The story behind the corporation that owns the Beverley uranium mine in north-east South Australia is scarcely believable.

It looks so peaceful from this angle…

Heathgate Resources − a 100 per cent-owned subsidiary of General Atomics (GA) − owns and operates Beverley and has a stake in the adjacent Beverley Four Mile mine. Over the years GA CEO Neal Blue has had commercial interests in oil, Predator drones, uranium mining and nuclear reactors, cocoa, bananas and real estate.

Radioactive spills and gas leaks at a uranium processing plant in Oklahoma led to the plants closure in 1993. The plant was owned by a GA subsidiary, Sequoyah Fuels Corporation, and processed uranium for use in reactors and for use in depleted uranium munitions. A nine-legged frog may have GA to thank for its dexterity.

A government inquiry found that GA had known for years that radioactive material was leaking and that the radioactivity of water around the plant was 35,000 times higher than US laws permitted.

In 1992, a leak at the Oklahoma plant forced the evacuation of a building only two weeks after federal inspectors allowed it to resume operating.

Later that year, the company announced that the plant would be closed after it had been ordered to temporarily shut down three times in the previous six years.

The shenanigans at the Oklahoma plant − documented by the World Information Service on Energy − include the disposal of low-level radioactive waste by spraying it on company-owned grazing land, and the company’s attempt to reduce the amount of property tax it paid on the grounds that radioactive contamination reduced the value of the land.

Fortune Magazine recounts one of the controversies surrounding GA / Heathgate’s uranium ventures in Australia. When uranium prices increased in the mid-noughties, the company was locked into long-term contracts to sell yellowcake from Beverley at earlier, lower prices.

Heathgate devised plans to renegotiate its legally-binding contracts. Customers were told that production costs at Beverley were higher than expected, that production was lower than expected, and that a failure to renegotiate contracts would force Heathgate to file for bankruptcy.

However former employees said that Blue had allegedly directed Heathgate to increase its production costs. Customers were not told that bankruptcy was unlikely since GA had agreed to continue providing Heathgate with financial assistance.

Two of Heathgate’s Australian directors consulted an attorney who advised them that the plan could be considered a conspiracy to defraud. They left the company.

Exelon, one of Heathgate’s uranium customers, sued. The lawsuit was settled for about $41 million. Because of the increased uranium price, Blue ended up well in front despite the cost of the settlement with Exelon − more than $200 million in front by some estimates. Blue was unrepentant: “It made more sense to, in essence, just pay the fine.”

GA / Heathgate has employed at least one private investigator to infiltrate environment groups in Australia. The infiltrator, known as Mehmet, had previously infiltrated green groups as part of an undercover police operation before he moved into the private sector to set up his own security company, Universal Axiom.

He also provided personal protection to visiting GA executives. When asked about the company’s tactics, a Heathgate spokesperson said the company was privately owned and had a policy of not responding to media questions.

People who worked at Friends of the Earth at the time − around the turn of the century − say they were highly suspicious about Mehmet from the get-go. His activities might have been laughable and pathetic except that he provided exaggerated information to police about the likely attendance at a protest at the Beverley uranium mine in May 2000.

That led to an excessive police presence at the protest and police brutality against environmentalists and local Aboriginal people. An online video clip details this brutality. Heathgate applauded the police action (in a 2000 media release which is no longer available online). After a 10-year legal case, 10 people were awarded a total of $700,000 damages.

Heathgate’s record at Beverley has been substandard. At least 59 spills have been documented at the mine. The company sells uranium to nuclear weapons states (all of which are in breach of their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), to at least one country with a recent history of secret nuclear weapons research (South Korea), and to countries which refuse to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Heathgate’s activities at Beverley have been extremely divisive among Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners. Some Adnyamathanha Elders have formed an Elders Group as a separate forum from the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association. Enice Marsh said: “There have been many attempts over the past 10 years to try and bring greater accountability to what’s happening in Native Title, and to stop the ongoing assault on our Yarta (country). Many of us have tried with very little resources, limited understanding of the legal system and environmental laws, and despite a mountain of bullying, lies and deceit from mining companies, lawyers, and self-inflated thugs in our own community who dare to call themselves ‘leaders’.”

