Busted: Kakadu uranium miner pleads guilty to contamination

ACF has welcomed today's acknowledgement by Energy Resources of Australia that operations at its controversial Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu have been unlawful.

ERA, majority owned by the British based mining giant Rio Tinto, has pleaded guilty to three counts of breaching the NT Mining Management Act following a series of severe radiation safety failures last year that saw workers and the community exposed to highly contaminated drinking water and mine vehicles.

"This is an important development - accepting there is a problem is the first step to addressing it," said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. "ERA has a serious problem at Ranger and will now, we hope, start to clean up its act and its mine."

ACF has also urged the federal government to improve monitoring and regulation at Ranger by urgently implementing the recommendations of a detailed 2003 Senate Inquiry that found the existing regulations were 'complex, confusing and inadequate'.

"For more than 18 months the federal government has failed to respond to a report that has identified serious problems and suggested common sense reforms at Ranger.

"While the government has sat on its hands workers have drunk and washed in water with uranium levels 400 times greater that the Australian safety standards, dirty mine vehicles have threatened the surrounding community and the company has accepted that it has repeatedly broken the law," said Dave Sweeney.

"This court decision shows that it is time for ERA to change the way it does business and for the government to act to protect the people and country of Kakadu."

Last year's contamination events at Ranger were the latest in over 120 documented leaks, spills and licence breaches since the mine opened in 1981, but it is the first time the company has admitted to breaching legislation in court. The frequency and severity of incidents has increased in recent years as the infrastructure gets older.

Environmental groups continue to call for ERA to detail its rehabilitation and exit plans for operations at Ranger and to clean up and leave the controversial site.