Roxby timeline + accidents 1987-2001

# 2001    Incident : Summary – Spills totalled 4,216,000 litres, no location or other data provided (except detail below).
# Incident : Undated – Total of NINE Process spills (including December incident below), no location or other data provided.
# Incident : Undated – TWO ‘Pond’ spills, no location or other data provided.
# Incident : Undated – ‘Undefined’ spill at the Port Adelaide sulfur yard.
# Incident : Undated – ‘Undefined’ Diesel ‘leak’ from a bulk storage tank at Olympic Dam, no location or other data provided.
# Incident : ‘Late’ – ~30,000 litres of Diesel spill at a Pump Station for Borefield B, no data provided.
# Incident : December 12 – 427,000 litres of Process leaching slurry containing 0.1% U (1,000,000 ppb) accidentally spilled from a holding tank. This represents a mass of uranium of about 0.43 t of uranium.
# Incident : October 21 – Large scale FIRE in the Solvent Extraction section of the Olympic Dam processing complex. Exact details still remain unclear, though it did apparently involve the release of radionuclides into the environment (mainly the atmosphere for wide dispersion).
# Incident : May – ~40,000 litres of Diesel spilt from underground fuel lines at Pump Station 1, Borefield A, and spread some 200 m from the source. The lines had corroded, since they were more than 15 years old. The residual contamination left in groundwater as there was perceived to be "no significant environmental risk" (pp 17).
# 2000    Incident : 106 spills totalled 2,021,000 litres, no location or other data provided..
# Incident : January 20 – Three workers were in the underground mine when explosives detonated. Although not injured, it represents a major breach in blasting safety procedures.
# 1999    Incident : December 23 – Part of the solvent extraction plant goes up in flames – this is where the copper and uranium is extracted. Allegedly, the fire was contained outside the uranium section with no contact with radioactive materials, although the detail is unclear. The fire could be seen as far as 25 km away at nearby Andamooka.
# Incident : December – Two workers seriously injured in a sulphuric acid spill.
# Incident : October 12 – Radioactive scrap metal detected at WMC’s scrap metal merchant in Adelaide. Load returned to Roxby.
# Incident : March 31 – Copper smelter explodes late at night, causing extensive damage. No workers injured.
# March 26 – Court case brought against Hugh Morgan (chief of WMC) and federal ministers Alexander Downer and Robert Hill, alleging genocide against the Arabunna people by the Roxby mine.
# March 26 – Official opening of the expansion, specially by Prime Minister John Howard.
# 1998    Incident : March 6 – Man is crushed to death in the underground mine at Roxby.
# 1997    December 11 – A further Amendment to the Roxby Indenture is passed through the SA parliament giving WMC responsibility for Aboriginal Heritage over 1.5 million hectares, well beyond the mine lease.
# December 3 – Senator Robert Hill, Federal Environment Minister, approves expansion to 200,000 tpa of copper and 4,000 tpa of uranium, but advises more environmental studies will be required for the full proposed expansion.
# Incident : November 30 – Union strike over the leak and spillage of sulphuric acid. 70 employees walked off the job after 23 workers had been overcome by fumes in the smelter area.
# November 6 – Supplement to the EIS released by WMC (their comments and responses to public comments on the Draft Expansion EIS).
# October 2 – ROXSTOP finishes with immense success.
# September 22 – ROXSTOP Desert Action and Music Festival begins at Roxby Downs, being the first major protest at the mine for over a decade. It includes protests at the minesite, blockading the highway of the delivery of equipment for the expansion, a public meeting on worker’s health, a music festival in the Mound Springs area, tours and witnessing of the damage to the Mound Springs by the two Borefields, and people having a ball doing it!
# May 12 – Draft Expansion Project EIS released for public comment.
# (Early) EIS for the proposed expansion of mining at Olympic Dam/Roxby Downs is announced.
# 1996    December – Amendments to the Indenture are made giving legal rights to WMC for extraction of up to 42 Ml/d of fossil Great Artesian Basin water every day for the next 40 years. This allows an increase in production to 350,000 tpa of copper and 7,000 tpa of uranium. This amendment was made without public scutiny and commits SA to at least another 100 years of uranium mining at Roxby.
# November – Borefield B, with one operational bore, is commissioned and bought into production.
# September – Work begins on the construction of Borefield B, deeper into the Great Artesian Basin in order to supply up to 42 million litres per day (Ml/d).
# July 15 – WMC Board commits to the major expansion of Roxby Downs, with "detailed design" to 200,000 tonnes per year copper level, and "conceptual design" to 350,000 tonnes per year of copper.
# April 24 – The SA Government Inquiry into the Olympic Dam Tailings Leakage is released, with damning indictments of WMC and yet still endorses their environmental management.
# January – John Faulkener, Federal Environment Minister, confirms the approval for expansion to 150,000 tpa and a special water licence is granted to WMC by the SA government.
# WMC announce plans for expansion to 350,000 tpa of copper and 7,000 tpa of uranium.
# 1995    WMC announces expansion to 150,000 tpa of copper and the development of Borefield B. Mines and Energy SA (MESA) modelling projections of the 50 year drawdown and Great Artesian Basin recovery rates are not made public.
# Roxby Downs completes second minor expansion to a production capacity of copper and uranium of about 85,000 and 1,600 tonnes per year, respectively.
# 1994    Incident : February 14 – WMC reveals that up to 5 million cubic metres of liquid has leaked from its tailings retention system at Roxby Downs. According to WMC the leak had been happening for at least two years but only became fully understood in January 1994.
# 1993    September – Memo from the Department of Mines and Energy (MESA) warns of a "potential problem" with water seepage and uranium tailings at the site.
# May – WMC and the Department’s of Mines and Energy and the Environment acknowledge that the tailings dam has been leaking.
# Minister for Mineral Resources approves increase in drawdown from 2 to 4 metres at the boundary of Borefield A. Approval restricted to 4 metres to try and protect the Mound Springs.
# April – WMC announce plans for a further expansion (‘Optimisation 2’).
# March 31 – WMC formally acquire 100% ownership of Olympic Dam. The cost to WMC was US$419 million
# March – British Petroleum (BP) withdraw from the Olympic Dam Joint Venture and sell their share to WMC.
# 1992    Incident : Worker dies at Roxby as the explosives he was setting underground prematurely detonate.
# Roxby Downs completes minor expansion to a production capacity of copper and uranium of about 66,000 and 1,200 tonnes per year, respectively.
# 1991    Approval given by the South Australian Government to expand Borefield A.
# February 19 – WMC/BP announce plans for a minor expansion (‘Optimisation 1’).
# 1990    Anti-uranium demonstrators block the path 3 shipments of Roxby output at Port Adelaide, a total of 24 uranium-carrying trucks. The uranium was sold to Sweden, Britain and the USA.
# 1989    Incident : November 5 – A total of 320 mm of rainfall at Olympic Dam led to major flooding. Increased groundwater levels were noted, as were the potential for flood waters to enter limestone cavities.
# 1988    Incident : November 5 – Major accident at the copper smelter during the official opening ceremony when a loud bang followed by a massive flame burst occurs.
# November 5 – Official opening of the Olympic Dam Project, including ‘special guest’ Norman Foster (former Labour politician).
# June 22 – First ore milled in the Olympic Dam metallurgical complex, production capacity of copper and uranium is about 45,000 and 900 tonnes per year, respectively.
# 1987    Mid – Surface decline and entrance tunnel completed.
# February – Operation of Borefield A commences.
# Incident : February – Major failure at the desalination plant when 70 ML in about 1 hour is lost through a massive limestone cavity beneath the surface of the storage pond. The estimated flow rate of the leak was up to 20,000 litres per second. The difficulty of predicting and locating potential limestone cavities was recognised.