Is it any wonder that many intelligent, reasonable Australians still hate the uranium mining industry and hate it with a passion?

Most commented

57 comments

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    • bananabender56 says:

      06:58am | 02/08/12

      Typical Green arrogance - the final paragraph sums it up. If you aren’t with us your stupid.

    • Borderer says:

      08:30am | 02/08/12

      Why not just refer to them as the “Umbrella Corporation”?

    • Dr B S Goh, Australian in Asia says:

      10:23am | 02/08/12

      It is important that there are special laws to govern our civil servants who have to supervise the mining of uranium and other radioactive minerals.

      Corruption is the norm in many Asian countries and they will be brought into Australian mining and other industries.

      However I must state my position that I am in favour of uranium mining and nuclear power especially Thorium nuclear power. Australia has the largest deposits of Thorium.

    • Moran says:

      01:07pm | 02/08/12

      bananabender56, the unintended irony of your post is hilarious.

      It’s up there with the “Get a Brain! Morans” guy.

      Queenslanders are amusing.

    • M says:

      07:00am | 02/08/12

      One company is not representative of an industry. It’s disingenuous to pick on one rogue operator and claim “see how bad this industry is? Say NO to nuclear!”

    • Macca says:

      07:43am | 02/08/12

      Yep, like saying we should have no Petrol because of BP, No natural gas because of Fluxys, and no Pesticides because of Bhopal.

    • Hmmm says:

      06:27pm | 02/08/12

      Or no unions because of the HSU scandal. Oh wait…

    • Hmmm says:

      06:27pm | 02/08/12

      Or no unions because of the HSU scandal. Oh wait…

    • L. says:

      07:02am | 02/08/12

      “Is it any wonder that many intelligent, reasonable Australians still hate the uranium mining industry and hate it with a passion?”

      The implication being that if you don’t hate the uranium mining industry with a passion, you’re an unreasonable moron..??

    • mahhrat says:

      07:28am | 02/08/12

      Just because there are cowboys doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mining uranium, it means governments should do their damn jobs.

    • I hate pies says:

      07:41am | 02/08/12

      Their actions have nothing to do with what they dig out of the ground, and everything to do with dodgy business practices. They could have acted the same way if they were digging up carbon credits.

    • Fiddler says:

      08:18am | 02/08/12

      and yet let us compare the amount of radioactive isotopes released from this compared to the amount released from coal.
      Are we really using an argument of a subsidary of a company on another continent 20 years ago as why we shouldn’t embrace nuclear? The protestor infiltration thing is irrelevant to the argument, also green groups do far worse each year

    • pathetic says:

      04:04pm | 02/08/12

      “green groups do far worse each year” - HAHAHA

    • pathetic says:

      04:04pm | 02/08/12

      “green groups do far worse each year” - HAHAHA

    • Charles says:

      08:46am | 02/08/12

      There are so many long bows being drawn in this article, I am surprised the author is not representing us in archery in the Olympics.

    • watty says:

      08:58am | 02/08/12

      Better tell this to our magnificent Minister for Foreign Affairs who just approved the sale of Uranium to the Middle East only 37 years after the Whitlam Government toyed with the idea

    • Tyson Po says:

      09:07am | 02/08/12

      A 9-legged frog? That is so awesome. Just imagine how our triple jumpers would go if they had some of that action happening.

    • MD says:

      09:18am | 02/08/12

      Nuclear is the way forward, most rational greenies can accept this. Solar is too ineffecient for large scales, hydro is too expensive and requires dams which greenies also hate. Geothermal isn’t exactly abundant, and wind is expensive, noisy, ineffecient and kills birds (which greenies hate…).

      Uranium is a good stopgap until Thorium technology matures, or 3rd and even 4th generation conventional nuclear reactors become reality.

    • TimB says:

      09:59am | 02/08/12

      “Nuclear is the way forward, most rational greenies can accept this”

      Rational greenies? Does such a creature actually exist?

    • spanky says:

      10:39am | 02/08/12

      yeah I think nuclear is the way forward too, lets just make sure we burn every last bit of coal first so we get the most bang for our buck, LOL.

    • Colin says:

      11:40am | 02/08/12

      @TimB 09:59am | 02/08/12
      “Rational greenies? Does such a creature actually exist?”

