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Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1998

Aborigines protest Osaka utility's uranium mine link


Staff writer

OSAKA -- About 20 Japanese antinuclear activists and representatives from the Mirrar aboriginal tribe in Australia's Northern Territories demonstrated Wednesday in front of Kansai Electric Power Co. headquarters in Osaka to protest the utility's involvement in the Jabiluka uranium mine.

The demonstration was led by Japanese antinuclear activists, Yvonne Margarola, the tribe's senior landowner, who is fighting the development of Jabiluka, and Jacqui Katona, a representative of the tribe.

"Kansai Electric Power is deeply involved in the Jabiluka mine and would be one of the main customers for the mine's uranium. They have ignored the pleas of the Mirrar people to halt mine construction, and have turned their back on human rights violations," Katona charged.

The demonstration came on the last official day of meetings of the World Heritage Committee in Kyoto, following the committee's urging of the Australian government to suspend construction of the mine, which began in June, until spring.

A bureau to assess potentially endangered sites is scheduled to meet again next spring to review the Australian government's request to exclude Jabiluka from the World Heritage Site in Danger list.

Jabiluka sits within Kakadu National Park, a previously declared World Heritage Site, and a report issued by a World Heritage mission last week said uranium mining would endanger the park's ecosystem. On Tuesday, the full committee voted 20 to 1 to adopt the report, with only Australia opposed.

Jabiluka's connection to Japan comes through the Japan Australia Uranium Development Corp., of which Kansai Electric, Shikoku Electric, and Kyushu Electric are the main investors. Kansai Electric is the largest investor, with a 50 percent stake.

Although Kansai Electric officials kept a low profile during the World Heritage Committee meetings, they spent the past week lobbying Diet members and bureaucrats in Tokyo to pressure the committee to keep the site from being listed as endangered, according to Komei Hosokawa, a Saga University professor who has followed the company's involvement for several years.

Kansai Electric officials had no comment on Hosokawa's allegations. In past meetings with local Japanese activists, they have refused to provide information on the exact nature of their relationship with Jabiluka or how much uranium they plan to purchase from Jabiluka, citing security reasons.

They also declined invitations to meet with Mirrar representatives Wednesday, saying the Jabiluka controversy is between the Australian government and the aborigines, and it is up to that government to grant final approval for the mine's operation.



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