19/11/2008 - 22:00

Uranium, GM moves welcomed

19/11/2008 - 22:00

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WHO remembers the final week of the 2008 state election campaign, when then premier Alan Carpenter ran an increasingly desperate and almost bizarre scare campaign? Every waking moment he told voters about the supposed dangers posed by uranium mining, nucl

Uranium, GM moves welcomed

WHO remembers the final week of the 2008 state election campaign, when then premier Alan Carpenter ran an increasingly desperate and almost bizarre scare campaign?

Every waking moment he told voters about the supposed dangers posed by uranium mining, nuclear waste dumps and genetically modified agricultural crops.

The scare campaign will go down as an appalling miscalculation by people who clearly failed to understand the mood of the electorate.

The Barnett government has added to the pain of Labor's election defeat by moving quickly on two of these issues.

Last Friday it announced that it would approve the growing of GM cotton in the Ord River irrigation area, while this week it announced a lifting of the ban on uranium mining in Western Australia.

Both changes are in step with common commercial practice around the world and, judging by the lack of community outcry, are in accord with public opinion.

The approval of GM cotton provides an enormous boost to the Ord, which has been held back by the poor returns from its current staple crop, sugar cane.

Testing over the past decade has demonstrated that GM cotton can grow successfully in the area, which is blessed with an abundant supply of water.

Cotton yields have actually been higher than in the established cotton-growing regions of northern NSW and southern Queensland, which use GM cotton but face chronic water supply issues.

Combined with a state government proposal to spend up to $200 million on regional infrastructure in the east Kimberley, the GM cotton decision will go a long way to ensuring a major expansion of the Ord River irrigation area.

Private capital and public capital should come together, giving the region an opportunity to realise its full potential.

Approving GM cotton was a no-brainer.

GM food crops are a much more complex issue. Advocates of GM agriculture, such as the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, hope the GM cotton decision will be followed by moves to allow GM canola and other food crops in WA.

They point to the increased use of GM crops around the world and the improved yields they deliver, and fear that WA will be left behind.

But critics say WA has established a competitive edge by being GM free and should protect that status.

Growing GM cotton in the remote east Kimberley should not affect that status but allowing GM canola would be a more profound change.

The Barnett government will need to tread carefully in this regard.

Approving uranium mining was another no-brainer.

It's an industry that operates safely and successfully in many jurisdictions around the world, including other states and territories of Australia.

WA should not expect new uranium mines to open any time soon. Aspiring uranium miners first of all need to put in some hard yards drilling and precisely measuring the extensive uranium deposits across WA.

WA has about 25 known uranium deposits, with BHP Billiton's Yeelirrie and Kintyre being two of the largest.

The value of these deposits was highlighted in July when Canadian company Cameco Corporation teamed up with Japan's Mitsubishi Development to buy the Kintyre project for $US495 million ($A700 million).

They were betting that Labor's opposition to uranium mining would, in time, be overturned. The bet was successful, and it happened much faster than Cameco would have imagined.

The global credit crunch and a sharp slump in uranium prices has put a damper on the industry's immediate prospects, but in the long term, uranium is likely to become a significant part of WA's resource sector.

Nuclear energy is widely accepted as part of the global solution to global warming, which should underpin demand for WA's uranium.

One of the arguments raised by critics is that WA will be forced to accept nuclear waste.

However, WA's iron ore exporters don't accept waste from China's steel mills, so there is no valid reason to expect uranium exporters to accept nuclear waste from their customers.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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