      No, absolutely not; it’s an oxymoron like “Army Intelligence” or “Honest politician”...

    • John M says:

      01:50pm | 02/08/12

      “Rational greenies? Does such a creature actually exist?”

      About as likely as rational conservatives I’d say.

    • The Old Man says:

      09:24am | 02/08/12

      I want my Uranium mined and I want my Australian Nuclear Powered power stations. Lets build one in the offensive industry zone in Dandenong, just a few kilometres from where I live, it would be good to know that the power for my morning cup of coffee was coming from the ‘kettle’ just down the road.

    • M says:

      09:44am | 02/08/12

      I wouldn’t mind living near a nuclear power station. There’s quite a few of them in France and England and none of them have ever gone pop. Safest way to generate power when measured by deaths per TW/h incidently.

    • Keith Hammersmith says:

      09:53am | 02/08/12

      south korea had a “recent history of secret nuclear weapons research”?
      I think i missed that, is that accurate?

    • L. says:

      10:35am | 02/08/12

      “south korea had a “recent history of secret nuclear weapons research”?”

      With neighbours like theirs, do you blame them?

    • M says:

      09:54am | 02/08/12

      Jim Green, I would like to hear what you think is a viable alternative to Nuclear energy as far as low CO2 emmisions are concerned.

      Wind doesn’t provide baseload power, is expensive, the turbines have a costly maintenance schedule and they only have a shelf life of about 20 years. Add to that that they only really produce any useable power about 20% of the time.

      Solar doesn’t provide baseload power, is expensive, takes up vast tracts of land and sufferes transmission losses because of the distance between where the power is generated and the end user. Add to that the fact that bar some experimental hot salt plants, Solar can only generate electricity when it’s sunny. So, useless for baseload when it’s night or overcast.

      Geothermal is expensive and sufferes the same issues as solar, vast trasmission losses from suitable points of operation and the consumer.

      Tidal hasn’t been proven beyond a concept stage yet.

      The only viable alternatives that don’t require huge subsidies to make them cost effective are Nuclear, Coal and Gas. Coal and Gas let CO2 into the atmosphere, and aren’t renewable.

      Nuclear leaves a little radioactive waste lying around, and depleted fuel from conventional reactors can/could be used to power thorium reactors when they become commercially viable. And even if we can’t use that waste, we have vast tracts of land where we can store it. I believe the woomera bombing range is still radioactive and not hurting anyone, so don’t tell me there’s a risk to the public. There is also next to no CO2 output from nuclear.

      So, knowing that you’re irrationally against nuclear, what are the alternatives to Coal and Gas that you propose for supplying Baseload power to a 21st century society?

    • L. says:

      10:46am | 02/08/12

      “So, useless for baseload when it’s night or overcast. “

      To place the above statement into context:

      Australia’s lowest point of power consumption, as measured at 03:00am on any given day is approx 13 T/watts.

      Three cheers for power stations like Bayswater…

      hip hip..

    • Fiddler says:

      11:03am | 02/08/12

      do you really expect a reply to this M? Even if he did, it would mention Chernobyl, then he would say “oh tens of thousands died at Fukyshima”

      We should just pat him on the head and let him go back to his sheltered workshop job at the social science (feminist studes) department at the university he has never left

    • iansand says:

      11:47am | 02/08/12

      I have no objection to nuclear, but molten salt solar is a potential source of baseload power.

    • iansand says:

      11:48am | 02/08/12

      I have no objection to nuclear, but molten salt solar is a potential source of baseload power.

    • M says:

      12:12pm | 02/08/12

      Fiddler, I don’t expect a reply because there is no reasonable reply he can mount. The greens must accept nuclear if they are serious about reducing CO2. There is no viable alternative.

    • M says:

      12:14pm | 02/08/12

      The key word there iansand is potential, and then only in areas that recieve lots of sunlight. You won’t get solar salt working in tassie or melbourne.

    • iansand says:

      01:48pm | 02/08/12

      M - The “it won’t work everywhere so don’t use it anywhere” argument is not particularly convincing.

      Unlike the troglodytes, I actually have a great deal of faith in the ingenuity of our species.

