MAC/20: Mines and Communities

ERA, government to blame for uranium mine: ALP

Published by MAC on 2004-08-31

ERA, government to blame for uranium mine: ALP

August 31, 2004

Sydney Morning Herald

The federal government has been called on to shoulder responsibility after a report found the company behind a uranium mine in Kakadu National Park had breached its operating licence.

The Northern Territory government is considering whether to prosecute ERA over an incident in March this year when the Ranger mine site's water supply became contaminated with uranium, making 28 workers ill.

An investigation by the Office of the Supervising Scientist Arthur Johnston found the mine's radiation clearance measures and water systems were inadequate, with leaky pipes and broken valves common around the mill.

ERA announced it would temporarily suspend mining and processing to address issues raised by the reports.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said he would ensure thorough independent audits that the company complied with new standards.

But opposition environment spokesman Kelvin Thomson said the government must share responsibility with ERA for what Mr Macfarlane described as a culture of complacency which had developed at the mine.

"Following more than 120 documented incidents, spills and leaks since the Ranger mine opened in 1981, Labor initiated a Senate inquiry into the Ranger mine in 2002 without any support or cooperation from the Howard government," Mr Thomson said.

"The inquiry found that monitoring at Jabiluka and Ranger mines lacks rigour and independence and was insufficient for assessing intermittent and cumulative impacts. It said the monitoring regime had to be improved."

Mr Thomson said the inquiry found the current legislative and regulatory framework to be complex, confusing and inadequate in many respects.

"It found a need for an increased role of traditional owners in land management and protection, and for research into the social impacts of the Ranger mine," he said.

"The Howard government has failed to act on these recommendations and the problems still continue."

Mr Thomson said the government's handling of uranium mining safety and environmental issues at Ranger had been casual and inadequate.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle called for the permanent closure of the mine.

"The minister needs to use his power to stop the operating licence (and) revoke the export licence that exists for Ranger uranium mine," she said.

"It is the most destructive, dangerous and toxic industry - it occurs wholly within the Kakadu World Heritage area - it is an utterly inappropriate place."

Senator Nettle said there had been no prosecutions at Ranger and that the prospect of a $10,000 fine for environmental breaches was a mere drop in the bucket for ERA's majority shareholder, Rio Tinto Ltd.

The Mirarr traditional Aboriginal owners said Rio Tinto and ERA were now on notice.

"It is time for a complete overhaul of Ranger's safety and environmental protection management," a Mirarr spokesman said.

"If the company fails to immediately lift its game the commonwealth government should revoke its uranium export licence."

The spokesman said the Mirarr people had long held and publicly expressed concerns at inadequate management practices at Ranger and these concerns had been vindicated by the findings of the supervising scientist.

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