Fukushima Nuclear Accident - Statement in Parliament

COUNCIL Thursday, 14 April 2011

Fukushima nuclear plant accident - Statement

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral) [5.50 pm]: Since the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March, Greens parliamentarians and party members around the world have been very concerned for the people of Japan, including our friends and colleagues whose lives changed on the day of the earthquake. Japan faces a very long recovery and rebuilding effort from an event that took such a short time. As someone who knows about geology, I am deeply aware of the sheer unforgiving force of an earthquake and the magnitude of that much water moving that fast. I am joined by my Greens colleagues in being amazed and heartened by the actions taken by the Japanese people in their recovery efforts: their ingenuity and improvisation and their capacity to organise on large scales is being tested greatly; how the Japanese people have met the test of cooperation within their communities; how efficiently they have moved to house and care for the displaced; and how they support the grieving and traumatised. All are different kinds of life-saving work, but crucial during the early stages of surviving a catastrophe on this scale. How quickly, also, have the Japanese people acted on the realisation that they do not need to use so much electricity. Electricity consumption has, out of necessity, reduced dramatically in big city centres, but this situation has advanced the idea that places do not need to be seen from space to be absolutely fantastic, interesting and prosperous places.

Acts of international support received in their hour of need have been important messages of solidarity for Japanese people. I wish to join my colleague Senator Scott Ludlam’s acknowledgement in federal Parliament of the speed with which the Australian government offered and delivered aid and assistance.

This week, on Tuesday, in the month of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, the Fukushima nuclear plant accident was classified a level 7 incident—the worst possible type of nuclear event. I served on the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council of the federal government’s nuclear regulatory authority before serving this term in Parliament, and therefore know what it means for several nuclear reactors to experience serious power outages and fires for over a month, leading to radioactive and radiation leakages—some of them very large, others smaller—into the air and ocean. I know what it means for the workers on 10-minute shifts risking their lives, working to fight a radiation fire that they cannot see. The radiation levels are thousands of times those permitted normally. I cannot imagine what it means, however, for the Japanese people whose land, food and agriculture are at serious risk of contamination. I cannot imagine not letting my child drink water from a tap. I cannot imagine not returning to my home because it is now part of an exclusion zone that will be depopulated for many generations. I am aware of the science, the current thinking about acceptable levels of radiation, and level 7 disaster radiation releases are far from being acceptable for human health, water, fish, plants and all living things. Much of the actual damage, the cancers and mutations, will not be seen for a long time; in some cases, decades. Radiation works in mysterious ways and that is something the nuclear industry absolutely banks on—literally. It banks on the fact that radiation cannot be seen, tasted or smelled and that the damage shows up a long time later.

The Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, made up of Aboriginal people from all over Western Australia and their allies, met on 4 April under the slogan, “We Can’t Close the Gap by Digging a Deeper Hole”.

Traditional owners from the Pilbara, the Kimberley, the Goldfields, the Great Victoria Desert, the Central Desert, the Gascoyne, Perth and the South West all say that on a good day Australian uranium becomes radioactive waste; on a bad day it becomes fallout. They express their profound regret that Australian uranium bought by TEPCO could be what is contaminating the sea water, food chain and gene pool. These Australian people are joined by others who have opposed Australia being the source of uranium, which is causing so much long-term damage, risk, alarm and controversy. I take this opportunity to seek leave to table their conference statement.

Yvonne Margarula, traditional owner of the lands on which the Ranger uranium mine sits in Kakadu National Park, summed up this sense of responsibility in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, which appeared on the front page of last Friday’s The Age. In it she expressed her profound sadness that radiation problems at Fukushima were possibly fuelled by uranium derived from her traditional lands. As we all know, the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu is currently out of action, with milling suspended until July and mining also suspended. It is likely that the uranium was from the Olympic Dam mine—a mine that uses 33 million litres of water each day at no cost whatsoever to BHP. In the driest state in the driest continent on earth, we simply cannot afford to waste that much water. The Greens globally agree that the energy future is renewable rather than radioactive, and calls on the Western Australian government to join the actions of the German, Swiss, Chinese and Venezuelan governments and to pause and conduct a thorough review of its responsibilities, and of the risks and consequences of being a major uranium supplier, including our links to not only Fukushima and the many other reactors around the world burning Australian uranium, but also the nuclear weapons industry, which continues to hold the world to ransom, 66 years after the first use of nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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