    • L. says:

      02:21pm | 02/08/12

      “I have no objection to nuclear, but molten salt solar is a potential source of baseload power.”

      I would rather not gamble the foundation of our civilisation (cheap, reliable power), on a “potential”.

      Coal or nukes… Lets not muck around with the baseload.

    • Gordon says:

      02:24pm | 02/08/12

      You guys have hit on the correct answer to this “oooh a bad thing happened at a U thingy” malarky. Nothing is ever risk or cost free and until there is some honesty about the actual cost and practicality of renewables this is all BS.

      @L.. was that TW or GW? TW seem a bit large, anyway even with GW it’s about 40,000 wind turbines just to meet minimums.

    • M says:

      02:37pm | 02/08/12

      L, we also have 400 years worth of Gas here in Aus. It’s cleaner and cheaper than coal, and gas turbines can alter output to demand quicker than anything else.

    • Jason Todd says:

      03:16pm | 02/08/12

      The other thing that gets me, is I am yet to see a solar panel design that doesn’t have components requiring rare earth metals that a) have to be mined and b) come with radioactive side products also. Even if we go solar we are going to need a mining industry that can handle radioactive substances.

    • TimB says:

      04:10pm | 02/08/12

      “Unlike the troglodytes, I actually have a great deal of faith in the ingenuity of our species. “

      I don’t think you have as much faith as you think. Especially seeing as you seem to think we require financial penalties in order to encourage ingenuity.

    • Gomez12 says:

      04:11pm | 02/08/12

      As Iansand points out, Molten salt solar has great potential.

      The reason it does is simply that it overcomes renewable energies biggest problem - baseload power. If we can generate during the day, but have power 24/7 then we really don’t have a problem do we?

      Molten Salt is also only the currently most promising in that area - it’s by no means the only attempt to morph renewables into dependable base-load power.

      I have nothing against nuclear, but we’re actually better off heading down the renewables path because:

      A) renewables technology is developing faster than Nuclear did at any time since the war (lets face it, if we could weaponise Solar power, we’d be looking at 7th generation Solar plants right now).

      B) It’s FAR more acceptable to the public, rightly or wrongly fearmongering works (Workchoices will rape your grandma, Carbon Tax will burn down your house etc.)

      C) It’s got potential economically - while we can sell advanced renewables power tech to other countries (and have), we’re well behind the curve on Nuclear tech and would have to buy it in.

      D) Eventually Renewables will be cheaper than any other form of power (Start adding up Carbon Taxes and the like along with renewables natural advantage - the fuel transports itself rather than being dug up thousands of miles away and transported at great expense).

      E) If we don’t need it ourselves, we can still make a killing selling Uranium to others. (pun intended)

      F) Regulation/lead-time/waste disposal etc are all much, much less with renewables (name one waste-product of a solar plant that needs to be stored securely for 50,0000 years to stop some arse-hat making a pretty nasty weapon out of, which is where miles, upon miles, upon miles of red-tape and security comnes in, at added expense)

      G) We currently know of only 50 years supply of Uranium if we were to generate all our power from it, and we’ll need 15 years (according to the Howard governments investigation) to get it up and running, and then only with massive government subsidies, which will come at our expense. And personally I both pay enough tax, and enough for my power thanks!

      Just some thoughts to go on with - At the end of the day, Nuclear may well be the most viable option, or it may not when all factors are considered. It’s worth keeping an open mind on the issue.

    • M says:

      06:37pm | 02/08/12

      That’s all well and good gomez, but your salt plant fails on the first day of cloud or rain. Water has a stupidly high thermal coficient, it takes a lot of energy to get it moving.

      Thorium is the way forward. Thankfully, our new commie overlords are investing heavily in that area. We’ll be buying the tech from them.

    • iansand says:

      07:58pm | 02/08/12

      M - Molten salt plants working - Dunno, but some.

      Thorium plants working - Zippo.  Nada.  Not a sausage.

      If you really want to go out on a limb with speculative, unproven technology go thorium every time.

      I hope it works but please treat thorium with the scepticism with which you treat every other fringe technology.

      TimB - Could you go and ask your grandmother, or someone else you trust, how capitalism works?

