Posts Tagged ‘Kakadu National Park’

Ranger Uranium’s reckless record inside Kakadu

Sunday, December 8th, 2013
Ubirr RockKakadu Sublime
Drive about 120 km south-east of Darwin and find this.
(Click image to enlarge)
[Source:  ‘100 Best Views In Australia #61 Ubirr Sunset, Northern Territory’ by Nelson Hall, Tourism NT, on the Australian Traveller website,


Magnificent tropical wetland, Kakadu National Park lies from 230 kilometres south-east of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.  Kakadu’s timeless Ubirr Rock (above photo) and its wild Nadab wetland expanding to the horizon is what Kakadu is all about.  This is why Kakadu is deservedly a world renowned wilderness..


“I’ll never forget my first sunset at Ubirr. I’d spent the afternoon enjoying the rock art, then made my way to the stone escarpment. It was beautiful looking out over the Nadab floodplain and surrounding stone country as the sun sank below the horizon. Wisps of bushfire smoke played with the pink and purple hues of the sunset.”

~ Nelson Hall, Tourism NT.


Kakadu finally, but only, received world heritage recognition in 1981, once the lucrative uranium ore inside it had been secured for mining.  In greedy politics, it’s called a ‘quid pro quo‘.

Then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser:  You black fellas can get your traditional land heritage listing now that we have legally excluded uranium mining for export inside Kakadu.  So in 1981, the Ranger Uranium Mine and the adjacent Jabiluka Mine were specifically excluded when Kakadu world heritage tourism brand was launched by the Australian Government.

Aboriginal Land RightsAustralian Aboriginal Land Recognition


Uranium mining has since 1981 operated inside Kakadu National Park by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA).  ERA is a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, which owns and controls 68% of ERA.

ERA exports all 3,700 annual tonnes of uranium oxide extracted to electric utilities like Fukushima in Japan, and other nuclear reactors in Asia, Europe and America.   The operation is subsidised by diesel fuel rebates by the Australian Government.  In return, since 1981 around $200 million in royalties have been earned by the Australian Government.

So Kakadu Uranium Mining has always been a lucrative government export churn, behind the facade of the same government marketing of Kakadu being a protected, pristine World Heritage sanctuary for international tourists to wonder at, and so condone its mining.

(Ed: Kakadu’s 1981 world heritage branding, became a tourism-politic template that extrapolated to Blue Mountains branding in 2000.  Since 2000, benefits have all been tourism revenue, with zero funded threatened species recovery plans).


Ranger Uranium Mine destroying KakaduA death crater inside world heritage recognised Kakadu National Park
this toxic scar is infamously known as Rio Tinto’s Ranger Uranium Mine


Just outside the mining perimeter fences, and perhaps downstream, Kakadu National Park is one of four Australian sites included on the World Heritage List for both cultural and great natural beauty and outstanding universal values of its internationally important wetlands.  Kakadu National Park was first inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981, and was subsequently expanded and re-inscribed in 1987, and again in 1992.


Dec 2013:  Another Rio Tinto uranium spill at Ranger in Kakadu


Despite Kakadu’s ecological values, yesterday another radioactive leak of an acid storage tank Ranger Uranium Mine occurred.  The mine’s operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) said the uranium processing tank failed (exploded) about 1:00 am (Northern Territory local time) on Saturday 7th December 2013.

Up to 1.5 million litres of radioactive slurry – a mixture of mud, water, uranium ore and acid – spilled when a leaching tank split open.  The material mostly spilled onto compacted earth, tarmac and drains.  The company said earlier in a statement the slurry moved outside the containment area, but was captured and contained on-site.

Mine Operator, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) denied reports of an explosion, but the tank burst with such force a crane was toppled and twisted and other infrastructure was damaged.  Workers had to be evacuated and production could be shut down for months.

ERA general manager of operations Tim Eckersley released a statement yesterday that said the spill was contained on site and there was no environmental impact.  Mr Eckersley said the tank was about 1450 cubic metres – capable of holding about 1.5 million litres of slurry – but the company would not say if it was full at the time.

Workers discovered a hole in the side of the 20-year-old steel tank and were evacuated before the tank burst and a mixture of slurry escaped”. Workers were evacuated about 1am when a hole was discovered in the leaching tank.  The tank then split, spilling the radioactive slurry and knocking down a crane that had been blocking the original hole.

“Containment systems stopped the flow and this has meant there is no impact to the surrounding environment,” Mr Eckersley said.

The site could be closed for up to two months as mine operators seek to contain it.


Radioactive pink uranium spill at Ranger MineRio Tinto Ranger Uranium Mine’s acidic radioactive pink acid slurry leaking inside Kakadu
[Source:  Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, 201312, ^]


Local Aboriginal Protest


Chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), Justin O’Brien, represents the traditional Mirarr people of the area.

Justin O’Brien:

“This is one of the worst nuclear incidents in Australian history and has called for an audit of the site’s facilities.  “How can we trust the assurances of a company which has repeatedly failed to safely manage this highly toxic material? 

This is up to a million litres of radiological material in the form of an acid exploding from a drum, bending a crane, twisting metal all around it, pouring down into stormwater drains, with 20 or so people ordered to evacuate. 

What may happen next?  It’s a catastrophic failure on the part of not only the operator but also the government regulators in the Northern Territory and Canberra.”

“This is nothing but a hillbilly operation, run by a hillbilly miner with hillbilly regulators.  Based on the woefully inadequate government response to the previous incident, we have no confidence that this will be taken seriously enough.

