Green groups warn opening uranium mines in Qld could harm the environment, while the resource sectors says it will bring in money and jobs.
Queensland could be dotted with hidden deposits of low level radioactive waste if uranium was once again mined in the state, environmentalists have warned.
The Newman coalition government has announced it’s ready to accept applications for uranium mining projects after ending a long-standing “ideological” ban imposed by the then-Labor regime in the 1980s.
The state’s reserves are estimated to be worth up to $18 billion, with most of that sourced in Queensland’s northwest, although green groups dispute the figures.
Mines Minister Andrew Cripps says uranium mining will be subject to a robust framework to ensure future mines meet the world’s best practice on environmental protection and safety standards.
Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney warned uranium mining had long lasting environmental impacts.
“You’ve got large levels of radio active waste which are kept in tailings dams which, at the end of the operation, are covered with a layer of clay and rock,” he said.
He also points to uranium prices, saying the market was “absolutely shredded” after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
“This is the worst time imaginable on a strictly economic basis to be giving the green light,” he said.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche estimates valued reserves at about $18 billion – which is higher than the government’s estimate of $10 billion – with demand for nuclear energy was set to rise over the next two decades.
“Contrary to activist propaganda, the state government and industry have worked together with other major stakeholders to deliver world’s best environmental protection and safety standards,” he said.
The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said it would be some time before new mines are opened “given the current economic conditions”.
“But the Queensland government is at least opening the door for new opportunities to stimulate the industry.”
Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters says mining uranium makes no economic or environmental sense and threatens the health of Queenslanders.
“Uranium mining also threatens farms, groundwater, soil and local wildlife,” she said.
The uranium will be exported through existing licensed ports in Darwin and South Australia.
Green groups claim it will only be a matter of time before it is shipped across the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Cripps says there are “no plans” for this to happen.
Under a new framework, applications for uranium mining will be assessed by the Queensland coordinator-general, with environmental assessments and approvals to be jointly completed by the Queensland and federal governments.
URANIUM MINING IN QUEENSLAND
* The Newman government estimates the state’s reserves are worth about $10 billion, while the resource sector puts this figure at $18b
* Green groups claim demand for the mineral has been in decline for several years
* In Queensland, there are known deposits inland from Cairns, near Townsville and in the northwest
* Uranium mining was banned in Queensland by the then Labor government in 1989, but it hasn’t been mined since 1982
* Uranium is mined in South Australian and the Northern Territory
* It is mildly radioactive and used to fuel nuclear power reactors and weapons, as well as medical and scientific research
* Australia mines 16 per cent of the world’s uranium. Other major producers are Kazakhstan and Canada.
(Source: Queensland Government and Geoscience Australia).