Uranium mine linked to US arms dealer

The Age July 16, 2009

Ben Cubby

THE new uranium mine approved by 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 that is chaired by Mr Blue, and reportedly holds $US700 million ($A877 million) in Pentagon contracts. Mr Blue 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.

Mr Garrett yesterday defended the decision to grant environmental approval to 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 uranium mining and the US military presence in Australia, denied yesterday 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 clean up the underground radioactive plumes that can be expected to slowly drift around in the water table.

Mr Blue's Quasar Resources has partnered with Australian mineral exploration company Alliance Resources to set up the mine.

Mr Blue bought tracts of uranium-rich land in Australia decades ago, before the Federal Government approved uranium mining, according to a rare profile in Fortune magazine.

Uranium ore from the Four Mile mine is expected to be sent to reactors in the US.

Mr Garrett is expected to face further tough uranium decisions.

BHP Billiton's Yeelerrie uranium deposit 400 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie is in the midst of a prefeasibility study ahead of a possible mining application by the end of 2011, while Mr Garrett may also need to decide on an application to mine uranium at Kintyre, in the East Pilbara.

contact: Bruce A. Peterson

774th access Last modified: Sun 19 Jul 2009