HON ROBIN CHAPPLE(Mining and Pastoral)[2.37 pm]: I rise to speak on the motion. I think it is important to touch on the motion. When it was moved by my colleague, it was basically on the proviso “should uranium mining occur”. Quite clearly, we do not see the need for uranium mining, and I will expand on that shortly. However, should it occur, it needs to be, as far as possible, best practice, and that is, in essence, what my colleague Hon Alison Xamon was moving towards.

I want to talk about one aspect of the uranium industry. Quite often we talk about the results of Fukushima or the results of the Superphénix trials of the French. We talk about what happened at the Russian nuclear waste facility in the Ural Mountains. These are all places where there have been amazing accidents. The Superphénix ran for 27 days. It cost around $10 billion to build, and a further $10 billion has been spent trying to decommission it, and it has not been done yet. This is a reactor that failed. Of the 72 fast breeder reactors that were built in the world, only one survives, and that is in Russia, and it survives on the basis that it is providing hot water for the town. It does not even produce power. So members should understand how much money has been spent on subsidising the nuclear industry. If we go back to the American Price–Anderson act, America’s superannuation was basically confiscated to subsidise the nuclear industry. It has been a failed economic experiment, let alone a failed experiment in nuclear power.

Let us look at some of the methods of mining, which is why, if we are to have uranium mining in this state, we want world’s best practice. In situ leach mining is being proposed to a large extent by the 100-plus uranium miners that are exploring in Western Australia to date. I repeat that: 100-plus corporations have identified that they are exploring for uranium in Western Australia. In situ leach mining is when we inject sulfuric acid or alkaline material, which is nitric acid quite often, or carbonate such as sodium bicarbonate or ammonium carbonate, into the aquifer. Dissolving oxygen is sometimes added to the water to mobilise the uranium. ISL of uranium ores started in the United States sometime in the early 1960s. The first uranium ISL mining in the US was in the Shirley Basin in the state of Wyoming, which operated from 1961 to 1970, using sulfuric acid in the water column. Guess what? They cannot get the sulfuric acid out of the water column. I will shortly tell members what has been released into those areas. At the end of 2008, there were four in situ leach uranium mines in the United States, operated by Cameco, Mestena and Uranium Resources, all using sodium bicarbonate. Significant ISL mines have been operating in Kazakhstan and Australia. The Beverley uranium mine in Australia is an operating ISL mine. The Honeymoon uranium mine is also an ISL uranium mine.

We talk about self-regulation as opposed to regulation. I will just touch on some of the issues dealt with by the radiation health committee of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, which I served on for three years. One of the major problems in this nation is the lack of regulation. We establish regulatory impact statements, which are merely guidelines to the states; they have no legislative power. ARPANSA and the radiation health committee have for years been trying to formalise those regulations so that they would apply to all states. Currently, they do not. They are very good regulatory impact statements, but they do not imply compunction and therein is the need for really high-level regulatory guidelines.

I will just quickly touch on the fact that ISL is banned in most of America now. Because ISL contaminated so much of the groundwater and so many regional aquifers, it has been banned. ISL, as I said, will be one of the most significant mining types used in the calcrete regions of Western Australia, so we need to know at some level the sorts of impacts there can be. I turn to Königstein in Germany, which was an ISL mine. A total of 100 000 tonnes of sulfuric acid was injected with leaching liquid into the ore deposit. At present, 1.9 million cubic metres ofleaching liquid is still locked in the pores of the rock underground. That has led to the water column—I am reading through some data—drinking water standards having 400 times the permissible level of cadmium, 280 times the level of arsenic, 130 times the level of nickel and 83 times the permissible level of uranium. This liquid presents a hazard to not only the aquifer that is important for the drinking water, but also the broader agricultural community.

ISL operations have consistently contaminated water all around the world wherever they have operated. In Western Australia, we have our own example. There is a little-known five-spot test mine at a place called Manyingee near Onslow on what is referred to as the Twitchen road. It took us many years to find out what went on at Manyingee. It produced about five tonnesof uranium as a test mine and used a single-spot in situ leach mine. Proper in situ leach mining might be up to 100 spots. The company guaranteed that it would be able to clean up the water column adjacent to the river—sorry, I have forgotten the name of it—that runs down to Onslow. The company guaranteed that it could clean it up, but after nine years of trying, the Environmental Protection Authority eventually agreed that it could not be done and the water column still remains completely polluted. Therefore, it is a system that does not work.

