Nuclear status quo in federal environmental law review
Mineral Policy Institute and Friends of the Earth Australia
Media Release ‒ 20 July 2020
National and state environment groups have given a cautious welcome to the continuation of long-standing protections against nuclear risks in the current statutory review of the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act – Australia’s federal environmental laws. The interim report released today has stated that the Commonwealth should maintain the capacity to intervene in uranium mining and made no recommendation to change existing prohibitions on nuclear activities, including domestic nuclear power.
Civil society groups made a joint submission to the EPBC review calling for the retention of the long standing ban on nuclear power and continuing federal oversight of uranium mining. The EPBC review committee’s interim report has flagged an intention to continue both protections despite lobbying from the Mineral Council of Australia to weaken these.
However, environment groups are concerned about a possible weakening of uranium mining regulations flagged in the interim report. Associate Professor Gavin Mudd, Chair of the Mineral Policy Institute, said: “The interim report proposes the further devolution of uranium mining regulation to states and territories, coupled to the establishment of ‘National Environmental Standards’. An obvious risk is that the standards will be weak, enforcement will be deficient as is already the case, and devolution will weaken the already inadequate oversight of uranium mining.”
“Uranium mining is different to other types of mining. Australia’s uranium mining sector has been dominated by license breaches, accidents, spills and a persistent failure to rehabilitate as promised. The last thing we need is a weakening of regulations and oversight. Apart from SA and NT every state and territory have a ban or prohibition on uranium mining. It is unsafe and unpopular and needs greater scrutiny, not less,” Assoc. Prof. Mudd said.
The Review’s interim report makes no recommendation to repeal the long-standing prohibition on domestic nuclear power. “Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous and unpopular,” said Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. “The prohibition in the EPBC Act reflects this. Nuclear is thirsty, produces high level nuclear waste for which there are no safe storage options and produces materials that can be diverted into nuclear weapons. It is a profound security and safety risk. And nuclear power is absurdly expensive.”
“Recent comments from the current Environment Minister and Opposition Leader show a clear bipartisan rejection of nuclear power. There is broad opposition among civil society as shown through a joint statement by over 60 organisations representing millions of Australians. Given the lack of social license for nuclear power in Australia we welcome the continuation of this prudent prohibition,” Dr Green said.
Following the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster the UN Secretary General called for all uranium producing countries to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the industry. Groups have called on the Morrison government to now hold an independent review of the uranium sector.