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Comment: Abbott and Abe should be talking about Fukushima via SBS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be courted in Canberra this week. In chats with Tony Abbott both PM’s will no doubt be happy to discuss trade and troops. What is less likely to make the cut – but deserves top billing – is Australia’s role and responsibility in the continuing Fukushima nuclear disaster. Three years on the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has left a legacy of silent towns and shattered lives and continues to dog and derail Abe’s enthusiastic but deeply contested efforts to re-start Japan’s reactors.

It would be fitting for the Australian and Japanese PM’s to acknowledge the October 2011 statement by Robert Floyd, the director general of DFAT’s Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, that confirmed to the parliament that “Australian obligated nuclear material [uranium] was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors”.

It would be timely for the leaders to commit to an independent cost-benefit assessment of Australia’s uranium trade, as directly requested by the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon in the wake of the accident and supported by a recent Senate Inquiry as a pre-condition before any planned new uranium sales.

Aptly enough, the Australian uranium sector has been hard hit by the market fallout from Fukushima and low uranium prices have seen existing uranium mines close down. New uranium mining projects are being delayed and the sector is in serious trouble. And that’s before mentioning spills such as the December 2013 uranium tank collapse and the leak at Rio Tinto’s Ranger mine in Kakadu. Ranger got the federal go ahead to resume processing operations last month but the troubled site remains under pressure and under-performing.

Australia also continues to uncritically supply our existing uranium customers, despite evidence of unsafe practices in countries like South Korea. Our yellowcake deal with Russia also deserves greater scrutiny, especially in the light of escalating tensions in Ukraine, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has not carried out any inspections there since at least 2001. We aggressively push new uranium deals to countries like India, whose nuclear industry has been called unsafe by its own auditor general, and which point blank refuses to sign the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

PM Abe’s visit is an ideal time to reflect on the very nature of Australia’s uranium – it is not like any other mineral.

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