Environmental Justice Case Study: The Jabiluka Mine and Aboriginal Land Rights in Australia�s Northern Territory
Table of Contents
Controversy has surrounded uranium mining over the past few decades, but has become increasingly volatile in the wake of nuclear accidents like Chernobyl. Likewise, the byproduct tailings of uranium mining, which often contain 85% of the radioactivity of the original element, are being targeted as toxic environmental pollutants (Krockenberger, 1998). Communities near uranium production or tailings dumping facilities are becoming aware of the inevitable health dangers that result from uranium mining. The siting of uranium mines in people of color and low-income communities is tragically a global phenomenon. The siting of a uranium mine within the boundaries of Kakadu National Park in Australia�s Northern Territory has raised numerous environmental and health questions. Potential radioactive leaks into surrounding wetlands not only severely endangers the fragile ecosystem of the Alligator River system, the river system so vital to Kakadu National Park, but also threatens the health of nearby Aboriginal communities who depend on the river for drinking water and food. Jabiluka Site
(Image courtesy of www.uiuc.com.au)
In response to accusations, mining companies often highlight the economic benefits that uranium-mining facilities would create for the host community. The creation of jobs, a stimulated economy and financial security are touted as reasons host communities should embrace such opportunity. In the case of the Jabiluka mine site, which is currently being constructed on historically native lands, mining royalties have been offered in excess of $200 million dollars to the local Aboriginal community as a mitigation tactic (Energy Resources of Australia, 1998). The problem today is that Aboriginal communities are being asked to forego a healthy, traditional lifestyle in exchange for monetary compensation and job opportunity. Although mining companies often claim that the economic benefits offered by uranium mines far outweigh the deleterious environmental or health effects, they rarely address the problem of worker exposure to dangerous levels of radioactivity. In addition, the Australian government supports economic growth and therefore is a staunch proponent of the Jabiluka mine. Aboriginal communities are facing the bleak reality of losing cultural ties to their land and being exposed to health hazards, as the result of a government motivated largely by financial gains. Specifically, the Mirrar people, who live adjacent to and are directly affected by the Jabiluka site, feel the government has made no attempt to honor the "cultural value" of land to native people. They argue that the Australian government has continually traded the worth and tradition of Aboriginal community and culture for dollars (Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, 1998). [pic]
The Jabiluka mine controversy dates back to the early 1970s when Pancontinental Mining Limited discovered high-grade uranium deposits in the Northern Territory. As early as 1969, uranium had been found at what is now known as Ranger Mine, located about 240 kilometers east of Darwin. By 1977, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had been approved for the Ranger Mine and by 1979 construction was under way. In the mean time, Pancontinental Mining was preparing an EIS for an underground mine and mining facility at nearby Jabiluka (located only 20 kilometers north of Ranger Mine). During the EIS evaluation process, Kakadu National Park was declared, encompassing over 6,000 km2 of land. In 1982, the Northern Land Council, representing some Aboriginal landowners, approved mining at the Jabiluka location (a decision that is now claimed...