Bird deaths from the tailings dam

WMC acknowledges tailings dangerous for birds
January 11, 2005.

WMC Resources says it will do all it can to try and reduce the number of birds being killed at its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia’s north.

The South Australian Government has ordered a report after 100 birds were killed over a recent four day period.

Environmental agencies will visit the mine today to talk with the company.

WMC Resources spokesman Richard Yeeles agrees that the issue needs to be investigated.

"This is a very dry area and birds do see what appears to be a large body of water and will tend to land on these areas," he said.

"We have had a deterent system in place which over the years has helped us to reduce contact between birds and tailings facilities, but it appears for some reason that this is not working as it has done in the past."

Critique of ASNO

Jim Green
National nuclear campaigner – Friends of the Earth, Australia.

March 2007

(See also EnergyScience Briefing Paper #19, August 2007 – a detailed critique of the  Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office written by Prof. Richard Broinowski, Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff, Dr. Alan Roberts and Jim Green.)


* AONM – Australian-obligated nuclear materials – e.g. Australian-origin uranium and its by-products such as depleted uranium and plutonium.
* ASNO – so-called Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office
* HEU – highly-enriched uranium
* IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency
* MUF – Material Unaccounted For.

Safeguards are not and could never be 100% effective

The Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO) routinely misleads the Australian public and our political representatives when it asserts that international and bilateral safeguards agreements and processes “ensure” or “provide assurances” that Australian uranium and its by-products such as depleted uranium and plutonium, known collectively as Australian-obligated nuclear materials (AONM), will not contribute to weapons proliferation.

Those agreements and processes certainly attempt to prevent diversion of nuclear materials to weapons programs but they are not and could never be 100% effective.

ASNO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade routinely offer these false “assurances”. The ASNO website illustrates the point:
1. The risk of diversion of AONM is not acknowledged in a document linked from the front page of ASNO’s website, “Australia’s Uranium Export Policy”, <>. That document asserts that “Australia’s uranium export policy … provides assurances that exported uranium and its derivatives cannot benefit the development of nuclear weapons or be used in other military programs.” Why no acknowledgement of the risk of diversion of AONM for nuclear weapons research and/or production?
2. That document links to another, “Australia’s Network of Nuclear Safeguards Agreements”, <>, which asserts that: “All of Australia’s uranium is exported for exclusively peaceful purposes, and only to countries and parties with which Australia has a bilateral safeguards Agreement. These Agreements ensure that Australia’s nuclear exports remain in exclusively peaceful use …” Why no acknowledgement of the risk of diversion of AONM?
3. That document links to an excerpt from the Australian Safeguards Office Annual Report 1998-99, <>, which asserts that bilateral safeguards agreements “were established to ensure that nuclear items exported from Australia remain in exclusively peaceful use, and in no way enhance or contribute to any military purpose.” Why no acknowledgement of the risk of diversion of AONM?

The ASNO website links to the so-called Uranium Information Centre, which also fails to acknowledge the risk of diversion of AONM. We can easily understand why the industry-funded Uranium Information Centre peddles misinformation – it has a commercial interest in doing so. But what is ASNO’s excuse? While ASNO is an independent statutory authority, as it should be, it exhibits the tendencies of a captured bureaucracy.

Occasionally, ASNO will concede the indisputable point that there is a risk of diversion of AONM – for example, ASNO Director-General John Carlson (2005) states that “… of course it is possible diversion might occur in the future …”. However, it is far more common for ASNO to provide false “assurances” which strongly imply that there is no risk of diversion.

ASNO should clearly acknowledge on its website that there is a risk of diversion of AONM, and it should remove or modify statements which imply otherwise.

