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Australian senator questions uranium policies; cites IPPNW resolution

February 25, 2011

Senator Scott Ludlam, a member of the Australian Parliament from the Green party, has been asking the government some pointed questions about the health and environmental effects of uranium mining.

Greens MP Sen. Scott Ludlam says the Australian government ignores the warnings of IPPNW about the health, human rights, and environmental impacts of uranium mining and processing at its peril.

Last November, after IPPNW’s Australian affiliate, MAPW, provided him with a copy of a resolution on uranium mining and processing adopted by the federation’s International Council at the IPPNW World Congress in September, Sen. Ludlam went to work. Citing assertions made by IPPNW that “‘uranium ore mining and the production of uranium oxide (yellowcake) are irresponsible and represent a grave threat to health and to the environment” and that “both processes involve an elementary violation of human rights and their use lead to an incalculable risk for world peace and an obstacle to nuclear disarmament,” he asked Nicola Roxon, the Minister for Health and Ageing whether the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) had looked into these hazards with regard to Australian uranium mining.

The somewhat predictable answer was that ARPANSA had not investigated the concerns raised by IPPNW, but that the agency was “engaged, as part of its core functions under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998, in assessing the radiological impacts of Uranium mining on the health of mine workers, including through the Australian National Radiation Dose Register, as well as the effects of uranium mining on the environment.”

A few weeks later, Sen. Ludlam asked the same question of Tony Burke, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The reply from Mr. Burke’s spokesperson was even more concise. Was the Minister aware of IPPNW’s resolution? “Yes.” Did he have a position on it? “No.”

Sen. Ludlam has emerged as an outspoken critic of Australian uranium exports to other countries, including India and the United States. In a speech on the Senate floor on February 20, he noted the importance of IPPNW’s resolution once again:

“…I think some members of parliament and senators have an open mind about uranium. I want to draw senators’ attention to a resolution that was passed at the September 2010 Congress of the Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who are on the side, I think, of most world citizens in seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons. They have never before, to my knowledge, taken a strong position on the issue of uranium mining. They are doctors and health practitioners who have dedicated part of their work to prevention rather than cure, prevention of the use of nuclear weapons in civil or military applications.

“…I think we disregard [these health professionals] at our peril….[M]embers of parliament and  advocates who are hitching their political fortunes to this most volatile and dangerous of industries, should be warned and should listen to the words of these health professionals.

“…There are no second chances with this unforgiving technology. This is an industry that we should be getting out of rather than getting ourselves further into.”

Sen. Ludlam’s other speeches and comments on uranium mining and exports can be found on his website.

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