Monday, March 05, 2007

NT Uranium Mine Danger: Heavy rains pose radioactive risk to Kakadu

MARCH 5, 2007 - Ranger danger: Heavy rains pose radioactive risk to Kakadu - Australia’s largest National Park faces the threat of radioactive and heavy metal contamination from flooding at the controversial Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu. Operations have been halted and workers evacuated from Energy Resources of Australia’s mine after access was cut by rising water...
There are serious concerns over the risk of contaminated water and mine wastes from Ranger being spread through the wider Kakadu environment. In 2003 a Senate Inquiry into Ranger concluded that ‘the intense and highly seasonal wet season of the NT makes the dispersion of mine waste waters the main threat to ecosystems’ and found ‘a pattern of underperformance and non-compliance’.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has called for the urgent implementation of the Senate recommendations and an independent review of water and waste management at the Ranger mine in the light of the latest flooding and contamination risk.

“As the flood waters and radioactive risks continue to rise the federal government remains complacent,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. “For four years the government has failed to implement a set of commonsense recommendations. It has found time to try and dump radioactive waste in the NT and promote domestic nuclear power but not to protect World Heritage Kakadu.”

“This latest flooding shows the real impacts and risks of uranium mining,” said Dave Sweeney. “ERA wants to extend the life of Ranger mine, instead they should be cleaning up and clearing out – this industry is neither foolproof nor waterproof. Uranium mining is not a clean trade. Federal Labor should not consider new uranium mines when the existing ones are leaking, dangerous and deficient.”

Uranium mining consumes millions of litres of water every day and a huge amount of electricity. It generates an estimated 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, and has displaced many square kilometres of native vegetation to make way for the processing plants and tailings dumps.

The uranium is used to generate power in a nuclear reactor, power that Prime Minister John Howard says is "cleaner and greener than just about any other form of energy". But in the rush to embrace nuclear power as a way to combat climate change, the damage uranium mining does to the environment seems to have been all but forgotten.

Australian uranium mines and tailings dumps have a history of leakages and spills; many of the accidents have been minor but some have been serious. The most notable in recent years involved the contamination of workers' drinking water at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory in 2004. It happened when water used during the uranium extraction process was mistakenly connected to the drinking-water supply.

The Northern Territory Government viewed the breaches of regulations at the mine "very seriously". It recommended the first prosecution against Energy Resources Australia since it had begun operating the mine in the world-heritage Kakadu National Park in 1980.

Doctors were unable to advise the workers about the long-term effects on their health because no one in the world had ever drunk such large amounts of uranium-contaminated water.

The Age
Sydney Morning Herald
Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia
Cyclone causes flooding across NT - ABC

1 comment:

justin said...

Nothing special.
this sorta disaster happens every year.

in fact, every wet season, we see another example of the serious challenges faced at Ranger uranium mine during the monsoon.

Last year, cyclone Monica demonstrated how powerless the miner is to contain their large volumes of radioactive wastes in the face of a direct hit. This year, heavy rain saw see contaminated water from a retention pond overflow into the pit.

At first glance, the seasonal failure of management regimes at Ranger is puzzling.
Surely after over 25 years, ERA should have learnt to plan for the wet?

But on closer inspection, it becomes clear that it's not so much that they can't learn to better manage their waste, as that each year there's just more of it.

Every year, more radioactive tailings waste is dumped on site, and more contaminated water is stored in ponds to be sprayed on the surrounding bush – if a cyclone doesn't come first to carry the pollution further into the surrounding Kakadu National Park.

Without question, this miner should not be allowed to expand their operations until they can demonstrate some degree of control over their existing radioactive wastes.