AONM is not fully accounted for

Carlson (2002) says: “All Australian-obligated nuclear material [AONM], including plutonium, is fully accounted for.” That is false. There are routine accounting discrepancies – called ‘Material Unaccounted For’. MUF refers to discrepancies between the ‘book stock’ (the expected measured amount) and the ‘physical stock’ (the actual measured amount) of nuclear materials at a location under safeguards. Such discrepancies are frequent due to the difficulty of precisely measuring amounts of nuclear material.

What Carlson means when he says that all AONM is “fully accounted for” is that ASNO has accepted all the various reasons given for MUF over the years, however fanciful those explanations may or may not be. (ASNO refuses to provide specific data on MUF discrepancies or even aggregate information. Nor has ASNO adequately justified this secrecy.)

Carlson (2005) states: “MUF certainly does not imply that AONM is missing. When ASNO concludes that all AONM is accounted for, this means, inter alia, that we are satisfied about the explanation for any MUF.”

In other words, when ASNO says all AONM is fully accounted for, it means all AONM is not fully accounted for.

It is agreed that MUF does not necessarily mean that diversion has occurred – the problem is that we cannot be certain that diversion of MUF has not occurred on each and every occasion when there is a difference between recorded and measured quantities. The inevitability of accounting discrepancies provides an obvious loophole for would-be proliferators. The problem is most acute with facilities processing large volumes of nuclear material, and in particular those processing large volumes of fissile material such as reprocessing plants.

South Korea

ASNO (letter, available on request) insists that South Korea did not use AONM in its long-standing secret nuclear weapons research program from 1979-2000. How can ASNO be sure? According to the letter, one reason is that the South Koreans say so!

We still do not know – and will probably never know – whether AONM was used in the South Korean secret nuclear weapons research program:
* We have the assurance of South Korean authorities – but the value of such an assurance is highly questionable in the circumstances.
* There could not possibly have been diversion before 1986 since there was no transfer of AONM to South Korea until 1986.
* Carlson (2005) states in relation to post-1986 unauthorised activities that: “… the IAEA’s investigations showed that the nuclear material used was produced from indigenous sources, Accordingly, ASNO is satisfied that no AONM was involved.” But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) appears to base its conclusions in part on “information provided by the ROK”, so the argument becomes circular. Moreover, the claim that only indigenous material was used is contested (Kang et al., 2005).

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons

Carlson (2000) states that “… in some of the countries having nuclear weapons, nuclear power remains insignificant or non-existent.” Carlson’s attempt to absolve civil nuclear programs from the proliferation problem ignores the well-documented use of civil nuclear facilities and materials in weapons programs as well as the important political ‘cover’ civil programs provide for military programs. It also ignores the more specific links between nuclear power and weapons proliferation.

Of the ten states known to have produced nuclear weapons:
* eight have nuclear power reactors.
* North Korea has no operating power reactors but an ‘Experimental Power Reactor’ is believed to have been the source of the fissile material (plutonium) used in the November 2006 nuclear bomb test, and North Korea has power reactors partly constructed under the Joint Framework Agreement.
* Israel has no power reactors, though the pretence of an interest in the development of nuclear power helped to justify nuclear transfers to Israel.

Power reactors are certainly used in support of India’s nuclear weapons program – this is no longer in dispute since India is refusing to subject numerous power reactors to safeguards under the US/India nuclear agreement.

The US itself is using a power reactor to produce tritium for use in nuclear weapons.

Pakistan may be using power reactor/s in support of its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s October 2006 weapon test is believed to have used plutonium from an ‘Experimental Power Reactor’.

Then Australian Prime Minister John Gorton certainly had military ambitions for the power reactor he pushed to have constructed at Jervis bay in NSW in the late 1960s – he later admitted that the agenda was to produce both plutonium and electricity.

Moreover, nuclear power reactors per sé need not be directly involved in weapons research/production in order for a nuclear power program to provide cover and support for a weapons program. For example, the nuclear weapons programs in South Africa and Pakistan were clearly outgrowths of their power programs although enrichment plants, not power reactors, produced the fissile material for use in weapons. Likewise, nuclear power programs typically involve the construction of research/training reactors which can be and have been used in weapons programs (e.g. India, Israel).

Iraq is another illustration of the potential for nuclear power programs to facilitate nuclear weapons programs even if power reactors are not used to produce fissile material for weapons, or even if power reactors are not built. While Iraq’s nuclear research program provided much cover for the weapons program, stated interest in developing nuclear power was also significant. According to Khidhir Hamza (1998), a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq’s weapons program: “Acquiring nuclear technology within the IAEA safeguards system was the first step in establishing the infrastructure necessary to develop nuclear weapons. In 1973, we decided to acquire a 40-megawatt research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, all under cover of acquiring the expertise needed to eventually build and operate nuclear power plants and produce and recycle nuclear fuel. Our hidden agenda was to clandestinely develop the expertise and infrastructure needed to produce weapon-grade plutonium.”

Carlson’s view also sits uncomfortably with the concentration of nuclear power in weapons states – almost 60% of global nuclear power output is in the nuclear weapons states and those power programs involve large numbers of nuclear scientists, technicians, engineers etc., with frequent transfer to and from nuclear weapons programs.

In short, the attempt to distance nuclear power programs from weapons proliferation is disingenuous. While currently-serving politicians and bureaucrats are prone to obfuscation on this point, several retired politicians have recently noted the link between power and weapons:
* Former US Vice President Al Gore said in 2006: “For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal … then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale.”
* Former US President Bill Clinton said in 2006: “The push to bring back nuclear power as an antidote to global warming is a big problem. If you build more nuclear power plants we have toxic waste at least, bomb-making at worse.”
* Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said in 2006: “Any country with a nuclear power program “ipso facto ends up with a nuclear weapons capability”.

Carlson (2000) says: “If we look to the history of nuclear weapons development, we can see that those countries with nuclear weapons developed them before they developed nuclear power programs.” However, ostensibly civil nuclear programs clearly preceded and facilitated the successful development of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, and in the former nuclear weapons state South Africa.

