Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Olympic Dam dust and radiation

The problem of dust from an expanded and open cut Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs carrying radioactive particles across the Australian continent was mentioned in a previous post. It is one of two major problems associated with the expansion, the other being BHP $Billion's criminal wastage of the limited waters of the Great Artesian Basin.

Anti-nuclear filmmaker David Bradbury writes:

I totally agree with your outrage about BHPB squandering the water free of charge from the GAB. That should be enough in itself to knock the expansion on the head.

However what worries me most is the 70million tonnes (initially it was going to be 40million tonnes 'only'...) of radioactive tailings dumped on the surface of the minesite, ground into dust size particles to extract the yellowcake. The tailings dust size particles will be picked up by the big winds that whip the Centre and spiral around Australia - mostly in an easterly direction towards our population centres of Sydney and Brisbane, regional east coast Australia.

The radioactive tailings (from commercially unviable radioactive heavy metals waste tailings ALWAYS found with uranium) are radioactive polonium, thorium, lead, bismuth and radium. These fine radioactive particles will be swept over this land during the l00 year life
of the Olympic Dam open cut. At the moment the ten million tonnes a year of radioactive taiings are dumped in the holding dams
(see below) and somewhat isolated by the water above them. They cannot and will not deal with the 70million tonnes like that - the volume is too large annually and water is 'suddenly' an issue in the driest continent on earth.

Those radioactive tailings give off alpha radiation - it is the most deadly form of radiation with 20 times the 'hitting' power of gamma radiation. Alpha radiation does not travel very far in 'space' as it is thrown off by the unstable atoms. Alpha radiation can be easily stopped by a piece of paper intersecting its trajectory but any of that alpha bearing dust that enters the food chain or the water table can be digested into the body where once inside the cells it does its deadly work. Inside the body the reach of its radiation effect in diameter is five cells in any direction from the lodged alpha particle and it will have an affect on those cells.

The alpha dust or the radon gas (also emits alpha radiation) can breathed directly into the lungs of any species which comes in contact with it. It will become a time bomb for triggering cancers and birth defects in the host species. Alpha radiation interacts with the DNA once inside the cell and can lead to a break in what they call the double strand of the DNA.

A double strand break of the DNA is universally accepted by medical scientists as the precursor for tumours to develop because the DNA cannot repair itself and the mutation is passed onto the daughter cells. And so on. It can also lead to birth defects in the next generation or skip a generation and come out in the grandchildren as they've discovered with the grandchildren of atomic bomb blast human guinea pigs.

I cannot stress enough what a health and environmental disaster this will be for all of us if Olympic Dam goes ahead. It is unmanageable and unfathomable what it will do to the wider environment of Australia and all generations of all species who inherit this land hereafter. My research and understanding of the huge ramifications of the radiation fallout from the minesite is backed up by peer reviewed papers and the latest findings by scientists in Europe and North America.

I can give you the links to those papers about the latest findings of alpha radiation and how little an amount of radiation is needed to cause the double strand of the DNA to break. Then it gets highly technical and most politicians and media don't have the inclination or background to stretch themselves to understand the significance of this latest science.

David and his colleagues have a website with information on Olympic Dam, and resources including his All that Glitters is Not Gold DVD and a Roxstop kit.

The website can be accessed here:

Support Israeli conscientious objectors

Name: Tamar Katz

Age: 19

Location: Tel-Aviv

Why I am one of the Shministim:“I refuse to enlist in the Israeli military on conscientious grounds. I am not willing to become part of an occupying army, that has been an invader of foreign lands for decades, which perpetuates a racist regime of robbery in these lands, tyrannizes civilians and makes life difficult for millions under a false pretext of security.”

First Sentence: 28th Sept. - 10th Oct. 2008 (12 days)

Second Sentence: 12th - 30th Oct. 2008 (18 days)

Third Sentence: 1st - 22nd Dec. 2008 (21 days)

Please take a moment to look at this link:

Young Israelis are refusing to join the Israeli Army to oppress Palestinians. They are 19 year olds who are refusing to do compulsory military service. On the website are personal profiles of some of these young people, a two-minute video, and an email to be sent to the Israeli Minister for Defence.

