MAC/20: Mines and Communities

New spill on eve of Ranger reopening

Published by MAC on 2004-09-06

New spill on eve of Ranger reopening

By Lindsay Murdoch in Darwin, Sydney Morning Herald

September 6, 2004

Operations at the controversial Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park have been disrupted again by a spill only days after the Federal Government threatened to close it.

A spokeswoman for Energy Resources Australia (ERA), the company that operates Ranger, said yesterday that 20 litres of chemicals containing a small amount of uranium spilled out of a walled-off area of the mine's ore processing plant into a stormwater pipe on Saturday.

She said the spill was contained and mopped up as the mine's processing plant was about to start up after a temporary shut down last week so improvements demanded by the Government could be made.

The spill caused no health, safety or environmental risk, the spokeswoman said.

But it comes amid calls for the mine to close after more than 120 mishaps, some of them serious, since it opened in 1981.

The Herald reported on Saturday that two children aged five and eight played for 44 days in mud from the mine that was contaminated with uranium, receiving exposure to unacceptable doses of radiation.

Their mechanic father, Devon Baker, 40, who was also exposed to "hot" mud while working on a mine excavator, said neither he nor the children had been given medical tests since they were exposed.

He fears the children will have long-term health problems despite an assurance by the Commonwealth-employed supervising scientist, Dr Arthur Johnston, that while unacceptable their exposure was unlikely to cause significant health problems.

ERA's chief executive, Harry Kenyon-Slaney, said last night his company "felt for" and apologised to Mr Baker, who lost his job and has been unwell since he and his children were exposed to the radiation.

Mr Kenyon-Slaney said ERA would talk to Mr Baker's former employee and Dr Johnston to "see if he wishes to participate in any programs we have".

Mr Kenyon-Slaney denied ERA had told Mr Baker not to talk publicly about the incident, a claim Mr Baker made in Saturday's report.

"I cannot vouch for every single person at the mine but what I am saying is that it's categorically not company policy to say anything like that," he said.

Sources at the mine said the latest mishap appeared be the result of human error.

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