Wherever uranium miners move in to do what they do, human rights have a tendency to move out. That’s why the victory of Jeffrey Lee, who has secured protection for his land from uranium mining at Koongarra in Australia, sends a strong message to the nuclear industry that people must come before profits.
Jeffrey is senior custodian of Koongarra, about 12 square kilometres of land within the traditional area of the Dojk clan. The area, which is surrounded by a national park, also has a large uranium deposit. French nuclear giant AREVA has been eyeing the uranium with greedy eyes for some time now. But Jeffrey said no. “I could be a rich man. Billions of dollars… you can offer me anything but my land is cultural land.”
If you look at what AREVA had done in other countries with its uranium mining industry, you can well imagine why Jeffrey did not want to sell his land.
Look at AREVA’s toxic legacy in Niger – people’s homes contaminated and radioactive sludge leaking from storage pools.
Look at the more than 1,000 workers who fell ill while working at AREVA’s COMUF uranium mine in Gabon.
Look at the cover-up of a radioactive leak at the company’s KATCO uranium mine in Kazakhstan.
I could go on but I think you get the picture.
Not wishing to see his own lands subject to the same destruction, Jeffrey campaigned long and hard to protect the area. Finally, this year, he saw legislation that repealed the exclusion of Koongarra from Kakadu National Park. With Koongarra now part of Kakadu, the land is legally protected from uranium mining.
According to Aboriginal beliefs, the land includes places where the Rainbow Serpent entered the ground and a giant blue tongue lizard still lurks. The area also has rock art dating back thousands of years.
Who in their right mind would want to build a uranium mine in such a place?
It’s a great victory and one that should make the nuclear industry pause from putting its destructive, toxic and radioactive chase for uranium and profits ahead of people.
Jeffrey Lee’s victory is an important start. There are two other areas in Kakuda where mining has been allowed and should not be. One has had problems with contamination and water use for decades. Mining in the other has been halted by the determination of the people of the area who want it also included in the park.
Exploiting nuclear power means exploiting people and the environment. You can’t have one without the other. It’s time the nuclear industry faced up to that fact.