MAC: Mines and Communities

Uranium tailings dumped in bags

Published by MAC on 2008-01-17

Uranium tailings dumped in bags

17th January 2008

by The Australian

THE uranium mining rush has suffered a setback after drill tailings were discarded in plastic bags at an environmentally sensitive site in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.

Developer Marathon Resources confirmed yesterday that investigations were under way into the disposal of "exploration materials" at Mt Gee, 660km north of Adelaide, which attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year.

The discovery sparked renewed calls from conservation groups for uranium exploration in the area to be banned.

Police were present on December 27 when the owners of the nearby Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary resort, siblings Doug and Marg Sprigg, unearthed a dump of plastic bags filled with apparent tailings from the drill site.

"I've probably seen 50 to 60 bags myself," Ms Sprigg told The Australian.

"We had heard the rumours about what was going on and we went out to the site with the police to do a dig.

"The bags were buried in between half a metre and about a metre and half of soil."

South Australia's Acting Mineral Resources Minister, Michael Atkinson, said exploration tailings were supposed to be re-inserted in drillholes, with all other material being held and then disposed of in Adelaide.

If disposal of the tailings at Mt Gee had breached conditions of Marathon Resources's exploration licence, then the company would be ordered to clean up the site.

"If that doesn't happen, there's of course the possibility that it will be prosecuted and fined," Mr Atkinson said.

He said there was no public health threat.

Marathon Resources pledged yesterday to co-operate with the state investigation, which would run parallel to its own review.

"Marathon has comprehensive records and photographs of all processes undertaken," said chairman Peter Williams. "If the authorities request that further work be done, our records enable us to do it and we will."

It is estimated that the Mt Gee ore body has the potential to yield up to 37,000 tonnes of uranium oxide. Environment groups, including the Wilderness Society, oppose drilling in the Arkaroola wilderness.

Last week, the South Australian Government approved Australia's fourth uranium mine at Honeymoon, in the state's east.

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