By: Margaret Mackay
“70 million tonnes of radioactive tailings to be dumped at the Roxby mine site each year without evidence of dust control is cause for concern”, says David Bradbury
A vigorous front moving across South Australia 22-25 September, with west to southwest winds averaging 60-70 km/h with damaging wind gusts in excess of 90 km/h are causing grave concerns for public health.
Fierce dust storms, nearly blotting out Sydney have reached New Zealand. The accumulating dust built momentum as violent winds carried it across Australia, originated at Woomera in the South Australian western desert also the site of the Maralinga Nuclear bomb tests where lethal plutonium from failed cleanup attempts will stay active for a quarter of a million years.
The Emu Field, site of the Totem 1 and Totem 2 tests is approximately 100km west of Coober Pedy in South Australia. Radiation signs still warn outback travellers of the lingering danger. Totem 1 (10 kilotons) was exploded at 07.00 on 15 October and Totem 2 (8 kilotons) was exploded 07.00 on 27 October 1953.
In the decade to follow, the bomb tests at Maralinga dispersed radioactive material over hundreds of square kilometres. Between 1960 and 1963, an estimated 22 kg of plutonium plus quantities of uranium were dispersed around the most contaminated of the test sites, Taranaki. Fallout from the 12 larger bombs covered mainland Australia and Fiji.
Plutonium is particularly harmful to radiosensitive human organs, like the lungs. It has a half-life of twenty-four thousand years.
Map tracing the dust storm Woomera is also situated next to the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam uranium mine currently hoping to expand its operations.
Academy Award nominated documentary maker David Bradbury has spoken out, raising public concerns of the red dust dumped onto east coast cities this week as concerning with BHP Billiton proposing to turn South Australia’s Olympic Dam uranium mine into an open-cut mine larger than Adelaide.
Minister for Mines and energy, Paul Holloway says that dust is a problem, which will need to be looked into at the Olympic Dam mine.
BHP Billiton have refused to discuss “in public,” an issue which has the potential to effect the health of the entire population of Australia.
The public are also wondering with the proposed life of the mine, where the water will come from to contain radioactive tailings of such magnitude.
David Bradbury is a former ABC trained radio journalist and a respected internationally recognised filmmaker with two Oscar nominations and a host of other prizes to his credit plus broadcasting docos around the world for the last 30 years.
David who has credits of four documentaries on nuclear issues says, “BHP Billiton’s environmental impact study which reflects that the 70 million tonnes of radioactive tailings to be dumped at the Roxby minesite each year without evidence of dust control, is alarming particularly in light of the growing cancer related illnesses across the country. We are talking about alpha radiation which these tailings contain and are known to be carcinogenic to humans and animals”.
David’s concern is that with the open-cut mine expansion that BHP Billiton is trying to achieve permission from state and federal governments to go ahead, with radioactive tailings left behind to blow over the heavily populated cities of the rest of Australia.
Bradbury whose humanitarian work had involved raising awareness of the many harmful facets of the uranium process, says, “The level of contamination brought to the surface and just dumped there by BHP Billiton every year for the life of the mine – up to 100 years – will be one of the, if not THE most environmentally criminal act of any mining company in the history of Australia”.
“It is not a melodramatic statement when you know what I know of the science of it, the radical impact and triggering of cancers at low levels of radiation once they enter the body and what they do to the human (or for that matter, any species…) once in the cell and its impact on the DNA”, said the filmmaker.
David continues: “This fact is not appreciated by our pollies, or the public health authorities who are behind the eight ball of what scientists without a similar voice in their media in Europe, Japan and Canada have been trying to point out for the last decade and more. We´re living under a false and outdated regimen of what is considered by public health authorities to be ´a safe level of radiation´our human bodies can withstand.
The mainstream media have had the game of misinformation all stitched up in not researching and challenging that which concerns the public on the health of generations to come. The Olympic Dam expansion is a monumental disaster if allowed to go ahead and will wash over the face of Australia forever.
Those tailings are radioactive for 4.5 billion years. Most of the radioactivity in the tailings stays in the fine dust once they extract the copper, gold and uranium.
It is only 1000 kms to Melbourne as the crow flies. 1350 km to Sydney as the wind blows. And that is the direction Easterly – that the prevailing winds blow from Roxby.
Seventy million tonnes each year dug out of the huge hole in the ground and dumped there for the next 100 years once they take out the valuable minerals. Radioactive polonium, thorium, radium, bismuth, radioactive lead…and what uranium they can´t finally extract is all left behind in the tailings and will be just dumped there according to BHPB´s hitherto released plans for ´environmental protection´.
Those radioactive heavy metals (above) are always found in association with uranium, are not commercially viable or of any monetary use to BHP. That is why they just want to dump them at the mine´s surface. Too huge a volume and people´s awareness on scarcity of water such that they will not be able to dump them under water in holding dams as they do now, to leach into the surrounding water table.
Then there is the release of radon gas into the surface of the air when they mine uranium, particularly open cut mine. Radon gas released from the dug up uranium is seven times heavier than air so it does not evaporate into ´space´ but hugs the earth and attaches itself to water molecules (which we or livestock or native animals drink), can be breathed into our lungs like the radioactive dust particles from the tailings thus triggering cancers and birth defects or attaches itself to growing crops and vegetation which we also eat.
Radon gas has a radioactive half life of 3.8 days (when airborne) so in that half life it can easily blow on a light wind of 20 kph to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane etc.
People don´t even know they are breathing it in because it is odourless. So the triggering of cancers begins… which doesn´t come out for 20 years or more. And how can you shaft home responsibility to the board of BHP and its CEO then who will be long gone or moved onto greener pastures in that time?
In kids radon or radioactive particles inhaled or eaten dust has a rapid impact, with maybe five years to trigger childhood or teen cancers because their cells are dividing more rapidly than adults who have stopped growing.
So the mutations in the cell from either the radioactive dust inhaled, eaten or from the radon gas alpha particle inhalation, ingestion etc precipitates the cancers faster in a child in the womb, young kids or teenagers because the cells are dividing faster and the mutated cells are created and multiply faster in the young.
That´s what cancer is – mutated cells which multiply and form tumours as a result which then take over the body and finally destroy it”.
The South Australian Bureau of meteorology announced that gusts around 100 km/h have been observed at Coles Point and Woomera with a number of other locations such as Broken Hill reporting severe dust and others reporting gusts near 90 km/h.
The State Emergency Service advises that people should:
* Move vehicles under cover or away from trees;
* Secure or put away loose items around your property.
* Stay indoors, away from windows, while conditions are severe.
Photos: Margaret Mackay, Coober Pedy Regional Times