.5 km from the mines, a similar one was undertaken in villages about 30 km from the mining areas.

A total of 2,118 households were studied in the first category, while another 1,956 households in the second category.

According to the survey, DPD found significant increases in congenital deformities and childhood deaths due to congenital deformities; increased sterility; and elevated numbers of deaths due to cancer.  Reduced life expectancy
among people living near the mines was also documented ,68.33 per cent people are dying before the age of 62.

Any more studies?


Unfortunately, time limits prevent further analysis.

It is hoped this article gives the reader an understanding of the benefits and risks involved in the uranium industry.

It can be be seen that while highly profitable in the short term, in the long term the present use of uranium looks to be highly costly regarding both human health and clean up operations.

In its non-mined state, uranium risks are minimal.  The problems occur when uranium is separated from the ore.

Dangerous chemicals are released into the environment – chemicals that are detrimental to human health.

These detriments are slow to manifest.  That really is the problem here.  If everyone died in the nearby vicinity within a week of a new mine opening, then it would be closed.  Thirty years later, who cares?  Profits have been made.

Even when stringent safety procedures are in place, there is no guarantee these are sufficient to prevent exposure.

Recent studies suggest the uranium industry is dangerous at all levels.

The industry is run by the government and government supported companies in nations throughout the world, making it difficult to get legislation through halting this industry.

That is unless you are a member of an established group in society.  Namely the Skull and Bones.

Is it worth pursuing this dangerous technology?  Would it be more beneficial to focus on safer energy technologies?

It just takes one accident or one natural occurrence, like a powerful earthquake, to result in disaster.

Finally, if the Hon Peter Garrett AM PM still believes the  "new mine poses no credible risk to the environment" why dosen't he buy a house nearby?   Perhaps then we can share in his convictions.


On March 5, 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a Senate hearing "the Yucca Mountain site no longer was viewed as an option for storing reactor waste." This of course conflicts with the existing federal law, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as amended in 1987 that makes Yucca Mountain the national repository for high level nuclear waste. Until Congress changes this law, President Obama and Secretary Chu are merely proposing a change in national direction. In July 2009, the House of Representatives voted 388 to 30 to not defund the Yucca Mountain repository in the FY2010 budget which is an indication of the strong support by the majority of the United States for the continuation of the project until such time as the law is changed.   wiki


References and further reading:

www.ccsa.asn.auConservation Council of South Australia.

Occurence of Uranium and Radon In bedrock Aquifers.

NY Times

The Hazards of uranium

Uranium mining Wikipedia

U.S. Geological Survey – The Geology of Radon

Benifits /effects of nuclear power

Nuclear Energy Institute.

Japan Times

Delaware online


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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-31-2009)   
For additional reading on uranium processing and the power of the uranium industry, check out "The Fluoride Deception" by Bryson.

The military/industrial complex's protection of uranium production extends to protection of fluoride production because it is so critical to final refining of uranium.

The whole thing about putting fluoride in water was due to a need to make fluoride look like it had a benefit to society when fluoride emitters (foundries and chemical companies) were sued for destroying whole towns back in the early 20th Century.

If you can't trust your dentist to not put poisons (fluoride and mercury) in your mouth, who CAN you trust?

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About author/contributor Member: Cornflake (Ann ) Cornflake (Ann )
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Member: Cornflake (Ann ) In between looking after two children and 10 chickens, Ann spends most of her time gardening and thinking about how best we can make our planet a better place. Ann previously lived in an apartment in London. However with the arrival of two children she realised city life was not for her. She now has an old renovated clay brick house in Hungary and enjoys a more sustainable and eco friendly lifestyle. Surrounded by various fruit trees and vines, she is fast becoming an expert in the making of jams, chutneys and fruit juice. I also run a website arch1design.

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