THE BIG STORY: Addressing the first day audience of the Paydirt 2012 Uranium Conference in Adelaide this week chairman of ASX-listed uranium developer Toro Energy, Dr Erica Smyth said the uranium industry needs to do more than, “simply present the facts”, to the Australian public.
Smyth’s was addressing industry concerns of public misapprehension in regards to the mining of uranium.
She said in order to allay these fears the industry needs to present its case in language or principles the general population more readily understands.
In her presentation, Uranium in Australia – Exploring our Softer Side, Smyth focused on the issues afflicting the uranium industry in Australia.
Source: Comapny web site
“By ‘soft’ I really mean the most difficult issues, because they are related to what the general population thinks and how people react and behave, and in our industry this often includes a lot of unnecessary fear and emotion,” Smyth said.
“This starts with the general population’s fear of radiation,” she said.
“Because radiation cannot be seen or felt, because it is a very difficult science to understand, and because many people think any radiation exposure will cause cancer, there is a lot of fear – and that is not helping our industry.”
It will probably come as a surprise to many, but Smyth’s comments were met with some support from Western Australia Greens MLC and spokesperson on Mining, Robin Chapple.
Source: Web site
“In essence, just about everything, Erica said was true,” Chapple told The Roadhouse.
“But it’s what she didn’t say that is important.
“Yes, we need scientific knowledge. Many people…know nothing about radiation. So I think that’s where we really need to start.”
Chapple said there was a need for people involved in the telling of and listening to the uranium discussion to understand the difference between radiation and radioactivity.
“So to say radiation exposure will cause cancer, and there is a lot of fear because it cannot be seen or felt is correct, Chapple said.
“Very few people will have been exposed to beta or gamma radiation, unless you are a worker in either the medical fraternity, nuclear facilities, or indeed, a uranium mine.
“And you have got to have pretty significant exposure to actually affect the gene pool associated with beta or gamma radiation.
“She [Smyth] doesn’t mention the majority of issues posed by radiation, or posed by uranium mining per se, [which] is that we only extract only, on average, about one per cent of the ore body, which becomes U3O8, which is uranium.”
The problem outlined by Smyth is that not enough people are endowed with the scientific expertise or grasp of the vernacular to fully understand the issues confronting them or, for that matter, to be able to adequately voice their concerns.
This, she said, is one of the main reasons for it to be such, “a poorly articulated discussion”
“And in these modern times when anyone can write unsubstantiated claims and put them on the web for everyone else to read, it is very easy for people to lock onto a thought bubble as a ‘fact’ and engender fear,” Smyth said.
“There are many people in our community who fear that those cancers which just appear, and cannot be directly related to a specific cause, are in fact caused by invisible radiation.
“We scientists might think if we just present the facts we can counter these fears, but often we do not use language or principles that the general population can understand.”
Smyth said the general community’s fear of radiation was escalated by its combination with the wide-spread belief held by some people that it can easily be used to make nuclear bombs.
In many public debates on uranium mining she said, some areas of the community had simplified the issue to mining uranium equals the manufacture of nuclear bombs.
“What Erica has done is to provide a very simplistic statement, which has a significant element of truth about it, but actually doesn’t deal with half of the problems,” Chapple said.
“The problem with uranium mining is the impact on workers, and that impact isn’t immediate.
“You don’t go to a uranium mine and get sick, you go to a uranium mine and you work there and you get sick 20 years later.
“This is the legacy that has been shown in France and in America.
“It is a worker related issue, but not a here and now [issue], it’s a future problem.”