Aborigines to block uranium mining after Japan disaster

Since Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant began leaking radiation after last month's earthquake and tsunami, those watching with consternation have included the Mirarr Aboriginal people of Australia's Northern Territory, who are determined to limit uranium mining on their land despite the promise of vast riches.

The Mirarr are the traditional owners of land where uranium has been mined for more than 30 years and exported all over the world. Tepco, which operates the Fukushima plant, is a long-standing customer of Ranger, the principal mine.

The senior traditional elder in the area, Yvonne Margarula, has written to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, expressing her people's sorrow about Japan's suffering, and their concern about the nuclear emergency.

"Given the long history between Japanese nuclear companies and Australian uranium miners, it is likely that the radiation problems at Fukushima are, at least in part, being fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional lands," she said. "This makes us feel very sad."

Ms Margarula also told Mr Ban that events in Japan had strengthened the Mirarr's resolve to oppose work at a second mine, named Jabiluka – the world's largest known undeveloped uranium deposit. Instead, they want to see Jabiluka incorporated into Kakadu, the World Heritage-listed national park where Ranger is also located.

Uranium mining has a troubled history in the area. The Ranger deposit – now operated by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), a subsidiary of the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto – was developed against the Mirarr's wishes. Jabiluka, also leased by ERA, has been in limbo since 1998, when thousands of people staged an eight-month blockade there at the Mirarr's urging.

Although the traditional owners have received royalties of more than A$200m (£129m) from Ranger, Ms Margarula told a parliamentary inquiry in 2005 that mining had "completely upturned our lives, bringing greater access to alcohol and many arguments between Aboriginal people, mainly about money".

She added: "Uranium mining has also taken our country away from us and destroyed it – billabongs and creeks gone for ever. There are hills of poisonous rock and great holes in the ground with poisonous mud."

Situated within the boundaries of Kakadu, the Ranger and Jabiluka leases were excluded when the national park was World Heritage-listed. Although the 70 landowners would reap billions in royalties if Jabiluka went into operation, placing them among the ranks of Australia's richest people, they want the site protected for ever. They have held a veto over its development since 2005.

Ms Margarula told The Age newspaper that the Mirarr's ancient "Dreaming" stories warned that a lethal power named Djang would be unleashed if their lands were disturbed. Her late father, Toby Gangale, had warned the Australian government in the late 1970s, when mining began at Ranger, that Djang "might kill all over the world", she said, adding: "No one listened to him."

Australia has the world's largest reserves of uranium, with great quantities identified at a mine called Olympic Dam, in South Australia.

The Mirarr's willingness to forgo untold riches may seem hard to believe, but it has a precedent. Last year, Jeffrey Lee, the traditional owner of a uranium deposit at Koongarra in Kakadu, gave the land to the national park.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?