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#609 - May 7, 2004

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Full issue

25 Years ago

(May 7, 2004) What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news "then" and "now".

In WISE Bulletin 5 we reported on a demonstration against uranium mining in Australia: "On April 6th and 7th, major rallies took place in all major Australian cities. […] Organisers say this is the largest ever anti-nuclear demonstration in Sydney." (WISE Bulletin 5, May/June 1979)

Uranium ore was discovered in Australia in the 1890s and was initially mined as a source of radium. Primarily intended for the U.S. and U.K. weapons programs, mining for the element uranium began in the 1950s and was followed in the 1960s with mining for civil nuclear energy. Australia's uranium is exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union countries. (Uranium Information Center Issues Briefing, February 2004)

Uranium mining is polluting, costly and negatively affects aboriginal landowners whose local environment is threatened by high levels of radioactivity contained in uranium tailings. Leaks have resulted in the contamination of the areas surrounding the mines. Mining is capital-intensive, which means low employability per invested dollar, and in the 1990s uranium prices dramatically fell below actual production costs. Sacred sites of cultural and spiritual significance to aboriginal landowners are regularly destroyed. (Uranium Mining in Australia, Movement against Uranium Mining, July 1991)

Studies have shown that the living conditions of aborigines have not been improved by mining activities as was claimed by the industry. Employment levels for aboriginals are extremely low as are their social circumstances. According to the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights act, the traditional owners have the right to veto commercial activities on their territories. But in 1978 the federal government made an exception for uranium mining. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999)

In 1983 the Labour Party won government elections and introduced the "Three Named Uranium Mines" policy. This policy limited mining to the Ranger, Nabarlek (now closed) and Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) mines with the intention of eventually phasing out uranium mining in the long term. In 1996, however, a Liberal-National coalition came to power and abandoned the three mines policy.

The liberal government also allowed the operation of three new mines: Beverly, Honeymoon and Jabiluka. Suggestions for more new mines have been made at six other locations. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004)

Beverly began operation in late 2000 but following a trial operation, the Honeymoon mine lies idle as financing remains unclear. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004; WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 600, 19 December 2003)

In 1998, the federal government approved mining at Jabiluka, known for being one of the world's biggest uranium reserves. The mine is located near a unique nature park (Kakadu National Park) and the proposal raised strong protest from the traditional landowners. Following much protest, the traditional owners finally won. Although exploitation had begun on a small scale, the uranium ore was returned to the mine and the mine was cleaned up in 2003. In April 2004 the Northern Land Council, acting on behalf of traditional owners, adopted an agreement with owner ERA that gave them the right to veto future development of the mine. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999; The Age, 22 April 2004)




ISSN: 1570-4629


Protest camp against Beverley Uranium Mine in Australia; leak at Ranger mine

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 26, 2000) Hundreds of activists are protesting against the coming opening of the Beverley mine in Australia. At the Ranger mine, a leak occurred in a tailings dam. The authorities were not notified until 23 days later.

(530.5176) WISE Amsterdam - About 200 people from around the world have set up an action camp at the gates of the Beverley uranium mine to protest against the start of its commercial operation as is scheduled in July. Thirty-one activists were arrested on May 9 during protests. They were arrested when they entered the Heathgate Resources grounds and refused to leave. Nine people were arrested two days earlier in a roadblock action. The prisoners were said to have been used as hostages as the police told the demonstrators that they would be released only if the roadblock was removed. The blockade lasted for 24 hours.

Environmental groups dealing with the mine, such as the Flinders Ranges Environment Action, object to the environmental consequences of the in-situ leach mining practices. The Beverley aquifer lies only 50 to 100 meters above the country's most important underground water supply, the Great Artesian Basin. The area has experienced consistent seismic activity.

The Beverley mine is owned by Heathgate Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. General Atomics. The Beverley deposit was purchased by General Atomics with the foundation of Heathgate in 1990. Protests at the site have been held since 1997.

At another mine, the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, a leakage took place on April 5 that went unreported for 23 days. The owner, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), has to explain to the government why it took so long before authorities were notified about the tailings dam leak.

The Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, representing the Mirrar population of Kakadu, condemned the failure of governmental supervision over ERA's operations. Because of the leak at the Ranger mine, a group of parliamentarians has called for the government to rescind approval for the ERA's Jabiluka mine, also in Kakadu National Park.


  • Environment News Service, 9 May 2000
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 5 May 2000

Contact: Flinders Ranges Environment Action, c/o Post Office Copley, South Australia 5732
Tel: +61-8-8675 2242 or +61-428 660636

BeverleyRanger Mine

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:

Contact: Friends of the Earth
PO Box A474
Sydney South
NSW 2000
Tel: +61-2-9283 2004
Fax: +61-2-9283 2005