Staff writer

OSAKA — Ongoing protests in Australia’s Northern Territory over a planned uranium mine have direct implications for western Japan because much of the uranium would end up in power plants operated by a Kansai Electric Power Co.-led consortium.

Last week, construction began on the 19-hectare Jabiluka mine, which lies inside Kakadu National Park and legally belongs to the Mirrar aboriginal tribe.

The Jabiluka project, which has been years in the planning, is expected to yield between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of high-grade uranium annually over the next several decades. In return, the Mirrar people will receive about $210 million in compensation.

Construction of Jabiluka is being pushed by Energy Resources Australia, a private firm that mines uranium for Australian and international power companies.

Both ERA and the Australian government predict that, with the addition of Jabiluka, Australia’s share of the world uranium market will increase from the current 7 percent, or about 2,600 tons per year, to 12 percent, or 9,000 tons per year, by the turn of the century.

But the Jabiluka project has been the subject of dispute between the ERA and the Mirrar people. ERA claims that, under a 1982 treaty signed with the Mirrar, mining operations can take place at the Jabiluka site. The tribe, however, insists the treaty does not give anyone permission to mine for uranium and went to court last year to stop the project.

The court rejected their claims, and the ERA received a construction license for Jabiluka in February. Last month, the protest over the mine went international. On May 18, rallies were held in North America, Europe and Australia.

In Japan, protesters visited the Australian Embassy in Tokyo and Consulate General in Osaka. Japanese activists sent a petition with more than 700 signatures to Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, asking that he intervene to stop the project.

The same day, Sen. Lyn Allison of the opposition Australian Democrats introduced a bill to prohibit the mining. But when construction officially began last week, the protest turned violent. Police moved in and arrested 18 activists who had camped out at the site.

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