Japan’s prime minister during the 2011 Fukashima nuclear power plant meltdown has called on the Queensland government not to resume uranium mining near Townsville.
Naoto Kan has just toured Australia with a simple message of renewable energy is good and nuclear is bad.
The visit comes as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott prepares to head to India to seal a yellow cake export deal.
Mr Kan visited Townsville in far-north Queensland to support locals who fear a mine could contaminate the regional water supply, by accident or through natural disaster.
“During my time in Australia I was able to visit the Ranger uranium mine and you can see the issue there of how to store the very highly contaminated radio active waste," Mr Kan said.
"I think this problem of waste management is shared by nuclear power plants in Japan and and in Fukushima and uranium mining here in Australia."
In 2012, Queensland's LNP government overturned a 32-year uranium mining ban.
“I would say to Mr Kan, he’s certainly entitled to his perspective in regards to the energy policy of his country, but the mining policy of Queensland is really a matter for us,” Queensland’s natural resources minister Andrew Cripps said.
“We’ve taken great care to put in place a modern frame work for the recommencement of uranium mining in Queensland to make sure when it does recommence it does at world's best practice.”
Mr Kan was prime minister during the 2011 Fukushima disaster. It converted him from atomic power champion to anti-nuclear campaigner.
He shut down all of Japan’s nuclear plants three years ago, sending the world's uranium prices plunging to ten-year lows, which they have still not recovered from.
That could change as the Japanese government hopes to resume nuclear energy production next year.
Ben Lomond is one of the richest deposits in Australia, but the low uranium price means it is currently unviable. It's 50 km from Townsville and was last mined more than thirty years ago.
"It’s hazardous, it’s very high risk, it's at the top of a water catchment that's our backup drinking supply. The risks associated with opening Ben Lomond are simply not acceptable,” said Townsville deputy mayor and Liberal National Party (LNP) member Vern Veitch.
“Townsville has declared itself a nuclear free city and one of the reasons for that is back in 1983 there was a small accident with exploratory drilling and the mine was shut down by the Queensland mining warden at that time.”
The greater Townsville region has 240,000 residents and that is projected to jump by 120,000 over the next 25 years.
“The mining warden found because of its location, subject to cyclonic conditions, extremely high rain fall the fact there are fractures and fissures underground and he said it’s a threat to public health,” said the spokesman for Citizens Against Mining Ben Lomond (CAMBL) David Sewell.
The opponents of Ben Lomond reopening say they are not against uranium mining, just that this one would be in the catchment of the flood-prone Burdekin River.
It has hit flood peaks of over 20 metres and they fear contamination would happen if there was an accident or natural disaster.
“I don’t believe they should be concerned,” said Mr Cripps
“In terms of the framework we’ve put in place, that EIS process will take into account the prevailing environment and weather patterns of the area and they will have to have contingency plans in place to accommodate that environment in north Queensland where they wish to mine.”
The Queensland government says it is ready and waiting to assess mining applications.