    • TimB says:

      06:29am | 03/08/12

      “TimB - Could you go and ask your grandmother, or someone else you trust, how capitalism works? “

      How about you pick up your old school textbooks and undertake a refresher course yourself? Because last time I checked, capitalism didn’t advocate encouraging business growth by taxing it more.

      Natural competition and ther lure of the dollar, both of which exist without a tax should be enough to encourage ingenuity on its own. Extra threats are not required. For some reason, you seem to think otherwise.

    • Rocky says:

      10:44am | 02/08/12

      Another multinational treating our country and our people with absolute contempt and you people just shrug your shoulders? This should concern everyone not just the local traditional owners.

    • Jase says:

      03:51pm | 02/08/12

      Rocky, the majority of traditional owners are NIMBYs for one reason and one reason only, the all mighty $$.

      Put up a bit of protest, add in some “sacred sites”  and they have a blank cheque that needs to be signed. The local owners could not give two hoots about the land before someone wants to make use of it.

    • andye says:

      10:50am | 02/08/12

      It is interesting to compare the reaction here to stuff like the union thing. It is apparently fine to assume that every union is corrupt through and through, but this company gets a free pass because the author is from a group you dont like.

      I don’t think everything he has said is right, and he clearly has an axe to grind - but the lack of any kind of critical response to the claims is very illuminating. Some of you see conspiracies everywhere, but then when there is a specific proven case of a “private spy” and fraud and various illegal activity it is nothing.

    • Jason Todd says:

      10:56am | 02/08/12

      Yeah, Jim. I’m guessing you either didn’t read that spill log or didn’t absorb or understand what it is you were reading.

      The thing about the regulation of the mining system is that every spill must be documented with an estimated volume, cause and corrective action. It does not matter if this spill was contained or cleaned up, or what the spill was, it is still documented. You seem to be assuming that “spill at a uranium mine” is comparable to “Fukushima style radiation incident with widespread contamination”. False.

      Read the reports that you linked to. The great bulk of them were spills that were contained and cleaned up. Many of them were either groundwater, or very low uranium process solutions. Remember that Uranium is naturally occurring. Most, if not all of them, are labelled with “No Environmental Harm”.  59 spills in 13 years of operation? That is not a bad record.

      It is disingenuous hysterics like this that hurt your cause. Lack of education about the facts. Nuclear energy/Uranium mining is not the big bad bogeyman that comes in the night and makes you grow an extra leg. It is an industrial operation like any other. The risks are different, sure, but there is a heightened level of scrutiny and regulation to compensate.

      This is not the first time I have seen you constructing ridiculous straw men in order to further your crusade against the nuclear energy industry. Maybe spend some of that time instead sitting down and acquainting yourself with the facts. I promise you, there are much scarier things in the world than this industry.

    • Colin says:

      12:20pm | 02/08/12

      @PhoenixGirl 11:18am | 02/08/12

      The Greens aren’t interested in the Number One solution to the world’s environmental degradation either: Population control.

      If only we stopped breeding so that the birth rate was lower than the death rate until we reduced the world population by a few billion (and then KEPT it there) , and we would have more than enough resources, food, and a clean environment for everyone, almost forever!

      But don’t ask a Green to support it; it is anathema to them.

    • Dr B S Goh, Australian in Asia says:

      05:25pm | 02/08/12

      @ Colin. Yes yes.

      It is truly amazing that the Greens want to forget about the Mother of All Environmental Problems, the continued global population growth. Their leftist thinking does not allow them to support the proven method shown by China the one child policy for developing countries.

      Each FOUR months the increase in World population is greater than the total population of Australia

      There was a recent report that it requires massive FOREIGN investments to double the food production of Australia by year 2050. We do not need such lose lose strategies for Australia

    • Alan says:

      02:13pm | 02/08/12

      Poor Jim, deluded and paranoid and wanting to sit in the dark with his greenie mates eating raw lentils.
      Whilst I’ll defend his right to voice an opinion he should probably get his facts right first

    • Alan says:

      02:14pm | 02/08/12

      Poor Jim, deluded and paranoid and wanting to sit in the dark with his greenie mates eating raw lentils.
      Whilst I’ll defend his right to voice an opinion he should probably get his facts right first

 

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