Carlson (2006) states: “I have pointed out on numerous occasions that nuclear power as such is not a proliferation problem – rather the problem is with the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies …” The claim is false, no matter how many times Carlson makes it:
* Power reactors have been used directly in weapons programs.
* Power programs have facilitated and provided cover for weapons programs even without direct use of power reactor/s in the weapons program.
* And, as will now be discussed, power reactors produce large volumes of weapons-useable plutonium and can be operated on a short irradiation cycle to produce large volumes of weapon-grade plutonium.

Plutonium grades

Statements by Carlson/ASNO about the weapons useability of below-weapon-grade plutonium grossly distort the available scientific evidence and can only be seen as an attempt to promote uranium exports and to absolve governments and uranium mining companies of their culpability in increasing the global stockpile of weapons-useable plutonium. (For a detailed discussion and references to the scientific literature, click here.)

In addition to the actual and potential use of below-weapon-grade plutonium in nuclear weapons, power reactors can be operated on a shorter-than-usual irradiation cycle to maximise the proportion of plutonium relative to other, unwanted plutonium isotopes. Thus, power reactors can produce large volumes (hundreds of kilograms per year) of weapon-grade plutonium, and as little as 3-4 kgs of this weapon-grade plutonium is required to build one nuclear weapon.

Carlson (2002) states that Australian-obligated plutonium is not weapon-grade but he fails to note that below-weapon-grade plutonium can be – and has been – used in nuclear weapons. Further, weapon-grade plutonium is produced using Australian uranium – in the normal course of events this weapon-grade plutonium is produced in power reactors and in the normal course of events it is converted to fuel-grade then reactor-grade plutonium in the reactor. It is misleading for Carlson to state that Australian-obligated plutonium is not weapon-grade without noting that below-weapon-grade plutonium can be and has been used in nuclear weapons.

Carlson (2002) says “weapons-grade plutonium is not produced in the normal operation of power reactors” though he knows it is and he knows that below-weapon-grade plutonium has been used in weapons.

Research reactors can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Israel and India are the most notorious examples of ‘research’ reactors being used for this purpose – most of the fissile material for their nuclear arsenals comes from research reactors. (For a detailed paper click here.)

IAEA safeguards

Carlson (2002) defends the IAEA’s safeguards system and says it provides the “foundation” for preventing misuse of Australian-obligated nuclear materials. The safeguards system was exposed as a farce by the Iraqi regime in the 1980s and early ’90s – see the voluminous material on this scandal published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (<>) and by the IAEA (<>). Since the Iraq debacle, efforts have been made to improve the system, but it still inadequate.

Apart from the nuclear industry and its apologists, including ASNO, there is universal acknowledgement of serious flaws with the safeguards system. Indeed Dr Mohamed El Baradei, the Director General of the IAEA, has stated that the IAEA’s basic inspection rights are “fairly limited”, that the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities”, that efforts to improve the system have been “half-hearted”, and that the safeguards system operates on a “shoestring budget”. (See statements at <>.)

Compare those acknowledgements from the IAEA Director General with ASNO’s false “assurances” that safeguards prevent diversion of AONM.

The IAEA has two roles – promoting the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and preventing weapons proliferation. Since the materials and facilities required for peaceful nuclear research and power programs can be and have been used for nuclear weapons R&D and in some cases full-scale weapons production, the IAEA’s two roles can be described as: trying to prevent weapons proliferation while actively promoting the expanded use of materials and facilities which can in many cases be used for nuclear weapons research and/or production. The contradiction is obvious notwithstanding Carlson’s (2005) comments about the two roles being “complementary” rather than “inconsistent”. By Carlson’s logic, drug-running operations would neatly complement efforts to stem the trade in illicit drugs.

Membership of the Board of Governors of the IAEA is weighted in favour of countries with significant nuclear programs. Carlson (2005) fails to see the problem arising from that weighting. The problem is that countries with significant nuclear programs may have reasons, e.g. commercial reasons, to downplay the proliferation risks associated with civil nuclear programs. South Australian Premier Mike Rann’s observation in a 1982 paper is pertinent: “Again and again, it has been demonstrated here and overseas that when problems over safeguards prove difficult, commercial considerations will come first.”

(Numerous articles on the flawed nuclear safeguards system are posted at

Uranium customer countries

Carlson (1998) makes the absurd claim that: “One of the features of Australian policy … is very careful selection of our treaty partners. We have concluded bilateral arrangements only with countries whose credentials are impeccable in this area.”

Carlson’s claim is demonstrably false. Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapons states (most or all of which are failing to fulfil their NPT disarmament obligations), states with a history of covert nuclear weapons research based on their ‘civil’ nuclear programs, states blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and states blocking progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

To give some examples:

1. The US is breaching its NPT disarmament commitments in many ways: refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; making a mockery of the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty by blocking any inspection or verification measures; engaging in research on new generations of nuclear weapons; indicating that it might begin nuclear weapons testing again; resuming the production of tritium for use in nuclear weapons and using a ‘civil’ power reactor to produce the tritium; acknowledging in its 2002 Nuclear Posture Review that it intends to maintain its nuclear arsenal “forever”; embarking on nuclear co-operation with India (a non-NPT state); threatening first-use nuclear strikes; and developing a nuclear hit-list of seven states, all of them NPT member states except North Korea, and five of them non-nuclear weapons states.

The disgraceful role of the US, and its manifold breaches of its NPT obligations, have been ignored by the Australian government. Successive Australian governments have claimed that the US is in compliance with its NPT obligations because of the reduction in the number of nuclear weapons. But even that solitary achievement is largely a function of creative accounting “worthy of Enron” according to the US Natural Resources Defense Council. Moreover, the numbers argument can be misleading. Due to technical enhancement, the smaller stockpile of US nuclear weapons actually has an increased destructive power.

