MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Uranium leak near Kakadu

Published by MAC on 2002-03-06


Uranium leak near Kakadu

Amanda Hodge, Environment writer
The Australian, March 6 2002

A URANIUM leak at the Ranger Mine - which sent water contamination levels soaring to unprecedented levels - has prompted calls for a review of mine operator ERA.

It was one of four breaches of the company's regulations since January, which included the first sign that contaminated water at the Jabiluka site could be tainting pristine water systems in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

Incorrect stockpiling of low-grade ore in a catchment area at Ranger is believed responsible for the contamination of Corridor Creek, which is within the lease and connects to the Magela River system used by Aborigines.

According to tests taken by ERA early last month, but not reported to stakeholders until later in February, uranium levels in the creek reached almost 2000 parts per billion - 4000 times the drinking water standard.

ERA chief executive Bob Cleary conceded the mistaken dumping had occurred and that the company had breached its reporting guidelines by delaying informing stakeholders in the hope of determining the causes and avoiding panic.

But he said the uranium leak was contained in waterbodies within the lease boundaries.

"I am disappointed this happened but we didn't do anything that jeopardised Kakadu National Park," Mr Cleary said yesterday.

But Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation executive officer Andy Ralph, a spokesman for the Mirrar traditional owners, said the breaches proved the company was still not accountable, despite implementing a rigorous new reporting system following a manganese leak at Ranger in 2000.

ERA is required to immediately notify all stakeholders - the Northern Territory Government, the Mirrar people, the Northern Land Council and the Office of the Supervising Scientist - of any breaches of uranium benchmarks.

"The main crux of the matter is ERA have four times broken
regulations that were put in place to allay the fears of traditional
owners about high levels of uranium entering Kakadu," Mr Ralph
said.

"How can the traditional owners have any confidence in the regulatory authority or the mining company when leaks continue to occur and reporting is continually delayed?"

Mr Ralph said ERA had failed to immediately report elevated uranium levels downstream of the Corridor Creek in the Magela River and in a retention pond at Ranger that overflows into the Magela.

It also delayed reporting for several weeks marked increases in background levels of uranium, nitrate and magnesium detected in the Swift Creek, which flows through Kakadu.

Uranium levels detected in January in the Swift Creek downstream of the Jabiluka mine site. which is now in standby mode, rose up to six times above levels upstream of the mine.

© The Australian

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