Renewable Not Radioactive: A Conversation with K-A Garlick

We had a chat with nuclear-free advocate K-A Garlick about why nuclear energy is a dirty and dangerous power-source that belongs in the past, not the clean energy future.

Hi K-A, could you start by introducing yourself and what gets you out of bed in the morning? 

I’m K-A Garlick, CCWA’s nuclear free campaigner, and part of the Ban Uranium Mining Collective (BUMP).

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the belief that I make a positive difference in the community where I live and in the remote communities I work with to stop uranium mining on their country. It is also in the deep knowing that I am part of a global movement of people working every day to demand social and environmental change, and creating a better future. I am fortunate in my work, that I meet extraordinary people that inspire, motivate and focus me to keep working for this change. 

You’re a walker, can you explain how this practice has been a core part of your change-making journey? 

Just after I graduated, in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development majoring in eco-philosophy I decided to go on a nine month walk, International Peace Pilgrimage towards a Nuclear Free Future. I had no idea of the great life changing experience I was about to embark on, not only personally, but emotionally and certainly politically. These long walks have many rich threads that weave together a rich intricate web to create a very real deep and meaningful experience. As a walker, this experience moved my understanding of what’s important to me and how I was going to act on it. Walking enabled me to reconnect to myself, to others and to this fragile planet for a deeper life purpose. Walking entrenched my understanding of interconnectedness. 

What I realized through walking is that we are all in an interdependent web that is a fundamental fact of human life and other existences on this fragile planet. We need community, we need deep and rich relationships, we need culture, we need nature and wildlife to survive.

This nine month journey and beyond for me, I continued to bear witness to the destruction of the nuclear industry, in it all its forms from uranium mining, to transportation, nuclear power plants, weapons testing, weapons and waste. We heard the stories that brought us together to share a very personal and emotional experience and inspired me to change the way I prioritised my life – to work for the protection of life in all its forms.  

Sadly I have learnt through the hundreds of personal stories shared with us from people and communities at the forefront of these proposed and established projects that they are not being heard by governments and industry. What has been most upsetting and disappointing is that the governments around the world have listened to and have preferenced corporate interest over public interest. What we do in one part of the world, like mine uranium that has devastating consequences on the local land, we send to another part of the world for further destruction. I felt it was my global responsibility to work towards a nuclear free future.  

Back in the late 80’s I was lost in the world of activism, through rallies, petitions, creative art, advocacy work and I was starting to yearn for actions that were more connected, deeper and richer. The beginning of the nine month seemed overwhelming and crazy, however each step as a walker has brought me further clarity and a deeper sense of myself and belonging. Belonging to people who shared my values of what mattered to me and we continue today to keep taking action, reflecting, learning and repeating.    

Why can’t nuclear power solve the climate crisis?

Nuclear is no solution to climate change. 

Nuclear power begins with uranium mining. The nuclear industry from the beginning, is a dirty toxic industry that leaves radioactive waste. On a good day, nuclear power and on a bad day, nuclear weapons.

Nuclear is dangerous with lasting waste issues and high water requirements at every stage of the nuclear chain. Nuclear is expensive and takes too long to construct often facing cost blow outs and construction delays.   

Nuclear is unpopular through polls, debates and inquiries and time and time again fails to meet community expectations. This industry has no social license.

Nuclear is unsafe. Through human error and in the face of climatic events and natural disasters nuclear poses an unprecedented and long-term risk to the environment and human health. 

We need to urgently dismiss nuclear power as a dangerous distraction from the very real and urgent task at hand of transitioning on energy systems and addressing climate change.

We need to urgently transition away from the dirty fossil fuel industry towards a future that is green and sustainable that is going to look after the environment for our future generations. The answer is renewable not radioactive.  

One of the biggest threats facing our planet is climate change, it warrants urgent action,  nuclear power is not the solution. Rather than fuel carbon emissions and radioactive risk through domestic coal power plants and the export of coal and uranium, Australia should embrace the fastest growing global energy sector ‒ renewables ‒ and become a driver of clean energy thinking and technology. Renewable energy is affordable, low risk, clean, and popular. Nuclear is simply not.

In January 2019, the Climate Council, comprising Australia’s leading climate scientists and other policy experts, issued a policy statement concluding that nuclear power plants “are not appropriate for Australia – and probably never will be”. The Climate Council statement continued: “Nuclear power stations are highly controversial, can’t be built under existing law in any Australian state or territory, are a more expensive source of power than renewable energy, and present significant challenges in terms of the storage and transport of nuclear waste, and use of water”.

The Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance has participated in the Walkatjurra Walkabouts. Can you tell us about your experience at the Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp last year?

The first ever Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp that replaced this year’s Walking for Country was launched at the end of September 2019 as a one week camp out on Tjiwarl country, or better known as the Goldfields region of Western Australia near the site of the proposed uranium mine.

The camp was a massive success, with over thirty interested and passionate people listening, learning and showing their support to the people of both Kalgoorlie and Leonora in their fight to stop uranium mining on their country. 

For a week we travelled part of the proposed “nuclear freeway” between the Mulga Rock uranium project, Kalgoorlie and the proposed Yeelirrie uranium project diving into deep conversations about this deadly industry and the impacts it has had on other countries.

Acknowledging the long fight ahead there is a fierce resistance and boundless hope amongst the group as we deepened relationships to each other and country and formed working groups with our passions and skills.

The camp was created to bring campaigners from around Australia to show solidarity with the Traditional Owners and provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the land, the people and the proposed uranium industry in WA.  

It was an education, of the land, of the struggles faced by Aboriginal people and a snapshot into what happens out in remote communities when the city isn’t watching.  

The Yeelirrie Solidarity Camp was a temporary community that learnt to get along, to work collectively and unravel patriarchal patterns in the way we function day to day.  While travelling thousands of kilometers we shared information, ideas and conversation. The camp is one way we grow the movement, maintain connections across vast distances, spark wild ideas and fortify ourselves for the next steps.  

I believe being on country with the Traditional Owners, is one of the best way to listen, learn, plot, plan, strategise and reenergise the long campaign. Red earth deep in our pores, the landscape etched in our minds, relationships deepened, we leave feeling satisfied to stand with the Tjiwarl women and community that tirelessly fight to stop uranium mining on their country. We stand as one, we stand together to protect country, to look after country.

Folks may be familiar with the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plant disasters and the long term destructive health consequences on victims. But what are some of the lesser-known risks and responsibilities of Australia’s involvement in the global nuclear trade right now?

The global nuclear trade begins in Australia with uranium mining. 

All of Australia’s operating uranium mines have a history of leaks, spills and accidents – and none have ever been properly rehabilitated. And there is no secure, long-term solution to cope with the millions of tonnes of radioactive waste from mining operations, or the more risky and longer-lived radioactive waste from power stations.

For two decades now, successive governments have tried to impose uranium mines and radioactive waste dumps on unwilling remote communities. Right now, they’re pushing to ship, store and bury national radioactive waste on Aboriginal country in South Australia, even though SA said no to being an international waste dump.

We are tirelessly opposing uranium mining and radioactive waste dumps, and highlighting their threats to our land, water, Indigenous cultures and local communities.

Currently, BHP is pushing to expand Australia’s largest uranium mine, Olympic Dam in Roxby Down, SA. Australia has a poor track record on mine rehabilitation, particularly in the uranium sector. It is imperative that the Olympic Dam project does not build on this history of under-performance and cost shifting. The continuing allocation of public funds to address inadequate earlier rehabilitation at Rum Jungle in the NT is a salient case here.

One of the primary risks of Australian uranium exports, is the contribution to global nuclear proliferation pressures.

One of the biggest dangers facing the world is that posed by nuclear weapons. The international ‘safeguards’ system led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meant to protect against the misuse of ‘peaceful’ facilities and materials for weapons production. However the IAEA does not have the authority or resources to adequately carry out its safeguards role.

The Australian uranium industry and its promoters routinely claim that safeguards “ensure” that Australian-Obligated Nuclear Materials (AONM − primarily uranium and its by-products) will not be used in nuclear weapons. However Australia has no authority or capacity to safeguard our uranium exports − we are entirely reliant on the limited and underresourced safeguards system of the IAEA.

Australia sells uranium to nuclear weapons states, dictatorships, countries with a history of secret weapons-related research, countries blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

Germany is withdrawing from nuclear power and has just demolished one of its disused plants. Why is Germany leading the charge to become nuclear-free and what lessons can Australia learn?

The nuclear phase-out is as much part of the energy reforms as the move towards a low-carbon economy. 

Germany is on track to achieve its 80% renewable target by 2050.

