MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto under multiple fire - from Australian workers, Aboriginal communities, politicians and gov

Published by MAC on 2004-09-10


Rio Tinto under multiple fire - from Australian workers, Aboriginal communities, politicians and government

Last week, Australia's biggest uranium mine was closed, after two reports found its operator, ERA (wholly-owned by Rio Tinto) responsible for unacceptable contamination earlier this year. The Ranger mine did stop operating - for a few days. But almost immediately on re-opening, yet another "spill" was recorded, adding to the more than one hundred serious "incidents" for which this mine alone has been responsible.

Photograph of Ranger MineThese recent events have raised a number of questions, not confined to the Ranger mine. Why did it take so long before any remediatory action was demanded by the federal government?

How many Australians are aware of an earlier review of another Australian mine, operated by foreign multinationals, which also pointed to a "culture of complacency" within the industry?

Now that nuclear power is being given a new "wash over" by some "greens" who claim they want to reduce the impacts of burning coal and oil, so it is even more important to examine the consequences of mining and processing uranium. Even in Australia, however - which has seen more uranium mining mishaps than most producing countries - the environmental lobby can't agree on whether Ranger should be permanently closed.

Meanwhile, as the possibility of closure loomed over Rio Tinto/ERA in early September, a spokesperson for the company once again raised the possibility of opening a uranium mine at Jabiluka. Last year, Rio Tinto promised Jabiluka's traditional landowners, the Mirrar People, that it wouldn't proceed with this project unless they gave it their full consent. Has this undertaking now been thrown aside?

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