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Shadow Minister confident of initiating the third Senate inquiry into uranium mining in five years.



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LINDA MOTTRAM : The Senate will today vote on whether or not to hold an inquiry into Australia’s uranium mining industry, with Labor drawing up terms of reference. Environment groups and the local Aboriginal people have been calling for an inquiry for months, following a series of accidents and incidents at uranium mines in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Alison Caldwell reports.

 

ALISON CALDWELL: The Shadow Environment Minister, Kelvin Thomson, is confident that he has the numbers in the Senate to initiate another inquiry on uranium mining in Australia. If he’s right it will be the third Senate inquiry into uranium mining in the past five years. This time, he says, it will be different.

 

KELVIN THOMSON: The intention of this inquiry is to examine recent occurrences. There have been five breaches of mine regulations by Ranger since January, including inadequate stockpiling of low grade ore which led to contamination of Corridor Creek. We’ve had an incident involving the detection of levels of uranium in the Corridor Creek 700 times the Australian drinking water standard of 20 parts per billion. At the Beverley Uranium Mine there was an incident in January this year involving a spill of up to 60,000 litres of radioactive effluent and as recently as 1 May there was a leak of some 7,000 litres and around one kilogram of uranium.

 

ALISON CALDWELL: The inquiry would focus on the Ranger and Jabiluka mines in the Northern Territory and the Beverley and Honeymoon mines in South Australia. Earlier this year the South Australian government was criticised for failing to reveal 24 spills at the Beverley Uranium Mine. David Sweeney is the uranium spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation. He believes another inquiry is warranted.

 

DAVID SWEENEY: A key thing is that this is a very focused inquiry. It’s an inquiry looking at regulation, monitoring, environmental performance and reporting procedures at four of the mines. It’s quite specific, quite focused, so it could lead to improved operations and improved performance in the sense of trying to stop the leaks and the persistent chronic failure that we’re experiencing in the Australian uranium industry.

 

ALISON CALDWELL: The inquiry would also examine the Office of the Supervising Scientist, the agency responsible for the oversight and implementation of the regulations. Andy Ralph is the Executive Director of the Gundjehmi Corporation and speaks on behalf of the local Mirrar people of Kakadu National Park.

 

ANDY RALPH: We have concerns about the supervising scientist in the fact that his hands appear to be off the wheel at the present time. We believe that we would like to see more involvement with the supervising scientist. He does his monthly inspections of the mine site and sits on various technical environmental committees. We’d like to see a greater engagement of the supervising scientist in everyday matters on the mine site. We’re hopeful that the inquiry will not be a whitewash; it will have meaningful outcomes for everybody.

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: Andy Ralph, a spokesman for the Mirrar people of Kakadu National Park. ERA says it will cooperate with any Senate inquiry, while Western Mining Corporation couldn’t be reached for comment. Alison Caldwell our reporter there.