MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto in uranium reclamation battle with Australia

Published by MAC on 2020-05-19
Source: ABC News

Essential rehabilitation at stake

To fund or not to fund?

That's always been the underlying question for the UK's most vital miner, Rio Tinto. Although the company has sold, or withdrawn from, many ventures - especially in recent years - it has largely managed to carry governments and shareholders with it [See:  Rio Tinto 2020 AGM report].

However this ploy doesn't seem likely to work in Australia, a country that's been all too familiar with RioTinto's devious modus operandi, for over a hundred years.

Ranger Mine locked in stoush over funding for Kakadu uranium
rehabilitation monitoring

By Jane Bardon

ABC News

19 May 2020

Key points:

* ERA has asked for a review of its $2.5 million annual research
funding commitments

* The Commonwealth said it is unfortunate that ERA has decided to
"dispute" its contribution

* An independent adviser said funding must be assured for decades
of monitoring

The Federal Government is locked in a stoush with the company mining
uranium on the edge of the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park
over whether it will continue to fund monitoring of the site's

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has flagged it wants to pull out of
paying $2.5 million a year for the Supervising Scientist Branch
independent monitoring agency, which it funds with the Commonwealth, at
the end of June.

Community members of ERA's independent technical consultation committee,
including Dr Gavin Mudd, an Associate Professor of Environmental
Engineering at RMIT University, have been told by the Supervising
Scientist Branch its future research is in doubt because of the funding

"That funding is no longer guaranteed for next year is a major concern,"
Dr Mudd said.

"This work is needed to give us confidence that what is done at Ranger
actually works, including the restoration of ecosystems, how stable the
landform is, the radioactivity and the surface and groundwater water
quality issues."

Dr Mudd said failures in the rehabilitation of other Northern Territory
uranium mines, including Rum Jungle near Bachelor, have demonstrated
that there will need to be monitoring for decades after Ranger's closure.

ERA, which is owned by Rio Tinto, has been forced to close the mine by
2021 after a series of uranium leaks and spills into the Alligator
Rivers system during its 35 years of operations.

The company has promised the mine site will be returned to a pristine
state, suitable for inclusion in the Kakadu World Heritage park by 2026,
and that monitoring by the Supervising Scientist will prove that.

The Federal Government provides three-quarters of the Supervising
Scientist's $8 million annual operating budget.

ERA told the ABC it hasn't made a final decision on the funding.

"As ERA prepares to cease processing [uranium ore] at Ranger in January
2021, ERA sought a contractually permitted, periodic review of the terms
of its longstanding research funding arrangement with the Commonwealth
Government," ERA chief executive Paul Arnold said.

"There has been no decision that ERA's contribution would cease.

"ERA is committed to working with the Supervising Scientist Branch,
regulators and other key stakeholders with the shared goal of
rehabilitating Ranger in accordance with the environmental requirements."

But a spokesman for the Federal Environment Minister told the ABC the
Government felt it was "unfortunate that ERA is choosing to dispute its
ongoing contribution under the Deed".

"The role of the Supervising Scientist ensures the unique environment of
Kakadu National Park, its Indigenous culture and its stunning wildlife
are protected from the effects of uranium mining within that
rehabilitation process and into the future," he said.

"The Commonwealth view is that ERA needs to continue to make an
appropriate contribution to support ongoing research during the
rehabilitation phase of the mine to ensure there are no shortfalls."

The spokesman added that the Minister Sussan Ley has asked the
Environment Department to mediate with ERA to try to resolve the dispute.


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