I will turn quickly to South Australia’s uranium mine, the Beverley in situ leach mine, and quote some reported accidents that have occurred in relation to the injection of in situ leach. On 1 May 2002, there was a spill of almost 7 000 litresof brine solution containing uranium. On 5 May 2002, there was a spill of 14 900 litres of water containing uranium. On 7 June 2002, there was a spill of 1 500 litres of injection fluid that contained sulfuric acid. On 13 June 2002, there was a spill of 17 000 litres of brine solution. On 8 December 2004, there was a spill of approximately 2 300 litres of mining solution containing uranium. The list goes on, but the most recent accident was on 19 February 2011. It was a spill of 15 000 litres of injection solution containing uranium. Therefore, we can see that even using modern standards, things do not work.

Hon Max Trenorden: I’ve been to the Beverley mine; that’s what it is about.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: It is about environmental spills.

Hon Max Trenorden: The uranium’s in the saline solution. If you pull it out of the water and spill it, what’s the difference?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Yes, but the company will never clean it up.

Hon Max Trenorden: But it’s there! It’s already there.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: The member has not listened to what I have been saying. Let me just continue.

Hon Max Trenorden: I’ve been there. Have you ever been there?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Yes, I have—many times. I have also been to Rum Jungle and I have been to most of the uranium mines —

Hon Max Trenorden: I’ve been to Beverley.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: I’ve been to Lake Way and helped clean up the uranium there. The minister knows about that.

Hon Max Trenorden: Uranium is suspended in saline water.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Absolutely.

Hon Giz Watson: It’s under the ground, isn’t it?

Hon Max Trenorden: It’s under the ground—that’s right.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Giz got it! That’s really good.


Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Anyway, moving on. After the last election, the National Party signed an agreement with the government about royalties for regions. I will read from the letter from Hon Colin Barnett to Mr Brendon Grylls in relation to royalties for regions. There is a fundamental reason I do this that will become apparent in a minute. The letter states —

In order to ensure that programs such as the above —

There is a list of programs that could be for royalties for regions —

and more can be delivered, the Liberal Party is pleased to join the National Party in committing to a policy of returning to regional Western Australia an amount equivalent to 25 per cent of mining and petroleum royalties received by the State in each year.

As discussed, the Liberal Party agrees that this policy be underpinned by the following broad principles:

·          An amount equivalent to 25 per cent of mining and petroleum royalties received by the State will be invested in the regions (Liberal Party policy to lift the ban on uranium mining will add to WA’s royalty revenues);

Therefore, the royalties for regions deal is quite clearly attached to uranium mining.

I will go back to the issue of in situ leach mining. I am following what various corporations are doing around the state. I have a view that Brendon Grylls’ move to the Pilbara might be fortuitous when we come to look at the proposed uranium mining in the central wheatbelt. Mindax and Quasar Resources, which are wholly owned by General Atomics out of America—a US company that manufactures weapons and owns the Beverley uranium mine in South Australia—have been exploring for uranium in the central wheatbelt.

Hon Max Trenorden: “Wholly owned”—are you absolutely sure of that?

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: Yes, absolutely. They have found a number of deposits that will be suited for in situ recovery, which is the very process that I have just been talking about. It is a mining method banned in most parts of the world. The uranium project is called the Mukinbudin project and comprises two leases—namely, E70/2920 and E77/1405. As I have already explained, in situ leach mining uses the following processes: water with either sulfuric acid or alkaline fluid being injected into the uranium deposit. These deposits sit in the heart of Mr Grylls’ electorate and, I am sure, would cause him a serious backlash, especially in respect of the deal struck between the two parties that I have just read out.

Hon Max Trenordeninterjected.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: One has to remember what the in situ leach mining does to the water column. The farmers and the people in that area who wish to use that water column in the future —

Hon Max Trenorden: It’s saline.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I cannot see that Hon Max Trenorden has made a contribution to the debate at this stage. The opportunity awaits.

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: It is in a saline solution—agreed. But as I have already identified, it has freed up mercury, uranium and all those toxic heavy metals that make the water column unusable for the known future. The National Party must understand that that is the legacy that it is giving to the people in that region by supporting uranium mining. Does it understand? It has been read into Hansard, the National Party has the figures, and it knows what is contained in those water columns. That is the legacy that the National Party is giving to the people in its heartland—the wheatbelt.

Go to top