After Lifting Ban, Queensland Debates How to Transport Uranium Without Hurting Great Barrier Reef

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | November 1, 2012 3:35 PM EST

Lifting the ban in response to the forthcoming surge of global uranium demand is one thing. Now how to transport Queensland's uranium ore without disturbing and potentially destroying one of Australia's greatest and most sensitive environmental assets is another.

Queensland folks as well as its government are now in a huddle over how to move the nuclear ingredient yellowcake uranium material since it so happened that the ports nearest the state's uranium deposits are situated right next to Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.

The newly created Uranium Implementation Committee of Queensland, chaired by Central Queensland Councilor Paul Bell, had said it would consider all options, even shipping the radioactive uranium through the Great Barrier Reef.

Earlier this year, UNESCO warned that unless Australia makes major changes to its supervision, the Great Barrier Reef could be downgraded to a world heritage site "in danger."

Quite unfortunate though that the uranium deposits of Queensland are located in the state's north, of which its ports, Townsville and Cairns, are the major tourism destinations and gateways to the Great Barrier Reef.

Said ports, according to Mr Bell, could be used to export the radioactive material.

"We haven't seen any significant reaction to any of the options that we've probably started to look at in regards to ports - the way in which uranium transport would be carried out in Queensland," he told ABC radio.

"If a ship runs aground on the reef not only does it do damage physically, but if it's containing radioactive material like uranium ore that adds massively to the threat faced by the reef," Queensland Conservation (QC) director Toby Hutcheon was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It's still very early days but we think all options should be investigated," Mr Bell said.

Other options being lined up for consideration is exporting uranium through the Adelaide to Darwin rail line, he said.

"The discussion we'll be having with governments from Northern Territory and South Australia will be about how do you feel about more tonnage coming through your place," he said

"Is that something that you would support or would you see some reluctance and therefore giving us, I suppose, impetus to come back and to certainly have some further discussions with ports here in Queensland?"

But environmentalists had long argued the resumption of uranium mining in Queensland far outweigh the environmental risks over the perceived economic benefits.

"The government is talking up the economic opportunities, when at the same time you've got the world's biggest uranium deposit at Olympic Dam being mothballed because there's no demand," Mr Hutcheon said.

"The reality is the government should have done a feasibility study to find out the economic, social and environmental implications before making the decision," Mr Hutcheon said, noting Western Australia's experience which allowed uranium mining in 2008, but not a single mine has been built since then.

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