Labor Ends 25-Year Ban on New Australia Uranium Mines

Labor Ends 25-Year Ban on New Australia Uranium Mines

Australia’s main opposition Labor Party has dropped its 25-year-old ban on new uranium mines, paving the way for industry expansion.

Delegates at the party’s annual conference voted today to support Labor leader Kevin Rudd’s motion to overturn the ban and allow the uranium industry to develop “under the most stringent conditions.” State governments have the power to reject proposals for new mines under the policy.

Australia has about 40 percent of the world’s known uranium, and nuclear energy and climate change have become central issues as the nation heads to a federal election this year. Prime Minister John Howard separately today outlined steps to boost uranium exports, and develop the nuclear industry.

“The policy is outdated and we need to participate in the global economy,” Rudd said in Sydney. “We are blessed in terms of our rich supply of energy resources and we need to develop them in a responsible way to combat climate change.”

Labor has led the Liberal-National coalition government in opinion polls since Rudd, 49, was elected leader on Dec. 4.

Conditions of Labor’s new policy include ensuring worker safety, only exporting to nations that have signed the treaty for non-proliferation and strengthening the international nuclear watchdog’s powers. Mining rights are administered regionally, and Labor runs all eight territories and states.

“I recognize the rights of states and territories in terms of each proposal put before them,” Rudd said.

Uranium Mines

Australia has three operating uranium mines: Energy Resources of Australia Ltd.’s Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Olympic Dam mine and Heathgate Resources’ Beverley mine in South Australia. A fourth, SXR Uranium One Inc.’s Honeymoon mine in the state, is due to start up within 12 months.

The uranium price reached a record $113 a pound this year. The price has soared as utilities and nations turn to nuclear energy to meet rising power demand, and on concern that coal- and oil-fired plants are increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

“Uranium is well and truly back on the agenda. Around the world, people are talking about nuclear stations,” Leigh Clifford, chief executive officer of Rio Tinto Group, told reporters in Perth yesterday. “Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second-largest producer of uranium, is in an excellent position to significantly expand our capacity and its something we’re looking pretty actively at the moment.”

Party Resistance

Rudd faced resistance from anti-nuclear forces within Labor who had pledge to continue the existing policy, which contributed to a 174 percent increase in the price of uranium in the past year. Nuclear protesters dressed in gas masks blocked the entrance of the convention center in Darling Harbor to oppose the move.

Separately, Howard, 67, outlined plans to spur the uranium industry, and pave the way for possible development of nuclear- energy production in Australia.

He asked ministers to report on ways to remove laws that hinder the development of the industry, to identify gaps in skills and training of workers, and prepare a campaign to address public concerns about nuclear energy, according to speech notes e-mailed to Bloomberg News.

Rudd faced opposition from Peter Garrett, former Midnight Oil musician and the Labor party’s environment and climate change spokesman, who says there are still risks over the disposal of nuclear waste and the proliferation of weapons.

Garrett’s Stance

“I don’t believe Australia should be any further into nuclear activities,” Garrett, 54, said in an interview April 11.

Garrett today lost a motion to not allow any new mines by 15 votes. He won a motion to ban uranium mines in national parks.

Labor maintained its lead in voter support over the ruling coalition, according to an ACNielson poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 23. Its support fell 3 percentage points to 58 percent from a month ago while support for the coalition rose the same amount to 42 percent, according to the poll of 1,107 people taken April 19-21.

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