Australia: Go-ahead for Beverley; protests at Jabiluka owner

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
(April 9, 1999) On March 18, the Australian government gave permission for the exploitation of the Beverley In-situ leaching uranium mine in northern South Australia. Large blockades in Melbourne at the office of Jabiluka owner North Limited resulted in clash with police.

(508.4998) WISE Amsterdam - Police and anti-uranium activists have clashed outside the Melbourne office of North Ltd. on the second day of protests against the Jabiluka mining project. A few days before the blockade North placed newspaper advertisements that described anti-uranium protesters as terrorists.
The protest sealed the head office of mining giant North Ltd, majority owner of the company that operates Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Demonstrators blocked three entrances to keep North staff out. But 60 were smuggled in by bus through a back alley under police guard.
On the second day of the blockade and in contrast to the day before, police cleared a path for motorists in the streets behind the company's offices. Police horses were being used to clear the road. North managing director Malcolm Broomhead accused the activists of intimidation and bullying.

The environmentalists were even more angry because permission was given for the Beverley ISL-uranium mine. In-situ leaching involves pumping sulphuric acid and oxygen underground to dissolve uranium into the groundwater, which is then pumped to the surface and the uranium removed. There are numerous ways in which ISL can lead to significant contamination of surrounding groundwater systems or the wider environment:

Escape of leaching solutions

-water moves from high pressure to low pressure, and thus any hole or opening away from the ore zone could act as a flow path for solutions. These may include features such as leaking boreholes, fault planes running across the aquifer system, old underground workings, or any other similar opportunity for water to flow freely.

Difficulties in geochemistry

-when the solutions are injected into an orebody aquifer to mobilize uranium, many other minerals are dissolved into solutions and many other radionuclides and heavy metals are mobilized also. These can include radium, arsenic, vanadium, molybdenum, cadmium, nickel, lead and others. The subsequent increase in concentrations can be up to a thousand times higher or more.

Precipitation of solids

-due to the nature of the groundwater and orebody chemistry, it is possible to form solid minerals that precipitate from solution and thereby act to reduce or at worst block the flow of solutions through the intended areas. These can include the formation of calcite (calcium cabornate), gypsum (calcium sulphate), jarosite (potassium iron sulphate) and other minerals.

Waste water disposal

-the inherent nature of ISL is that it produces extremely large quantities of waste water and solutions which need to be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. These are from the bleed water (excess pumping water) and waste solutions from the uranium extraction plant. Typically these solutions are mixed and re-injected into the same groundwater as that being mined, or injection into a deep aquifer remote from other groundwater users of the area or potential environmentally sensitive areas. Extremely high concentrations of radionuclides and heavy metals can be found in these waste waters, and the disposal area chosen also undergoes rehabilitation after the cessation of ISL mining.

High radon exposures

-due to the mobilization of uranium in the groundwater and circulating solutions, high concentrations of radium and radon are often found, leading to possibly high radiation exposures.

Environmentalists vowed to fight the Beverley project by any means possible, saying the in situ leaching process to be used retains waste products underground and threatens important water supply. Environment Minister Robert Hill said the government had been advised that the Beverley acquifer was unsuitable for drinking water or for stock and irrigation purposes and was isolated from other groundwater including the Great Artesian Basin.

Final export and development approvals are still required for Beverley, which has an estimated resource of 21,000 tons of uranium oxide (U3O8), but the government and its owners (US General Atomics) think commercial production would start in early 2000.


  • Reuters, 19 March
  • The Australian, 30 March
  • Out of sight, out of mind, the hidden problems of ISL on:

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