Ex-PM Kan urges Australia to stop exporting uranium

Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has urged Australia to help wean the world off uranium instead of trying to boost its uranium exports, local media reported Saturday amid a weeklong visit by the avowed opponent of nuclear energy.

"I hope that Australia can be exporting not uranium...but electricity created through renewable sources," Kan, who was Japan's prime minister during the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, was quoted as saying by ABC TV after arriving in the country Friday.

He said Australia, by exporting uranium around the world, has been "making it more possible for more countries to be relying on nuclear power" to meet their energy needs, when it really should be "making efforts to do what can be done to reduce such dependence on nuclear power."

Kan, who as premier attempted to wean Japan off nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, urged Australia not to hinder the world's move in that same direction.

On Saturday, Kan was in Australia's Northern Territory where he visited an area near the Ranger Uranium Mine, which supplied some of the fuel for the Fukushima plants.

On his website blog, he said he met at Kakadu National Park with representatives of the mine site's traditional Aboriginal owners, the Mirarr people, and was emotionally moved at what they told him.

Apologetically, they expressed to him their sorrow that uranium, mined from their traditional land without their blessing and purchased as a commodity by Tokyo Electric Power Co. for use at the Fukushima nuclear plants, had caused so much devastation in Japan.

"This perception really amazed me," he said. "It not only moved me, but it really got me thinking."

Australia's indigenous people, he said, clearly have a view of land "ownership" that is completely different from that of the capitalist mindset. To them, he said, the land their ancestors have continuously inhabited for 60,000 years or more is an integral part of their lives and culture.

Justin O'Brien, CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corp. that represents the traditional owners, was quoted by the Australian Associated Press as saying Fukushima disaster "confirmed the worst fears Aboriginal people had from as early as 1976, that one day there would be a problem, either here or overseas, from the mining in this place."

"It's important for the former prime minister to see the front-end impacts of the nuclear fuel cycle, how devastating they've been for this community," he said.

Mirarr traditional owner Annie Ngalmirama told AAP she was upset that uranium from Kakadu had been involved in the Fukushima disaster.

"It's really sad, what happened to his country," she said.

Kan is due to travel to Perth, Canberra and Brisbane in coming week to share his experiences overseeing the response to the Fukushima disaster, highlight his concerns about the uranium trade and promote investments in renewable energies.

Australia, with more than one-third of the world's known uranium ore deposits, is the world's third largest uranium producer and has supplied the nuclear industries of such countries as Japan, South Korea, China, Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is due to soon travel to India to finalize a deal to sell it Australian uranium for the first time.