These young people are refusing to be part of an army of occupation.

Please support them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death in the dust

(Advertiser image of a dust storm last week coming in over Coober Pedy from the western desert or Maralinga lands. Photo: Peter Rowe, the Outback Mailman)

Dust storms are a way of life for outback South Australians.

They come rolling across the paddocks and open country like giant red tsunamis, as though God was kneading a huge lump of red dough and the outer edge was coming right at you.

When they hit, it’s choking time. It’s in your eyes, your hair, all over your teeth.

You can’t drive, or you do so at your peril.

If you’re inside, you just sit it out, all the time watching fine particles settling on each piece of furniture despite the locked windows and the door snakes.

If you’ve got sheep, and it’s in between shearing times, you can sometimes lose quite big numbers to dust and sand storms. The sand gets in the wool, the sheep get tired and heavy with the weight and collapse into little miniature sand hills, and then can’t get up again to feed or get to water. You can try and lift them and get them walking, but it doesn’t do much good. Those that get to the overflow around a tank are so heavy that they can’t get themselves out of being bogged. They die and then you have to rope them to a ute and try to drag them far enough away so that they don’t foul the area. If you’re slow and steady with the pulling, the whole carcass comes out pretty cleanly. If you’re not, or the decomposition has set in…..

There have been some big dust storms around Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges and the APY Lands lately.

(Photo, above, from Nigel Carney at Copley in the Flinders Ranges, showing last week's dust storm)
If the wind heads south, Adelaide and the coastal regions get the dust. If the winds head east, South Aussie dust has been known to get as far as New Zealand.

All of which raises some pretty interesting questions with the Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs set to change from an underground operation to a three kilometer long and one kilometer deep open cut mine, the largest in the world (see David Bradbury's excellent short introduction to Olympic Dam, All That Glitters, in the clip below).

SA Premier Mike Rann has told the SA Parliament that the expanded Olympic Dam mine will be moving 1.5 million of tones of rock a day. You wont even need the special atmospherics of a major outback dust storm to get radioactive particles and radon gas swirling around the mine site on a daily basis with that much rock being moved in that dry, arid location.

However, when one of these dust storms passes of the mine and sucks this material up into a cloud that might deposit its radioactive content in any direction over hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers, the we have a problem.

Mine owner BHP $Billion has not yet said how it will address this problem. In fact, as reported in a previous post, it’s too busy trying to sweet-talk the Rann government into changing the state’s asbestos diseases Act so that it does not have to pay compensation to asbestos victims who worked for it in the Whyalla shipyards.

The expansion of Olympic Dam tramples on the rights of indigenous owners of the land which contains it; will accelerate the depletion of the waters of the Great Artesian Basin; will require a desalination plant at the top of Spencers Gulf where there will be brine discharge problems that will impact on fish breeding grounds.

And then there’s the dust.

You’ve just gotta love Bloody Hungry Profiteers!

Monday, December 08, 2008

BHP $Billion – Bloody Hungry Profiteer

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) was established in 1885 at the silver, lead and zinc mine at Broken Hill in western New South Wales.

It became one of Australia’s largest monopolies; indeed, it was known as “the big Australian”.

It was also known as a ruthless blood-sucking mongrel of an employer, Bloody Hungry for Profits and rabidly anti-worker.

In 2001 it merged with British imperialist giant Billiton to become BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, with dual headquarters in London and Melbourne.

As the merged company, BHP $Billion continues in the oppressive and reactionary footsteps of its predecessor.

BHP demands protection from liability for asbestos compensation

Its latest crime against its workers is to demand of the “pro-business, pro-growth and pro-mining” South Australian Labor government that it weaken laws on asbestos compensation introduced by the same government in January 2006.

Emboldened by Labor’s rebadging as a party of corporate whoredom, as a party slurping from the trough of crony capitalism, as the party that trashed injured workers’ entitlements to fair compensation earlier this year, as the party that has slashed corporate taxes in its last couple of Budgets, as the party that has acted with unrestrained bellicosity towards the education workers' union in their year-long dispute over pay and funding, BHP $Billion obviously believes it is in with a chance of getting Labor to cave in to big corporate pressure.

