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Ben Cubby, Environment Reporter |
THE new uranium mine approved by the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, will be owned by a subsidiary of one of the world's biggest arms dealers.
A colourful but reclusive billionaire named James Neal Blue, who helped devise the Predator unmanned aircraft being used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is a director of Quasar Resources - the company that will control the Four Mile mine.
Quasar Resources is an affiliate of General Atomics, a US weapons and nuclear energy corporation which is chaired by Mr Blue, and reportedly holds $US700 million ($877 million) in Pentagon contracts. Mr Blue, 74, first came to prominence during the 1980s as a self-described "enthusiastic supporter" of US involvement in a covert war against the left-wing government in Nicaragua.
Next to the new Four Mile mine is the Beverley uranium mine, which is owned by Heathgate Resources, also affiliated to Mr Blue's General Atomics, meaning that almost 200 square kilometres is now dedicated to the two related mines.
Mr Garrett yesterday defended the decision to grant environmental approval for the Four Mile mine, saying there would be strict monitoring of radioactive waste.
The decision was endorsed by the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, and by the Minerals Council of Australia.
Mr Garrett, a former environmental campaigner who protested against both uranium mining and the US military presence in Australia, denied yesterday that he had compromised his principles.
"Look that is an old song, it's an old cycle that we hear from political opponents who seem to forget that I joined the Labor Party, I became a member of the Government and I said at the time that I would accept, as a team player, the decisions that the Government took," he said.
"And my job, as a consequence of that, is to support the Government's decision clearly and make sure as Environment Minister that I set the bar on environmental protection as high as it needs to go and that is world's best practice and that is what we have done with this decision."
However environmental groups have serious concerns about the height of that bar, pointing out that there is no requirement for the company to ever clean up the radioactive plumes which can be expected to drift slowly around in the water table.
The Beverley mine, which uses the same acid corrosion technique to extract uranium from aquifers as will be used at Four Mile, has recorded 59 spills of radioactive material in the past decade, according to the South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Resources.
Mr Blue's Quasar Resources has joined the Australian mineral exploration company Alliance Resources to set up the mine.
According to The New York Times, Mr Blue once part-owned a cocoa and banana plantation in Nicaragua with the family of former president Anastasio Somoza.
He told the paper he was supportive of the Contra guerillas that fought Nicaragua's Sandinista government but refused to discuss any link to CIA operations in that country.
Mr Blue's brother, Linden, was briefly imprisoned by the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro after apparently violating Cuban air space in a private aircraft.
Mr Blue established a business empire based on oil and real estate, before moving into weapons and nuclear power.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the unmanned aircraft that the US military uses to spy on and bomb its enemies.
General Atomics has also prospered, and between 2000 and 2005 it was the biggest corporate sponsor of travel for members of the US Congress and their families and aides.
Mr Blue bought tracts of uranium-rich land in Australia decades ago, before the Federal Government had approved uranium mining, according to a profile in Fortune magazine.
Uranium from the Four Mile mine will gradually replace ore from the decade-old Beverley mine, with most of the exported uranium expected to be sent to reactors in the US.