Aboriginal people in communities like Mudginberri, which is about seven kilometres downstream of the Ranger mine, no longer felt safe.  How can we trust the assurances of a company which has repeatedly failed to safely manage this highly toxic material?”


The Northern Territory Environment Centre is calling for an immediate halt to operations at the mine.

Environmental groups yesterday called on the mine to be shut down.  “Ranger is ageing, failing and risking and (ERA parent company Rio Tinto) need to match their corporate rhetoric with action,” the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Dave Sweeney said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the spill should “be the last nail in this accident-prone mine”.


Ranger Mine Uranium Tank CollapseThe uranium processing tank contained a million litres of acidic radioactive material.


Recent breaches demonstrated that the mine’s claims of being the most regulated in the world were incorrect and regulators had been found wanting.  Anti-nuclear campaigner Lauren Mellor said it is the third safety breach by the ERA in a month.

Lauren Mellor:

“Just within this month we’ve had an incident where a controlled vehicle was able to leave a secure area of the mine and was halfway down the Arnhem Highway before it was located,” she said.  “We’ve had four barrels found in the rural area in Darwin, four barrels used to transport uranium were discarded with no explanation.  The writing has been on the wall at Ranger for a long time. This disaster may well be the last nail in this accident-prone mine.”

GAC will write to the expert advisory bodies of the World Heritage Committee requesting international help, and is calling for a comprehensive external audit of what Mr O’Brien said was an endemically failing site.  Environmental groups are calling for a halt to operations at the mine pending an independent audit of the structural integrity of the plant, along with a review of the impacts of operations at Ranger.  ‘The time for mining a problematic and polluting mineral in a World Heritage area is over,’ said Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney. >>

[Sources:  ‘Contamination leak at NT uranium mine’, 20131207, Sky News, ^;  ‘Major acid leak at Kakadu uranium mine’, News Ltd, 20131207,  ^; ‘Spill of contaminated material at Ranger uranium mine; locals fear for Kakadu National Park’, 20131207, ABC News, ^; ‘Contaminated slurry spilled at Ranger Uranium Mine’, 20131207, NT News, ^]


How has Australia’s Environment Minister responded? 


Friend of Rio Tinto, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has declared the incident ”unacceptable” and called for an investigation. But he has not ordered suspension of operations or for this leak-plagued dangerous mine to be closed down.  Hunt has only ordered a clean-up and investigation into the spillage.

Hunt is useless and tainted.

Australia's Environment Minister Greg HuntAustralia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt

Climate Change centric Greg Hunt is hopeless when it comes to his environment portfolio.  He is all about a fickle climate and not that which is fast disappearing – Australia’s ecological environment.  Hunt has $3.2 billion to play with yet it is all to go to climate change ‘direct action’, not protecting ecology.


Ranger uranium mine a “hillbilly operation”


<<.. The accident prompted traditional land owners to describe the Ranger uranium mine as a ”hillbilly operation” with too little regulation. The mine has a history of safety breaches and unions have raised concerns about maintenance standards at the 33-year-old operation.

The Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Centre NT called for an immediate halt and no further expansion at Ranger. A protest at Rio Tinto subsidiary in charge of the mine – Energy Resources of Australia’s (ERA) Darwin offices was planned for Monday morning.

Uranium supplies at Ranger mine have nearly been exhausted, and ERA has been counting on a new underground expansion to keep the mine going. But it must get approval from the traditional owners of the area, the Mirarr people, for the expansion. The chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr, said people no longer felt safe living near Ranger mine.

Justin O’Brien:

”This is nothing but a hillbilly operation, run by a hillbilly miner with hillbilly regulators.  ‘Based on the woefully inadequate government response to the previous incident, we have no confidence that this will be taken seriously enough.”

A 20-year-old steel tank burst on Saturday morning, damaging heavy machinery and spilling acid and uranium over containment lines. No injuries were reported at the Ranger mine, where up to 1000 people work, but work stopped while the spill was cleaned up. There were still three other 20-year-old tanks holding acid at the Ranger mine, with unions concerned these too could burst.

ERA later confirmed it would launch its own investigation but was  “‘confident that Kakadu National Park will not be impacted as a result of this incident” and all water tests had returned normal readings.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s Northern Territory organiser, Bryan Wilkins, called for a full independent inquiry into ERA’s maintenance program at the mine site.  “‘Obviously there has been a failure in their maintenance program and that has put the workers at that mine site at risk,” Mr Wilkins said.

People well acquainted with Ranger said the incident did not reflect well on maintenance standards at the mine, which should have ensured that the acids in the tank were not able to cause such significant amounts of corrosion to cause a leak.  >>

[Source:  ‘Investigation as radioactive leak leaves Ranger uranium mine under a cloud’, 20131209, by Lucy Battersby and Peter Ker, Sydney Morning Herald, ^]


Nov 2013:  Ranger Uranium’s Mike Stone awarded Mine Manager of the Year?


Mike Stone Uranium Hero

<< Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) Mining Operations Manager Mike Stone has been awarded Mine Manager of the Year at the Australian Mining Prospect Awards following the successful completion of open cut mining at Ranger mine.

The Mine Manager of the Year Award was presented to Mr Stone at the Australian Mining Prospect Awards gala dinner in Sydney on the evening of 31 October 2013.  Mr Stone was recognised for managing the completion of mining in Ranger mine’s Pit 3 in challenging conditions, while maintaining a focus on safety and productivity.  >>

[Source: ‘ERA recognised with Mike Stone awarded Mine Manager of the Year’, 20131101, by Daniel Hall, Media Relations at ERA, ERA Media Releases, ^]


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