2. France and the UK are also customers of Australian uranium and, like the US, neither country has the slightest intention of fulfilling its NPT disarmament obligations. The UK government is strongly advocating replacement of its Trident nuclear system. In January 2006, French President Jacques Chirac declared that French nuclear weapons would be used in fighting terrorism, increasing rather than decreasing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.

3. The federal government has negotiated a bilateral treaty with China to permit uranium sales. China is a nuclear weapons state with no intention of fulfilling its NPT disarmament obligations, and it refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Further, the Chinese state is undemocratic and repressive. It is difficult to imagine a nuclear industry worker in China publicly raising safety, security or proliferation concerns without reprisal. It is a closed, secretive state – which makes safeguarding AONM all the more difficult. China is included in the US’s Nuclear Posture Review hit-list because of the “ongoing modernization of its nuclear and non nuclear forces” and its “still developing strategic objectives”.

4. Japan, a major customer of Australian uranium, has developed a nuclear ‘threshold’ or ‘breakout’ capability – it could produce nuclear weapons within months of a decision to do so, relying heavily on facilities, materials and expertise from its civil nuclear program. An obvious source of fissile material for a weapons program in Japan would be its stockpile of plutonium – including Australian-obligated plutonium. In April 2002, the then leader of Japan’s Liberal Party, Ichiro Ozawa, said Japan should consider building nuclear weapons to counter China and suggested a source of fissile material: “It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads; we have plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads.”

Japan’s plutonium policy is anything but impeccable. It is irresponsible. Diplomatic cables in 1993 and 1994 from US Ambassadors in Tokyo describe Japan’s accumulation of plutonium as “massive” and questioned the rationale for the stockpiling of so much plutonium since it appeared to be economically unjustified. A March 1993 diplomatic cable from US Ambassador Armacost in Tokyo to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, posed these questions: “Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan’s being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?” (Greenpeace, 1999.)

Yet successive Australian governments have allowed Japan to stockpile Australian-obligated plutonium. Not once has a reprocessing request from Japan been refused.

5. South Korea is another major customer of Australian uranium with less than impeccable credentials. In 2004, South Korea disclosed information about a range of activities which violated its NPT commitments – uranium enrichment from 1979-81, the separation of small quantities of plutonium in 1982, uranium enrichment experiments in 2000, and the production of depleted uranium munitions from 1983-1987.

Nuclear weapons states   

Carlson (2005) states that it is it is “not plausible” that a non nuclear weapons state would seek nuclear weapons because the nuclear weapons states are not meeting their NPT commitments. Why not? According to IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed El Baradei (2005): “[W]e must show the world that our commitment to nuclear disarmament is firm. As long as some countries place strategic reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent, other countries will emulate them. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.”

Likewise, El Baradei (2004) noted that: ”There are some who have continued to dangle a cigarette from their mouth and tell everybody else not to smoke.”

So by the logic of no less an authority than Dr. Mohamed El Baradei – Nobel Peace Prize winner and IAEA Director General – Carlson is deluding himself.

Carlson’s illogical and incomprehensible statement is out of step not only with the IAEA Director General but also with the expert Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nobel Laureats, Cold War warriors such as Henry Kissinger and countless experts in non-proliferation.

Declared and undeclared facilities

Carlson (2006) stresses the use of undeclared facilities in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program from the 1970s to 1991:

“It is well known that discovery of the undeclared Iraq program after the first Gulf War showed inadequacies in “traditional” IAEA safeguards, especially as regards possible undeclared nuclear activities. This is what prompted the program to strengthen safeguards, of which the Additional Protocol is a part.

“It is also well known that the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities requires substantial further development, this is the most serious challenge to safeguards – also discussed at length in my annual reports. Australian uranium is exported for declared nuclear programs under IAEA safeguards – the problem of detecting undeclared activities does not show that safeguards on declared activities are inadequate.” (emphasis in original)

However there is abundant evidence of safeguarded facilities being used in the nuclear weapons program in Iraq (Green, 2002).

For example, the safeguarded, highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuelled IRT research reactor was frequently used in the Iraqi weapons program:

1. A fuel element from the IRT reactor was used for a plutonium extraction experiment.

2. On three other occasions, fuel elements were fabricated from undeclared uranium dioxide in an Experimental Reactor Fuel Fabrication Laboratory, they were secretly irradiated in the IRT reactor and then chemically processed in an unsafeguarded Radiochemical Laboratory containing hot cells.

3. The reactor was used to make polonium-210 for neutron initiator research, using bismuth targets.

4. The reactor was used to produce small quantities of plutonium-238, which could have been used for neutron initiator research instead of short lived polonium-210.

5. The reactor could potentially have produced sufficient plutonium for one weapon over a period of several years using fuel and/or a uranium blanket and/or uranium targets; this risk, albeit small, was increased by the fact that IAEA inspections of the reactor were infrequent because of the low risk status of the reactor.

6. HEU fuel for the IRT reactor, and the 0.5 MW(th) Tammuz-II reactor, was diverted during Iraq’s 1990-1991 ‘crash program’.

7. ‘Dirty’ radiation bombs were produced and three test bombs were exploded in Iraq in 1987, using materials irradiated in the IRT and/or Tammuz II research reactors (the more powerful IRT reactor was the better suited of the two reactors for the purpose).

Not once did the IAEA detect these proscribed uses of the ‘safeguarded’ IRT reactor.

The US military clearly believed the IRT and Tammuz II reactors represented a proliferation threat and bombed them in 1991.

The IAEA (1997, p.53) states that the IRT reactor was of “very limited usefulness as a plutonium production reactor” but made a “useful” contribution to the nuclear weapons research and development program.

