Forsaking Riches, Aboriginal Land Owner Halts Nuke Giant's Uranium Mine
A 30-year battle ends in victory for owners of land that French energy giant Areva wanted to mine for uranium.
LE MONDE (France), ABC NEWS, THE AGE, ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS SERVICE (Australia)
DARWIN – French nuclear energy giant Areva had big ambitions for this Australian uranium deposit: 14,000 tons of uranium, worth $2 billion, reports Le Monde.
But now, it’s worth nothing, thanks to the tireless efforts of the land's original owners – the Djok aboriginal clan. This month, Australian Environmental Minister Tony Burke started the process to incorporate the deposit into a national park, effectively putting an end to Areva’s mining ambitions.
For decades, says Australia's ABC news, Lee, the last remaining traditional owner of the Koongarra uranium deposit, in Australia’s Kakadu National Park, has been refusing to allow the deposit to be mined.
Areva holds the exploration license to the deposit, which was discovered in 1970. In 1979, the area was excluded from the national park so that the uranium could be mined. But the Djok clan relentlessly fought offers by Areva to mine the deposit.
A delegation even travelled to Paris to convince the World Heritage Committee to get the Koongarra deposit back into the Kakadu National Park, reports ABC News. According to the Australian government, Areva went as far as to request Koongarra be removed from the meeting’s agenda.
But Jeffrey Lee never stopped fighting, even though he says his decision went against the wishes of his father and grandfather, who wanted mining to go ahead.
According to The Age, Lee could have become one of Australia’s richest men if he had allowed the French nuclear energy giant to mine the 12.5-kilometer mineral lease.
"I'm not interested in money. I've got a job. I can go fishing and hunting. That's all that matters to me," he told The Age in 2007.
As news broke of Koongarra’s incorporation into Kakadu National Park, Jeffrey Lee told reporters “This is the moment I was waiting for, for a very long, long time.”
Lee said, “This is a great day for me, my country and my culture. My mind is at peace now that I know that there will be no mining at Koongarra and that Djok lands will be protected forever in Kakadu National Park,” according to the Environmental News Service.
“I have said no to uranium mining at Koongarra because I believe that the land and my cultural beliefs are more important than mining and money. Money comes and goes, but the land is always here, it always stays if we look after it and it will look after us,” he said.
There are two other uranium deposits in Kakadu National Park, the Ranger and Jabiluka mines, which have also set off battles between locals and outside interests.
Photos Alberto OG