Apr 4, 2006

Transcript Radio National – Uranium mining

TRANSCRIPT OF Interview, ABC Radio National with Fran Kelly

Tuesday, 4 April 2006


Subject: Uranium Mining

FRAN KELLY: Well as we’ve been hearing, a split has emerged within the Labor Party over their policy limiting Australia to only 3 uranium mines. On the one hand, the left’s Martin Ferguson, who’s also Labor’s Resources spokesperson, says it’s time to think about lifting the cap. On the other, environment spokesperson Anthony Albanese, also from the left, is arguing for the status quo. Well Anthony Albanese joins us now.

Anthony, John Howard says that Labor’s “3-mines” policy is crumbling. Your own resources spokesperson says it’s anachronistic and should go. South Australian Labor Premier Mike Rann says it will change. Is it sustainable?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, it certainly is, and we don’t allow John Howard to dictate what Labor’s policy should be.

FRAN KELLY: What about Martin Ferguson and Mike Rann?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what the proponents of change have got to come up with is that after some half a century of the nuclear industry, the problems remain: the problems of its high economic cost, in particular of the disposal of high level radioactive waste, its contribution to nuclear proliferation, problems of safety, and procedures in the mining process itself. All these problems remain in spite of the fact that the industry has been going for more than 50 years, which is why we have seen, in Western Europe and the United States, a decline in the nuclear industry since Chernobyl, which will commemorate its 20th anniversary this month.

FRAN KELLY: But isn’t that an argument for “no uranium mining”, not “3 uranium mines”, I mean, critics have always described this policy as being half-pregnant and you can’t have it all ways, you can’t say it’s dangerous but support 3-mines and not more mines.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, in spite of continued media statements, we don’t have a “3-mines” policy and we haven’t for some time…

FRAN KELLY: Well, a “no new mines” policy.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …It’s a “no new mines” policy, and what that is, is essentially an anti-uranium position, but one which also overlays the principle that Labor is not into repudiating contracts. We’re not into paying out billions of dollars to big multinational companies on the basis of that, but we think that the problems with uranium mining are intractable, and they are still there.

FRAN KELLY: But has the debate changed, has it moved on? The new reactors that are being built don’t pose the dangers that Chernobyl did, I mean there’s general agreement on that, and the argument now seems to have shifted globally towards the positives of nuclear power in the face of the threat of global warming. It’s an argument that’s persuaded many, it seems.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it hasn’t persuaded many in the conservation movement, that’s the truth. You do have one or two who have changed their position, but that’s all. The issue of nuclear waste, for example – we had a considerable debate in this country about the safe storage of a minimal amount of low-level radioactive waste coming from medical procedures – now that’s nothing compared with the high level waste which comes from the nuclear reactor process. And the real issue, which will emerge over the next year, is that John Howard wants to take Australia further into the nuclear fuel cycle.

FRAN KELLY: But Anthony Albanese, that’s already happening and Kim Beazley supported the Government in the signing of the uranium export deal with China yesterday. On the one hand, your leader is supporting that, on the other hand he’s saying that Labor’s “no new mines” policy will stay in place for another year. Aren’t those 2 things contradictory?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No they’re not. What Kim is saying, is that we’re as far into the nuclear process as Australia wants to be.

FRAN KELLY: Well we just got into it a lot more.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well no, what we’re doing is, the uranium which is there, which has been dug up under existing contracts, needs to be sold somewhere. That is something that is consistent with Labor policy. But we don’t support any new mines, and we don’t support Australia going down the track of further involvement in the nuclear power industry. And if John Howard is re-elected at the next election, then make no mistake, there will be a domestic nuclear power industry advanced in Australia. He’s already indicated that, as have Brendan Nelson and a number of other Ministers. And that’s the real question that I think needs to be focused on, on these issues – do we want to go down the nuclear track?

FRAN KELLY: Alright Anthony Albanese, that you very much for joining us this morning.