Iraq’s accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty was a net positive for its nuclear weapons program. Safeguards did little to thwart the program, and NPT accession facilitated technology transfer. IAEA safeguards inspector Roger Richter resigned in 1981, having written to the US State Department the year before stating: ‘The most disturbing implication of the Iraqi nuclear program is that the NPT agreement has had the effect of assisting Iraq in acquiring the nuclear technology and nuclear material for its program by absolving the cooperating nations of their moral responsibility by shifting it to the IAEA. These cooperating nations have thwarted concerted international criticism of their actions by pointing to Iraq’s signing of NPT, while turning away from the numerous, obvious and compelling evidence which leads to the conclusion that Iraq is embarked on a nuclear weapons program.” (Quoted in MacLachlan and Ryan (1991); see also Nucleonics Week, June 25, 1981, p.3.)


ASNO has a track record of making false and misleading statements. Numerous other examples could be provided in addition to those included in this paper. Since ASNO has proven itself unwilling to redress this problem, the Commonwealth government should hold ASNO to account.


Anon., November 12, 1990, “Blix Says IAEA Does Not Dispute Utility of Reactor-Grade Pu for Weapons,” Nuclear Fuel, p.8.

Blix, H., November 1, 1990, Letter to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC.

Carlson, John, December 21, 1998, Evidence before Joint Committee on Treaties, <>.

Carlson, John, 2000, “Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective”, Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.

Carlson, John, November 15, 2002, Australian Financial Review, Letter to the Editor. <>

Carlson, John, 2005, supplementary submission 33.1 to
House Standing Committee on Industry and Resources, Inquiry into developing Australia’s non-fossil fuel energy industry, <>
or direct download: <>.

Carlson, John, November 27, 2006, supplementary submission 30.2 to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Inquiry into Uranium Sales To China, < jsct/8august2006/subs2/sub30_2.pdf>.

El Baradei, Mohamed, 2004, Quoted in James Traub, “The Netherworld of Nonproliferation”, New York Times, June 13.

El Baradei, Mohamed, 2005, <>.

Green, Jim, 2002, Myth of the Peaceful Atom: Research Reactors and Nuclear Weapons,

Greenpeace, September 1, 1999, “Confidential diplomatic documents reveal U.S. proliferation concerns over Japan’s plutonium program”, media release.

Hamza, Khidhir, 1998, “Inside Saddam’s secret nuclear program”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October, Vol.54, No.5.

International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997, “Fourth consolidated report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency under paragraph 16 of Security Council resolution 1051 (1996)”, IAEA Document S/1997/779, Vienna, Austria: IAEA, October, <>

Kang, Jungmin, Peter Hayes, Li Bin, Tatsujiro Suzuki and Richard Tanter, 2005, “South Korea’s nuclear surprise”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February, Vol.61, No.01, pp.40-49, <>.

Koutsoukis, Jason, November 9, 2002, “Has anybody seen Australia’s uranium?”, Australian Financial Review, pg. 21.

MacLachlan, Ann and Margaret Ryan, 1991, “Allied bombing of Iraqi reactors provokes no safeguards debate”, Nucleonics Week, January 31.

SA Parliamentary Inquiry Into The Tailings System Leakage

WMC was not financially penalised for it’s failure to prevent escape of the contaminated water.

Due to the immense public outrage that such a breach of public
trust could happen, a major parliamentary inquiry was setup to
investigate the cause of the problem, possible solutions, and comment
on ‘the
desirability of the Department of Mines and Energy having prime
responsibility for environmental matters in relation to mining

Overall Conclusions

  • credit for calling attention to the leak was due to Dr Phil Crouch of the SA Health Commission.
  • WMC and the Dept. of Mines & Energy and the Dept. of
    Environment were reluctant to acknowledge that there was a leak.
    Acknowledgement eventually occurred in May 1993.
  • By August 1993 an initial estimate had been made of the magnitude of the leak.
  • Government departments and WMC discussed the drafting of a press release in November 1993.
  • In view of the above, the Minister for Mines &
    Energy, Mr Blevins, should have known about the seriousness of the
    problem at Olympic Dam before the State elections in December 1993. The
    fact that a public announcement was not made until February 1994 is a
    damning indictment of the Labour and Liberal governments and of the
    Dept. of Mines & Energy.

    The inquiry into the leak at Olympic Dam clearly shows that even
    experienced mining companies like WMC still cannot properly manage
    their dangerous wastes.

    The leak at Olympic Dam was not an isolated event. According to
    WMC’s Annual Environmental Progress Reports (1994-95 and 1996) there
    were at least two other cases of leaks at WMC operations in Western
    Australia, and negligent mismanagement of their Yeelirrie trial uranium
    mine :

  • Groundwater monitoring at the Baldivis nickel residue storage
    facility indicated that ammonium sulphate has leaked into the
    groundwater adjacent to Lake Cooloongup.
  • At the St. Ives gold mine at Kambalda, water from a TSF is seeping into the local aquifer causing a rise in the groundwater.
  • The Yeelirrie trial mine, abandoned in 1983 when the ALP Three
    Mines Policy was introduced, had been left without adequate fencing and
    signs for more than 10 years. Drums of uranium were left exposed, used
    for road building and the open pit dam, with high levels of radiation
    and salts, open to the public for swimming (see the Yeelirrie page for more info).
  • There was no substantive, quantifiable, accountable response of the SA
    Government to the failure of the Tailings Retention System (TRS) at
    Olympic Dam.

    In the "bad old days" many embarrassing pollutants were
    disposed of by tanks and dams that "leaked". The cases of Roxby,
    Baldivis and St Ives suggest that we have progressed from leakage to
    seepage, but the result is much the same.

    More regulatory power may be given to the EPA and the Health
    Commission but the recommendations from the leakage inquiry call for too little too late.

