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Kakadu uranium miner scraps acid extraction project, but wants to go underground

Energy Resources of Australia's decision to scrap its plan to use a controversial acid leach mining technique at the troubled Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu is an instance of belated commonsense, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

ERA has confirmed it will not proceed with a planned mine expansion based around acid leaching, in which sulphuric acid is injected into low grade and waste rock.

The technique, which has not been used in a monsoonal region like Kakadu, raised concerns about contamination of the surrounding World Heritage listed National Park.

A recent ACF report into the leaching proposal identified increased and serious environmental threats to Kakadu and highlighted ERA's inability to manage existing operations and impacts at Ranger.

But, having abandoned the acid leaching plan, ERA now hopes to start digging an "exploration decline" (an angled tunnel big enough for trucks to drive into) at Ranger in 2012, shifting the aging, trouble-ridden mine's focus from open-cut to underground.

Ranger has been plagued by extensive wet season disruption to its operations, share market unease and unresolved waste and water management problems.

"ERA's abandonment of the dangerous heap leach plan provides some welcome relief for Kakadu," said ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney.

"The proposal to use this technique at Ranger was never more than a desperate idea to prolong an underperforming operation.

"But while this short term, high-risk project has been scrapped, ERA’s decision to dig a new tunnel to facilitate underground mining at Ranger suggests the company still hasn’t heard the community and the market’s message that uranium mining in Australia’s largest national park is not acceptable.

"ERA should be planning a comprehensive clean up of the mine site and beginning an ordered and managed exit from Ranger."