Rockhampton mayor says nuclear “over my dead body”

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow.  Email mayor@rrc.qld.gov.au

Rockhampton Regional Council mayor Margaret Strelow is the first in what will probably be a long line of regional council mayors who don’t want nuclear plants in their region.

Strelow told the Morning Bulletin, “It’s not even a discussion I want to have,”

“I’m a Mum and a grandma.”

This week media report that the LNP government are reviving plants for a uranium enrichment plant in Rockhampton in the wake of the lifting of the ban on mining.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a booster of uranium enrichment in the early 80s, however widespread protests and the strike action of dockworkers refusing to export the yellowcake form Mary Kathleen mine stymied that plan and led to the 1982 ban on uranium mining.

Enrichment of uranium raises the risk stakes creating a much more radioactive product and other toxic waste products that put environment and human health at risk.  Accidents at enrichment plants have included workers and environmental exposures of uranium hexafluoride gas.  Transport accidents are also common, and the cause of numerous blockade protests in Germany and France.

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research says:

To enrich uranium, it must first be put in the chemical form uranium hexafluoride (UF6). After enrichment, UF6 is chemically converted to uranium dioxide or metal. A major hazard in both the uranium conversion and uranium enrichment processes comes from the handling of uranium hexafluoride, which is chemically toxic as well as radioactive. Moreover, it reacts readily with moisture, releasing highly toxic hydrofluoric acid. Conversion and enrichment facilities have had a number of accidents involving uranium hexafluoride. 

The bulk of waste from the enrichment process is depleted uranium–so-called because most of the uranium-235 has been extracted from it. Depleted uranium has been used by the U.S. military to fabricate armor-piercing conventional weapons and tank armor plating. It was incorporated into these conventional weapons without informing armed forces personnel that depleted uranium is a radioactive material and without procedures for measuring doses to operating personnel.

Like the nuclear power industry, enrichment plants are dominated by corporations with connections to arms manufacture and involved in a long history of cover-ups and failure on regulation and safety.  One of the worst accidents in the US enrichment history, a fire and release of 16 pounds of uranium hexaflouride in a plant owned and run by Lockheed Martin, resulted in a protracted Congress enquiry.

The cleanup was never fully realised and part of the companies plan on cleanup was the resale of waste metals (depleted uranium).  Depleted uranium is used in armour plating of tanks, and as ballast weight in aircraft amongst other uses.  It’s widespread contamination of Iraq and Afghanistan continues to result in an epidemic of birth defects.

article by Kim Stewart, Peace and Military Pollution spokesperson, Friends of the Earth.   Email: kim.stewart@foe.org.au

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