Fuelling catastrophe: Uranium, Climate Change and Elephants


In the midst of a debate about a proposed carbon tax – a tax we have to have (and should have had years ago) – there is another environmental proposal being prosecuted by a select minority of the Australian Government that is getting much less attention: uranium sales to nuclear-armed India.

On the back of purported concern over climate change, there is increasing noise from vested interests about the need to sell uranium to India, allowing the country to limit its coal use and high greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a debate we need to engage with. We simply cannot avoid Australia’s moral and political hypocrisy in this area.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons – under which, all states with nuclear weapons must disarm. Only Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and India sit outside the NPT. As such, Australia cannot sell uranium to any of these countries.

In 2009/10, Australia exported 7,555 tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8) to earn $751 million, none of which went to India. During the same period, we exported 292.6 million tonnes of black coal to earn $36.5 billion – of which 24.5 million tonnes went to India and led to about 66 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

On one hand, we export coal to India at an exponentially growing rate – with no real consideration of the climate cost – yet now a select minority of vested interests in the Australian Government and mining industry want us to believe that we should trash the cornerstone of the NPT and sell uranium to a non-NPT nuclear-armed state with the goal of reducing carbon emissions?

Next we will hear that Australia produces ‘green’ uranium – ie. “world’s best practice” – and that uranium mining in India takes a severe human and environmental toll (which is very true; just type ‘Jaduguda uranium’ into Google). The argument will go that we should therefore be selling India environmentally-friendly Aussie uranium.

This is despite the fact that all former uranium mines in Australia continue to cause pollution, and that current mines have a range of ongoing environmental issues, especially radioactive tailings management.

Furthermore, every tonne of Australian uranium leads to 27 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and adds to our growing mine waste legacy for future generations to manage.

If Australia was serious about clean energy and substantive climate change action, we would recognise the heavy environmental toll of both coal and uranium (wherever they may be mined), block vested interests from corrupting government policy and promote the development and export of baseload solar thermal technology, solar panels, energy efficiency and a raft of other sustainable energy initiatives.

We simply cannot afford to ignore the elephants in the room – destroying ourselves through climate change or nuclear weapons. I live in hope that we can address both elephants and leave a more sustainable world for our children’s children.