    Principal Findings and Recommendations of Note

    Below are excerpts from the Nineteenth report of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of the Parliament of South Australia, released April 24, 1996, titled "Roxby Downs Water Leakage".

    page 49 :
    The Committee finds that the final design of the Olympic Dam
    tailings retention system was deficient in that there was only one
    storage area and no decant of tailings liquor was provided.

    The Committee also finds that the decision remove the coarse
    fraction from the tailings exacerbated these design deficiencies and
    made management of the system more difficult.

    page 49 :
    The Committee agrees that the concept of unlined evaporation ponds
    was a deficiency in the final design of the Olympic Dam tailings
    retention system.

    Comment :
    This, the first major finding of the committee, sets an unfortunate precedent – it got it’s terminology wrong, and thereby set the stage for confusion, a result which can be attributed to WMC.

    The above statement was actually referring to Tailings Storage Facility
    (TSF), which is only one element of the Tailings Retention System
    (TRS), the other elements include the Mine Water Evaporation Pond
    (MWEP) and Wash Water Evaporation Ponds (EP). The confusion can be
    traced to the WMC submissions and WMC literature which defines the TSF
    as being "Holding areas for tailings, sometimes referred to as a
    Tailings Retention System".

    What the finding refers to is that by not dividing the TSF into
    a number of cells so that the tailings could be rotated from one to
    another, and by not having a mechanism for drawing off excess liquid
    into a sealed evaporation pond, the tailings could not dry out
    sufficiently to provide a seal to the otherwise unsealed TSF.

    The above finding amounts to a condemnation not only of WMC and
    the SA Department of Mines & Energy, which approved of the changes,
    but of the environmental impact assessment process. After going through
    the motions of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), receiving
    submissions, and modifying it’s proposal, the operators were allowed to
    radically modify the design of the TSF, without public consultation,
    subject to the approval of the Department of Mines & Energy in
    consultation with the Health Commission and the Department of
    Environment & Planning.

    page 54 :
    While being satisfied that the approvals process
    was handled conscientiously and competently by the agencies
    involved…….the Committee is concerned that potentially valuable
    public comment or comment by disinterested experts was not available to
    the then joint venturers.

    Such comment may conceivably have alerted agencies or the joint
    venturers to the deficiencies in design…….and may also have helped
    to reduce some of the problems experienced with operation of the

    Comment :
    Thus the committee acknowledges this deficiency in the approvals process. It then goes on to recommend the following :

    page 132 :
    Recommendation 13
    The Committee
    recommends that the Minister for Mines and Energy reviews any statutory
    and practical impediments to the free flow of information about the
    environmental impact of Olympic Dam operations with a view to ensuring
    that all relevant information is freely available to interested members
    of the public.

    Comment :
    Indeed Recommendation 14 (below) states the need for more public scrutiny, but even here it is only for "information exchange" and not measures designed to improve assessment of environmental performance at Olympic Dam.

    As long as the Dept. of Mines & Energy (now Mines & Energy South Australia, "MESA") maintains the environmental regulator of the mine it has a clear and unequivocal conflict of interest. It is both the promoter and regulator of mining – two very opposing roles.

    This is contrary to the widely accepted practice of keeping industry and regulators at arms length as far as possible.

    Not only was the TSF radically modified but the modifications were such
    that they were clearly contrary to the design concept which formed the
    basis of the original proposal and it should have been apparent to the
    most junior mining engineer that the redesigned TSF would leak
    profusely. Both the joint venturers and the Dept. of Mines & Energy
    were clearly at fault in permitting such a TSF to be built.

    The fact that it was not the Dept. of Mines & Energy which
    raised the alarm, but Dr Crouch of the Health Commission, and the
    absence of any attempt until then, to carry out a mass balance is an
    indictment of the Dept. of Mines & Energy.

    Despite clear evidence that the Dept. of Mines & Energy is
    not the appropriate department to monitor environmental issues the
    committee made the following two recommendations :

    page 55 :
    Recommendation 4
    The Committee
    recommends that requests for approval for future developments at
    Olympic Dam beyond those considered in the course of the recent public
    Environmental Review should be made in a similarly public manner.

    Recommendation 5
    The Committee
    recommends that, as with the recent Olympic Dam Environmental Review,
    future reviews should be carried out in accordance with guidelines
    issued by the Minister for Mines and Energy which should be developed
    by the Minister following consultation with relevant agencies.

    Comment :
    Environmental Reviews and regulations should be set by the Environment
    Protection Authority in consultation with community, environmental and
    interested groups, not by an agency with a mission to promote mining.
    As pointed out above, this is a clear conflict of interest.

    The Dept. of Environment and Planning was presumably considered to be
    either incompetent or too radical to be trusted with environmental
    management. The Committee, however, seems to recognise the potential
    conflict of interest with Recommendation 15 :

    page 136 :
    Recommendation 15
    The Committee
    recommends that the Minister for Mines and Energy and the Minister of
    Environment and Natural Resources consult with the Olympic Dam
    operators and relevant government agencies with a view to establishing
    a system of periodic, independent, external, environmental audit
    arrangements in relation to Olympic Dam operations.

    Comment :
    The Roxby Indenture Act prevents such a process and until the Act is
    revoked entirely there can be no truly independent, external
    environmental assessment of the impacts of Olympic Dam.

    page 63 :
    The Committee finds that there were deficiencies in the monitoring and reporting systems in place at Olympic Dam….

    Comment :
    This finding is an understatement. The inadequacy of the
    monitoring and it’s regulation were pitiful. Despite constant problems
    with surface water entering boreholes, as late as November 1992, the
    operators had still not secured all bore holes against contamination by
    surface waters.

    page 73 :
    The Committee finds that the Olympic Dam tailings retention system
    did not receive the degree of informed supervision of its various
    components it required to operate efficiently as designed and that this
    inadequate supervision by the operators of the tailings retention
    system, particularly the system as extended in 1991, contributed to the
    massive leakage from it.

