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Alice doctors threaten to quit over mine

Barbara Miller reported this story on Monday, November 23, 2009 12:34:00

ELEANOR HALL: Doctors in Alice Springs are threatening to stop work at an Aboriginal medical
service if the Government allows a Canadian company to open a uranium mine close by.

The doctors say their departure could be a serious blow to the Indigenous community but the mining
company says its mine would be a valuable source of employment for the area.

Barbara Miller has our report.

BARBARA MILLER: For the past year the mining company Cameco and its partner Paladin Energy have
been extensively drilling in a site just over 20 kilometres south of Alice Springs. They're now
conducting feasibility studies to decide whether to apply to open a uranium mine.

That's got a group of local doctors worried. The doctors at the Central Australian Aboriginal
Congress have written to Northern Territory and Federal politicians telling them they'd consider
leaving town if a mine were to go ahead.

GP Koen de Decker is a spokesman for the doctors.

KOEN DE DECKER: A significant number of us, as individuals, have mentioned to each other that they
would leave Alice Springs if we would get a mine here and given that there is more than just one
individual but a number of us, it would really leave, as a consequence, that we are losing
workforce in an area where there is already a shortage of workforce on chronic grounds really.

We are always struggling to recruit and retain doctors and we are really concerned because the
Government is quite keen on closing the gap and we don't think this is an opportunity, having a
mine here to indeed close the gap. It would actually widen it.

BARBARA MILLER: A community group has also been voicing its concerns about the possibility of a
uranium mine so close to town.

Isabelle Kirkbride is the founder of the Families for a Nuclear Free Future:

ISABELLE KIRKBRIDE: It has been overwhelming how many people are concerned about this issue and I
think the more people that get informed, the more concerns are raised.

BARBARA MILLER: Some people say though that if a mine ever were to go ahead, it could be a good
generator of jobs?

ISABELLE KIRKBRIDE: Well, um, I'm not sure about that. I think the risk is too great. I just don't
think it is worth the risk. The health risks are too great and the social impact.

BARBARA MILLER: Stephan Stander is the project manager of the Angela uranium project at Cameco.

STEPHAN STANDER: We were a bit surprised by that simply because, you know, I think it has been
proven over the years that there are quite a few towns in much closer to proximity to uranium mines
and all the people are living quite safely and happily there.

So, for instance, Jabiru is six kilometres from Ranger Mine and we have Roxby Downs, a good 12
kilometres from Olympic Dam and we are 25 kilometres out so...

BARBARA MILLER: But in those towns, but the mines in those places you've just mentioned have
generated some degree of controversy haven't they?

STEPHEN STANDER: Oh, there has always been controversy but if you look at, they have all been
regulated fairly extensively and if the Government's best advisors in terms of the field of
radiation consider those people to be safe then certainly we are not in a position to argue with

BARBARA MILLER: Stephan Stander says he thinks Alice Springs could benefit from a mine:

STEPHEN STANDER: I think it would be a great thing for the community. If you look at the way that
Cameco specifically, one of the two joint-venture partners, have set up their operations in Canada
where they deal with a lot of first nations people, they have set it up such that they employ most
of their staff from those groups.

And they set up businesses that are sustainable beyond just the pure mining phase and I think that
is the sort of model that would be applied here as well and I think central Australia especially
Alice Springs region, there is a lot of scope for those sort of activities to take place.

BARBARA MILLER: The Northern Territory's Resource Minister Kon Vatskalis has issued a statement
saying he has yet to receive any formal correspondence from the Alice doctors. The Minister
stressed that "extensive and thorough assessment would need to be undertaken if an application was
ever received to commence a uranium mine".

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.