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Australia - uranium and nuclear power

By Helen Caldicott - posted Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Australian anti-nuclear movement started in Adelaide in 1971 when fallout from French atmospheric nuclear tests polluted Adelaide's water supply. People were warned that strontium 90 concentrating in milk would further concentrate in childrens' teeth and bones and years later could cause leukemia or bone cancer. Australians in general were not enamoured of the French, and were so incensed that they were polluting the southern hemisphere with their tests that a huge movement erupted. Spontaneous marches occurred in Adelaide streets, people stopped buying French wine and cheese, postal workers refused to deliver French mail and whole pages were devoted to indignant letters to the editor. Within nine months 75% of Australians fervently opposed the tests. Jim Cairns, deputy Prime Minister, Ken Newcomb, Union of Australian Students, and I then travelled to Paris to inform the French Government of our opposition. Australia and New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice and they were forced to test underground.

Despite this international victory, three years later Whitlam decided to mine and export uranium. I knew nothing about medical hazards of nuclear power until I read "Poisoned Power" by Gofman and Tamplin who had been commissioned by the US Atomic Energy Commission to research the dangers of nuclear power. I then travelled to Canberra to warn Whitlam of the medical dangers of the enterprise, but to no avail.

A group began in Adelaide called Campaign Against Nuclear Energy CANE and in Melbourne, Movement Against Uranium Mining MAUM. Unions learned of the dangers and became so deeply concerned that when a man refused to shunt a truck containing yellow cake in Brisbane, the Australian Railways Union called a 24 hour nationwide strike. The medical dangers of uranium and nuclear power hit the headlines. Finally in 1978 the ACTU passed a resolution to ban uranium mining, transport and export which lasted for five years until Bob Hawke introduced the Three Mine Policy ending the ban. The antinuclear movement in Australia was very powerful and prevailed for many years.


Ironically an ardently pro-nuclear group in Adelaide has arisen led partly by Barry Brook a Professor of Climate change at Adelaide University, who is an adamant supporter of uranium mining and nuclear power in Australia and is promoting small modular reactors

To make matters worse former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is advocating that Australia enrich uranium and become the repository for the world's nuclear waste. "We would get an enormous stable flow of income which could be used for the benefit of the world and our own benefit" he says. Nuclear waste must be isolated from the environment for 1,000,000 years according to the US Environmental Protection Agency - a scientific impossibility.

These people clearly do not understand the carcinogenic and medical dangers arising at all stages of the nuclear fuel chain, nor do they understand radiobiology, genetics or teratology. Furthermore nuclear power does not alleviate global warming because it is supported by a massive industrial infrastructure which creates large quantities of global warming gases including CO2 and CFCs. It is hugely expensive - $12-15 billion per new reactor, and unable to gain funding from Wall Street it is totally government subsided. And most importantly, investment in nuclear power would take money away from desperately needed renewable energy.

Each large reactor contains as much radiation as 1000 Hiroshima bombs, and uranium becomes one billion times more radioactive in a reactor, creating 200 new dangerous radioactive isotopes.

Three major nuclear accidents – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima all resulted from human fallibility. Chernobyl has already killed over one million, - Chernobyl : Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment...and Fukushima fueled by Australian uranium will eventually kill thousands from cancer, leukemia, genetic disease and congenital malformations.

As President Jefferson once said "An informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion." Sadly the Australian people are now relatively uninformed about the medical hazards of the whole nuclear fuel chain.

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About the Author

Dr Helen Caldicott, has devoted the last 38 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the necessary changes in human behavior to stop environmental destruction. She is also the Founding President of the Physicians for Social Responsibility which, with other national groups won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She is President of people for a Nuclear Free Australia and a member of the Spanish Scientific Committee advising the Spanish Prime Minister.

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