This transformation has been the result of a range of policy measures. The government’s Energy Concept sets out Germany’s energy policy until 2050 with a strong focus on transforming the energy system.

It contains short, medium, and long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gases, increasing renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency in consumption, the building and transport sectors.

The depth and breadth of these legal and regulatory reforms can provide valuable lessons for Australia.

Since 2007, Germany has expressly integrated the energy policy and the climate policy, picking up on the ambition of transforming the energy system with cost-effective, consumer friendly, environmentally compatible and increasingly generated from renewable sources. 

This is a lesson that Australia could take from Germany as we continually keep climate and energy policy separate. The National Electricity Objective (NEM) remains narrowly-confined to achieving the reliable supply in an efficient way. Overall, Australia lacks long-term target setting, which stymies the necessary planning.

While German regulations now consider the whole system to strategically update electricity networks, in Australia network constraints are a major barrier to a 100% clean energy future.  

What are the solutions that First Nations communities are calling for?

As we know in Australia and all around the world it is indigenous communities and first nations communities who feel the impact of the resource and extraction projects the most. Often the last heard by Governments but the first affected by the policies.  

The First Nations communities that the WA nuclear free campaign works with are calling for a permanent ban on uranium mining. 

They also demand that the Government and Industry respect the basic Human Rights of Aboriginal peoples and adhere to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, respecting their rights to self-determination and engaging with Aboriginal peoples within the framework of the principle of free, prior and informed consent. 

The First Nations communities demand transparency and community consultation with government and industry and demand that the land councils, native title representative bodies and organisations fulfil their legal requirements to be accountable, transparent and representative of the community’s views.

If not nuclear energy, how can WA create long-term energy jobs and low-carbon affordable power?

Dirty and dangerous fuels like uranium, coal, oil and gas have no place in WA’s energy mix. We can power WA with clean energy and leave uranium in the ground. 

Our energy future is sun and wind-powered.

To solve our pollution problem and stop fuelling global warming, we must urgently shift to 100 per cent clean energy. This means changing how we generate electricity so it’s clean and renewable, and update our transport systems, houses, businesses and industrial processes so they can run on that clean electricity.

As we cut pollution from coal, we must also phase out gas and oil drilling, reject nuclear power and stop mining and exporting uranium. Dirty and dangerous energy belongs in the past, not the clean energy future. 

As far as job creation goes, renewable energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels or nuclear. Focussing on energy saving measures and clean energy would create more jobs than the capital intensive nuclear power. 

“Every job lost in the nuclear industry could be replaced by two in another clean energy sector”. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #501

WA has the opportunity to have zero emissions and cheap energy and at the same time create meaningful sustainable energy jobs. We have the solutions and the technology. We can stop burning coal, gas and oil and harvest 100 percent of our energy from the sun and wind. 

You’re hosting the Yellowcake Country webinar series. How can interested folks get involved with the Nuclear-free movement and what’s coming up for the rest of 2020? 

The Yellowcake Country webinar series is a 5 part series that is exploring the local, national and international impacts of Australia’s uranium industry. The webinar series covers topics such as radioactive waste, nuclear weapons, EPBC Act and voices from the Spinifex people on the proposed Mulga Rock uranium project. 

The nuclear free campaign has a long and proud history of supporting communities fighting for their land, fighting for their rights, fighting to protect their country and the health of their communities. We continue this year to uphold these relationships. 

The campaign continues to direct a powerful and united movement in WA and nationally, to ban uranium mining permanently. We continue to facilitate and debate the risks and responsibilities of Australia’s involvement in the global nuclear trade.  

We stand with and work together with the Kintyre, Wiluna, Leonora and Mulga Rock communities who oppose uranium mining and nuclear waste dumps on their country and who are concerned about plans to pollute their air, soil and water. We will continue to organise to meet on their country throughout the remainder of the year. 

We look for opportunities in media, community engagement, public speaking and events to make sure the nuclear power ban and uranium triggers are not lifted from the EPBC Act being reviewed this year. 

We work with and are guided by experts from the Australian Conservation Foundation and Mineral Policy Institute to continue to keep WA nuclear free. 

We will be raising funds over the next 3 months to research and document the 40 year resistance at Yeelirrie against the uranium mine and produce a photographic booklet to acknowledge the Traditional Owners at the forefront of this campaign who have fought so hard to protect country and culture.


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