Mineral inputs

Australia is the world's largest exporter of black coal, alumina, diamonds, ilmenite, rutile and zircon, the second largest exporter of iron ore, aluminum, lead and zinc, and the third largest exporter of gold (ABS 1994b; IEA 1999c). This illustrates the current importance of mineral inputs to the Australian economy.

Data on the consumption of minerals in Australia are quite insufficient. However, it is likely that most mineral inputs are used for increasing industrial production and urbanization (see, for example, Baccini and Brunner 1991). This extension of the anthropo-sphere is driven not so much by population growth as by the increasing demand for residential areas and roads typical of affluent societies.

Mining activities reduce future land productivity, and produce toxic wastes and large translocations of materials. Metal ore flows are especially harmful to the environment in qualitative terms. Australia's continuing expansion of coal mining (see, for example, NSWDMR 1998) also contradicts its greenhouse gas policies since coal burning is a significant contributor to global warming. Mining in Australia is also a politically sensitive issue since mining interests frequently conflict with Aboriginal land rights and the protection of sacred sites (Connell and Howitt 1991; Moody 1992). As is recognized internationally, uranium mining is particularly dangerous to humans and the environment, and radioactive leaks, spills and accidents are frequent at uranium mining sites (for example, Anderson 1998; CCNR 2000; WUH 1992). No technology exists to safely contain the radioactive waste (for example, Lenssen 1996; Mudd 2000; The Ecologist 1999). Despite strong protest, Australia's current Conservative Government is expanding uranium mining in Australia, including mining in the ecologically and culturally sensitive Kakadu National Park (Wasson et al 1998; UNESCO 1998; Gunjehmi Aboriginal Corporation 1998). A national industrial ecology dependent on uranium inputs adversely affects global industrial ecology since radioactive wastes are often exported and uranium may be used for nuclear proliferation (for example, Roberts 1995; Muller 1995; Skor 1998; UN 1996b). Hence Australia's industrial ecology mineral inputs involve significant social, cultural and environmental impacts, and inputs such as uranium must be seriously challenged.

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