Opinion: Open Letter to Western Australians about uranium miningDecember 10, 2023
Cauldron Energy’s CEO Jonathan Fisher discusses the current ban on uranium mining in Western Australia, which is becoming increasingly unpopular. He argues a realisation that nuclear energy is necessary for global decarbonisation, alignment with national defence policies, and the potential for new jobs is changing the conversation about nuclear energy around the world.
Western Australia is the world’s pre-eminent mining jurisdiction. And we West Australians are proud of that.
It is our mining industry that powers the Australian economy; providing thousands of highly paid jobs for our workers who reap the benefits. As a result, Western Australians enjoy incomes and standards of living that are the envy of the rest of the country if not the world.
In partnership with our unions, we have developed leading health and safety regimes making our industry the safest in the world. Our skilled workforce is able to operate large and complicated heavy machinery; in unforgiving and oppressively hot conditions or at depth, and operate complex processing plants containing extremely hazardous reagents, and do it safely. Day in and day out, our mining industry gets on with the job of providing raw materials to keep the world economy going.
WA has got it right in iron ore, gold, and more recently lithium.
But we are currently missing the opportunity concerning uranium. And it’s a significant opportunity that will only get more important as time goes on. So perhaps it’s worthwhile revisiting the status quo and assessing its appropriateness for the current day.
More specifically, it’s the WA Government that is missing the opportunity, not the people. Recent polling shows that most West Australians are pro-uranium mining across the voting spectrum. This shouldn’t surprise anyone – we are a pro-mining State. So why hasn’t the government listened – yet?
It is important to understand where the current WA Labor policy comes from; its drivers and frankly how it stacks up when challenged with logic and current real-world experience. Only then can we understand how to effectively counter these concerns; challenge long-held sacred cows and build a consensus across government to move our State forward.
Whilst there is certain to be several different concerns that drive the current policy, there are some that are crystal clear. The anti-uranium policy is driven by the left of the WA Labor party. This faction does not account for the majority of the population but does accommodate its most fervent and ideological fringes. One of the more vocal supporters of the ban is Steve McCartney, Secretary of the WA chapter of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. In August 2023 the AMWU WA Secretary provided the following comment to The West Australian newspaper:
“We believe it’s a lot like asbestos. It’s no good to mine. It’s dangerous to transport and it’s definitely dangerous to the end user,” McCartney said.
(Note this is a view of the AMWU Secretary which may not align with the views of individual members.)
Such policy justification is helpful and allows us to easily dissect these points and expose them to the light of logic while comparing them to actual practice in jurisdictions that take a more pragmatic view.
To try and provoke an emotional response by making comparisons to asbestos ignores all the good work and amazing results the mining industry and the unions have achieved together in the safety space. Our industry has worked tirelessly to improve safety standards and practices to such a level that we are now seen as the global standard against which all others compare themselves. Risks that were inherently accepted 50 to 75 years ago in iron ore, gold or other commodities are just not considered to be remotely defensible by our current society. Instead of stopping these mining activities, we have improved our practices to grow our industry while at the same time bringing injury rates down and improving overall worker welfare.
To suggest we are not capable of mining uranium safely is just not credible.
The easiest way to refute this is to compare Secretary’s comments to the actual practice occurring in South Australia, a Labor-run State, with Australia’s leading uranium mining industry (and future nuclear submarine building industry), where a large proportion of those industry workers are represented by the AMWU South Australian branch. SA’s uranium industry operates safely, employs thousands of people, provides R&D opportunities unavailable anywhere else in Australia, with high employee satisfaction and job security.
What might be less well known, is that the majority of the uranium mined in SA is exported via road transport on public roads, and exported through Port Adelaide. All done day in, day out, in a safe and controlled manner.
And the health and safety laws in SA are comparable to our WA ones. It’s not that SA is accepting more risk to its workers. It is simply that through operational history they have realised that co-operation between government, mining companies and unions can deliver a sustainable, profitable and safe industry. Sound like common sense?
Once we are comfortable that such an industry could indeed be conducted safely, we need to consider the potential size of the prize. This may require expending some political capital; so is it worth it? A uranium industry won’t ever be large enough to challenge iron ore or lithium for supremacy in size; so does this mean we shouldn’t bother?
In an age which is being dominated by the future of our climate; more than ever a competitive uranium industry is crucial for WA to maintain its position as a powerhouse of global mining. An important recognition is that for us to achieve the much-vaunted Energy Transition, we need a lot of mining. Mining should not be considered a blight on our environment; but rather an industry that is crucial to saving it. Without massive increases in mining; there is no Net Zero World. Full stop.
Western Australia will continue to deliver vital raw materials to the world; but also has an opportunity to deliver uranium to these international jurisdictions, to power their economies and processing plants which turn our raw materials into finished products.
Whilst the WA government has resisted the plans to include exporters’ Scope 3 emissions into our formal net zero by 2050 targets, exports of uranium provide an avenue to ensure that we provide not only the raw materials for energy transition but also the energy source to ensure that there is a full, closed loop, net-zero systems from mine to consumer.
Recently at the world COP28 conference in the United Arab Emirates, a group of the world’s leading economies undertook to triple nuclear generation; recognising its importance in reaching net zero. And this will massively increase the global appetite for uranium.
So as we come into the Christmas period, where extended families and friends will come together and discussion and debate will be had over the dinner table, a beer or the barbecue, I would urge you to consider whether the current policy makes sense. Reach for your smartphone, google the facts, and question the hysteria. Engage in discussion on Facebook, Insta or Twitter/X. As we inevitably move into the next WA State Election cycle, whether you intend on voting Labor, Liberal, Greens or other, reach out to your candidate to discuss these issues. Globally, the need for clean, green energy has been elevated above political lines and ideological bickering, and we have the opportunity to do that too in our great State.
Jonathan Fisher is the CEO of Cauldron Energy (ASX:CXU), an Australian Securities Exchange-listed uranium explorer with a uranium project located in WA. This article is the first in a series aimed at ensuring West Australians are fully informed about all aspects of the uranium mining industry, the opportunities for WA and the role of uranium in helping decarbonise the world economy. Follow Jonathan on X (@cxuasx) or on LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest instalments.
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