Naoto Kan, who was Prime Minister of Japan when the tsunami struck in March 2011 and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant, visited Townsville last week on his Australian tour. His theme was that nuclear energy is inherently, unavoidably, dangerous and that we should learn from the near-catastrophe three years ago and pursue renewables instead.
There was nothing new in his message but it was especially sobering when heard directly from the man who was ultimately in charge of handling the Fukushima crisis. His own change of heart about nuclear power came, by his own account, with the realisation that the whole of Tokyo – 50 million people – may have had to be evacuated and that such an undertaking would have led to the end of Japan as a functioning society. In the event, the worst was averted but the reality was still grim: thousands evacuated, families broken up, farms destroyed for years to come, and a damage-control project which is still in progress and, by some accounts, still in dire trouble (e.g. CBS, New Scientist, The Guardian)
The Townsville Bulletin interviewed Mr Kan while he was in town (click here to see their article) and ABC News covered his meeting with indigenous people near the Ranger mine and spoke to him about the Australian uranium trade; SBS also covered his visit.
After Mr Kan spoke to his attentive Townsville audience, local people took the lectern to talk about the nearby Ben Lomond uranium mine and why re-opening it was such a bad idea. Bill Laing, Managing Director of Laing Exploration Pty Ltd, Townsville-based international mining consulting company, presented an expert overview of the mining technology and concentrating process, with special attention to the risks in relation to the Burdekin River catchment; David Sewell of CAMBL then spoke about the political side of things.
The audience didn’t need much convincing, actually: common sense and common local knowledge are enough to tell us that a tailings dam 50km from Townsville is clearly very risky in the light of our frequent cyclones and the regular problems with Ranger mine’s dam (and the nickel refinery’s tailings dam at Yabulu, for that matter). The fact that any leaked radioactive material will be carried down Keelbottom Creek into the Burdekin, the main water supply for Charters Towers and the backup water supply for Townsville, merely adds weight to the obvious conclusion that the mine should never re-open.