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The latest failure at Rio Tinto’s/Energy Resources of Australia’s Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu is further evidence of unresolved and systemic deficiencies at the controversial mine and requires an urgent response from regulators.
It has been reported that a controlled vehicle -ie/ a vehicle designated for dedicated use in the most contaminated parts of the Ranger operation and not permitted to leave the site - has left the site and entered the surrounding community.
Further details of the incident are pending but this clear and severe management failure is the latest in a litany of over two hundred leaks, spills and breaches at the troubled mine.
The most recent independent assessment of the Australian uranium industry – a Senate Inquiry in October 2003 – found the sector characterised by underperformance and non-compliance, an absence of reliable data to measure contamination or its impact on the environment and an operational culture focussed on short term considerations.
Last month ACF joined the Environment Centre (NT) in a call for an independent review of compliance with the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry and of the wider Ranger operation and this latest failure highlights the urgent need for action.
This is particularly important in the post Fukushima context, a continuing nuclear crisis directly fuelled by Australian uranium, and given the call by the UN Secretary General in September 2011 that Australia conduct ‘an in-depth assessment of the net cost impact of the impacts of mining fissionable material (uranium) on local communities and ecosystems’.
Uranium remains a high risk-low return sector that poses unique, unresolved and long-lived threats and does not enjoy secure social license
The ageing Ranger mine has posted financial losses for the last few years and remains badly hit by the continuing market fallout from Fukushima. It continues to be contested and plagued by water and waste management issues.
Open cut mining finished at Ranger in late 2012 and the mine is now relying on processing stockpiled ore.
ERA have submitted plans to mine a 34,000 tonne underground deposit (Ranger 3 Deeps) – a mining technique has not been used in Kakadu and is currently the subject of a full federal EIS.
“ERA’s vehicles are out of mine and we now need clear action from the regulators to ensure that Kakadu’s protection remains front of mind. It is time for ERA to step aside from plans for underground mining at Ranger and concentrate on cleaning up its current contamination and lifting its existing game”.
Today’s news comes as the Australian Uranium Association has announced that in a bid to ‘enhance the uranium sector’s advocacy’ it will merge with the peak mining lobby group the Minerals Council of Australia. The move seeks to normalise uranium mining but, as this incident highlights, uranium remains a high risk-low return sector that poses unique, unresolved and long-lived threats and does not enjoy secure social license.