The 2006 Act has two features that are of particular concern to BHP $Billion.

The first is that it defines 1971 as the year from which employers can be expected to have known of the dangers of asbestos.

The company wants this brought forward to 1979, just coincidentally the year after which it closed the Whyalla shipyards where thousands of its employees were exposed to asbestos and from whom there has been a steady stream of asbestos-related compensation claims. Changing the date would absolve BHP $Billion from liability for these claims.

The second feature is that the Act provides for “exemplary damages” above and beyond normal compensation claims to be awarded against any employer who knew of the dangers of asbestos and failed to protect its workers.

The Bloody Hungry Profiteer says that the two provisions make the SA Dust Diseases Act 2005 unfair, “manifestly unjust”, for employers.

Perhaps we should pause for a moment here and reach for the tissue box!

Labor a party of capitalism and will serve business interests

The recent track record of the so-called Labor government has caused asbestos victims support groups to fear that the ugly demands of BHP $Billion might just be achievable.

Asbestos Victims Association SA president Terry Miller said he was worried that the government would be swayed by BHP $Billion’s demands. “The way I read BHP’s submission is that they want the whole thing (the Act) revamped…they knew what dangers (asbestos) caused…it makes me angry…”

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said he was appalled at BHP's submission.

"I thought it was contemptible, BHP Billiton's profit last year was about the size of Australia's surplus until recently ... they can afford to compensate their former workers," Mr Parnell said.

`The Greens will not be supporting any such changes."

In August, BHP Billiton recorded an annual net profit of $17.7 billion.

Workers see through BHP $Billion

Former Whyalla shipyards workers are not fooled by BHP $Billiton. Des, of Edinburgh (SA), stated, “Having worked in the Whyalla shipyard for nearly 20 years, scraping asbestos from underneath decks, bulkheads etc to allow marking holes, ports etc and carrying asbestos blankets to protect timber under the ships to allow burning we were never given any protective clothing at all. I am waiting for my turn to come and try and put as much into my family’s life as I can now before it hits me. My brother in law has recently been diagnosed with it.”

Dave Reynolds of Salisbury East wrote of watching his father die from mesothelioma, “Having watched my father literally suffocate to death in front of his family’s eyes at the hands of Mesothelioma, all the while fighting to gain some sort of compensation to allow him the drugs, care and equipment that should rightly have been afforded to him. The respondent in his claim was, surprise surprise.....The Government......FACT:- During his trial evidence was given that they knew of the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1920's and 30's THIS IS IRREFUTABLE FACT, so how can they rightly argue that they didn’t know. Now we are going to ask the government to rule on whether business knew in 1979, what a joke.....they knew and in their own interest to save further litigation, I bet they rule in favour of the big end of town, denying natural justice to those to follow after my father.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Amanda Day of Mt Gambier, who said “As a daughter of an Asbestos Victim I cannot believe that this is still being argued. The plain fact is that you only get Mesothelioma and other related diseases from ingesting Asbestos. This is a well known fact and has been since the 1950's but still it was allowed to be mined and put in products. There is no price on a life as far as I am concerned and BHP should hang their heads in shame. Walk a mile in the shoes of an Asbestos Victim or actually have to see your father die a slow painful death and then talk to me about compensation. Shame on you.”

Garry Haylock, whose wife Melissa died earlier this year of mesothelioma, said he was not surprised that victims' rights were still unclear.

"Nothing surprises me in politics or big business ... big businesses do not have morals, all they are interested in is profits for the shareholders, who are always screaming out for more," Mr Haylock said.

These are the voices of the Australian working class.

These are people who have had a genuine need for the tissue box, unlike BHP $Billion.

We will now see who the SA Labor government listens to, although the hedging mealy-mouthed response from Attorney-General Michael Atkinson’s spokeswoman that "at this stage (our emphasis) he is not minded to alter the provision of exemplary damages" but that he would have to consider all submissions before making a final decision, points in the direction of yet another eventual sell-out of workers’ rights.