Ranger still a risk despite approval for restart


Environmental Centre NT & Australian Conservation Foundation Media Release

Date of publication: 
5 June 2014

The Federal and Northern Territory governments’ approval – on World Environment Day – for Energy Resources of Australia to re-start uranium processing at the embattled Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu is a blow to transparency and a case study in bad timing, environment groups said today.

Processing operations at the Ranger mine had been suspended since a uranium leach tank collapsed, spilling more than a million litres of radioactive and acidic slurry in December 2013.

The restart approval pre-empts the public tabling and consideration of a long promised report into the cause of this failure and wider infrastructure and governance adequacy at Ranger.

“Energy Resources of Australia should not be getting a green light when the report into the major industrial failure that led to the suspension of operations has not even seen daylight,” said ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney.

“The promised review into operations at Ranger hasn’t been made public and this ill-considered decision puts the commercial interests of ERA ahead of the safety of workers, local communities and the protection of the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park.”

The restart news comes amid growing uncertainty surrounding ERA’s capacity, and parent company Rio Tinto’s commitment, to fund required rehabilitation works at Ranger. These concerns have emerged at company meetings in Darwin, Melbourne and London during the suspension period.

“This approval is premature and pre-empts the finalisation and public release of the ongoing NT Worksafe and Department of Mines and Energy investigations into the cause of the leach tank failure, and the results of Geosciences Australia’s examination of possible environmental impacts arising from the incident – and possible future legal action,” said Lauren Mellor, Nuclear-free NT Campaigner.

“ERA’s own internal investigation found more critical asset and systems failures requiring immediate remedial action than the current Investigative Taskforce have identified. This is a far cry from the robust and transparent regulation of an ageing and failing uranium mine that the community expects.”

ERA runs a failing mine in a fragile place. Kakadu deserves the highest protection and ERA requires the highest scrutiny and both Commonwealth and NT Ministers must act swiftly to make the details of these investigations public. A continued failure to do so further undermines the process by which a decision to allow restart has been arrived.”

ERA has recorded over 200 leaks, spill, licence breaches and incidents at the Ranger mine and there are documented and detailed concerns over the adequacy of the mine’s regulatory regime.

“We will be increasing our efforts to highlight and halt the impacts of this mine and are calling for all plans to prolong its operation under the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine to be scrapped.”

Context and comment: Lauren Mellor, ECNT – 0413 534 125; Dave Sweeney, ACF – 0408 317 812

Dave Sweeney
Nuclear Free Campaigner
Australian Conservation Foundation
Floor 1, 60 Leicester St, CARLTON VIC 3053, Australia
Ph +61 3 9345 1130 Mob +61 408 317 812 Fax +61 3 9345 1166
d.sweeney [at] acfonline [dot] org [dot] au


Rio Tinto unit to restart Ranger uranium mine


6 June 2014

SYDNEY – Processing of uranium from Australia’s Ranger mine is set to resume after its owner, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA), said it had received government approvals to restart following a toxic spill in December.

ERA, 68.4 percent owned by miner Rio Tinto, expects the processing plant near Kakadu National Park to reach normal production levels in the third quarter, with 2014 uranium oxide output forecast at 1,100-1,500 tonnes.

The disruption means ERA will show a $120 million-$140 million first-half loss, the company said.

An investigation into the spill found that more than 1 million litres of liquefied uranium material escaped from a corroded steel tank.

Workers were evacuated in the early hours of Dec. 7 when a hole was discovered in the tank. The tank subsequently split, knocking over a crane and spilling the uranium onto the ground.

Uranium oxide is used as fuel to generate nuclear power.

Heavy rainfall stopped operations for five months in 2012 at the Ranger mine, which can supply as much as 10 percent of the world’s uranium.

The approvals, from the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy and the Commonwealth Minister for Industry, followed a probe into the integrity of the processing plant and related maintenance and safety systems following the latest incident, according to the company.

The price of uranium plunged after the March 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. Japan idled its entire industry in response, exacerbating a worldwide supply glut.

June uranium futures stood at $28.25 per pound on Thursday versus $68 per pound before the earthquake and tsunami that led to the nuclear disaster. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)