    Comment :
    This understatement stops short of accusing the operators of negligence.

    page 87 :
    The Committee finds that, although admitting difficulties of
    interpretation, the operators were reluctant to accept that a leakage
    from the tailings retention system was occurring, despite mounting
    evidence to that effect.

    Comment :
    One disturbing aspect of this denial was the claim by WMC that a
    localized leak was not a breach of the restricted release zone (RRZ)
    because the zone extends underground indefinitely! WMC argued that as
    no lower boundary had been defined, and the leakage went straight down,
    there was no breach of the zone, and in any event the leakage would be
    returned to the mine.

    WMC also tried to deny the deficiencies in the design and operation of the TSF :

    page 87 :
    The Committee finds that, confident of the benign impact of any
    seepage, the operators were reluctant to admit deficiencies in the
    design and difficulties with the operation of the tailings retention
    system which were contributing to the leakage from it and that this
    reluctance coloured their reporting of operations at Olympic Dam and
    delayed measures necessary to understand the leakage and reduce its

    Comment :
    This recommendation refers to the fact that the operators relied on
    laboratory studies to support their contention that any leakage would
    be blocked by the underlying limestone. This ignores defects in the
    limestone structure and advice from mining consultants.

    page 87 :
    The Committee finds that it was only when the leakage was too big to
    ignore or to explain away and only in response to hard prompting from
    regulatory agencies that ad hoc operational changes were converted into
    radical remedial action to alter the original defective design concept.

    Comment :
    When this "radical remedial action" was finally taken, the agency which
    did the prompting was not, as one might have expected, the Dept. of
    Environment or the Dept. of Mines & Energy, but the Health
    Commission, especially Dr Phil Crouch. The Dept. of Mines & Energy
    was as reluctant as the operators to accept the obvious. Basic measures
    like doing a mass balance, ie., comparing the liquid put into the TRS
    with the amount lost by evaporation, were not even attempted until

    The report then goes on to make a few more findings and proceeds to a gigantic leap of faith concerning the harmful effects :

    page 87 :
    The Committee finds that the monitoring systems designed in part to
    detect leakage from the Olympic Dam tailings retention system were

    page 95 :
    The Committee finds that the leakage is not attributable to any
    single cause and that, although it does not come from any single
    source, the minewater evaporation pond has made a significant
    contribution to the amount of leaked liquid.

    page 108 :
    The Committee finds that, on the basis of current evidence, there
    have been no harmful effects to employees, the local community or the
    environment arising out of the leakage from the tailings retention
    system at Olympic Dam and that it is highly unlikely that any such
    harmful effects will emerge in the future.

    Comment :
    Despite recognising a "lack of knowledge about what has happened to the
    leaked liquor under Olympic Dam" and that "more scientific studies are
    obviously necessary", the report confidently asserts that there has
    been no harmful effects to date and any such effects are "highly
    unlikely" to emerge in the future.

    Such polarized findings can hardly be an oversight. Bearing in mind
    that the mine is expected to have a life of more than 100 years and
    that many of the radioactive contaminants in the ground under the TRS
    will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, it is very hard
    to see where the Committee finds it’s confidence.

    page 123 :
    As in its Sellicks Hill Quarry Cave report,
    having looked at some of the mistakes of the past, the Committee is
    anxious to look positively to the future and to make recommendations
    which will prevent their reoccurence and increase public confidence in
    the operations.

    Comment :
    Thus it becomes clear that the Committee is not
    intending to seriously question Olympic Dam’s competence in properly
    managing it’s own operations, the Inquiry is merely an exercise in
    public relations.

    page 126 :
    Recommendation 11
    The Committee recommends that the operators be encouraged to continue
    their commitment to improving their environmental management of Olympic
    Dam operations and that government agencies commit themselves to
    establishing environmental goals and overseeing their attainment while
    leaving the prime responsibility for day to day environmental
    management to the operators.

    Comment :
    In one sentence the Committee is openly critical of the recalcitrant
    behaviour which Olympic Dam displayed in their concern over the
    seepage, that the tailings retention system did not get the degree of
    professional supervision such a system unequivocally demands, and yet
    they are still allowed responsibility for their own environmental
    management despite proven gross incompetence ? This is clearly

    page 131 :
    However, with the company, the Committee sees considerable benefits in
    the Olympic Dam operations being more ‘open to public scrutiny’.

    Comment :
    The Roxby Indenture Act provides a secure channel
    between the company and the government in order to fast-track approvals
    and permits and thereby avoid rigorous public scrutiny. If "being more
    open to public scrutiny" is going to achieve anything, it would have to
    involve the removal of the Roxby Indenture Act. So far this is not
    being considered at all.

    page 132 :
    Recommendation 14
    The Committee recommends that the Minister for Mines and Energy consult
    with the Olympic Dam operators, other relevant state and Commonwealth
    agencies and other interested bodies with a view to providing a forum
    for information exchange and policy consultation among groups on the
    effect of operations at Olympic Dam on the environment.

    Comment :
    The Federal Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, has released a
    press statement saying that such a forum is currently being planned. As
    noted above, the recommendation is for "information exchange" and not a
    two way dialogue as it is being marketed as. It remains to be seen that
    even if such a form were established whether it would be anything more
    than a sleek public relations campaign.

    page 136 :
    The Committee finds that although there is a separate, fully
    professional environment group within the Department of Mines and
    Energy committed to a high standard of environmental management, this
    does not overcome the public’s perceived lack of objectivity of the
    regulatory process currently in place in relation to the Olympic Dam

    Comment :
    Until the Roxby Indenture Act is revoked there is no "perceived" lack
    of objectivity on behalf of the public at all – environmental
    regulation of a large mining operation by a body with a mission to
    promote mining is a clear and unequivocal conflict of interest.

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