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'The most important clean-up in Australian mining history': Rio Tinto under scrutiny at Ranger

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear-free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation

The complex task of remediating four decades of imposed uranium operations in a World Heritage region is continuing inside Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), majority owned by mining giant Rio Tinto, has recently released the second version of its Mine Closure Plan (MCP) outlining how it intends to rehabilitate the Ranger project, Australia's longest running uranium mine.

Despite their clear opposition Ranger was imposed on the lands of the Mirarr Aboriginal people in the 1970s. In the decades since the mine has been a source of contamination, controversy and contest.

Under the terms of the mining license all mining and mineral processing at Ranger is required to end by January 2021. Mining ended earlier this decade and ERA is now processing stockpiled ore and increasingly turning its mind to the massive challenges involved in restoring the heavily impacted site. ERA is required to clean up Ranger to a standard where "the rehabilitated area could be incorporated into the Kakadu National Park".

Given that Kakadu is Australia's largest national park and is World Heritage listed for both its cultural and natural values and importance this is a very high bar and there are real concerns over how this will happen and whether it is even possible.

The general direction of the MCP is positive but, as ever, the devil is in the detail – or in this case, the lack of it. While outlining a broad rehabilitation pathway the MCP continues to defer detailed analysis and approaches to future iterations of the document over coming years. This approach is partly understandable as the works will evolve with experience and there are legitimate areas of uncertainty, but such an approach also allows considerable scope for future works to be driven primarily by corporate imperatives rather than defined environmental objectives.

The first MCP was released last year and reviewed in Unfinished Business (, a joint report by national environment group the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Sydney University's Sydney Environment Institute.

The report highlighted a need for increased scrutiny, broader stakeholder engagement and transparency to facilitate the best possible closure and rehabilitation outcomes at Ranger. These issues remain as unfinished business in the current version of the MCP.

A further uncertainty surrounding rehabilitation efforts at Ranger is ERA's financial capacity. In February 2019, a new ERA feasibility study significantly increased the estimated rehabilitation costs at Ranger to around A$925 million (US$633 million). ERA has assets of around $A425 million, or less than half the amount currently understood to be needed for the clean-up. This clear funding shortfall has been described by the Mirarr as 'a source of significant concern to the Traditional Owners' – an understated view shared by other stakeholders.

ERA has recently moved to provide some assurance over the finances needed for clean up by launching a renounceable share offer. It is planned that over three million new shares will be issued, with existing shareholders being offered the first purchase option. At the time of the launch Rio Tinto's head of energy and minerals, Bold Baatar, stated "we take mine closure very seriously and are ensuring that ERA is able to fund the closure and rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area". Rio has committed take up its full entitlement and underwrite the initiative.

The new share issue will both increase Rio's stake in ERA and raise an expected A$476 million to aid in funding rehabilitation. The initiative is being currently being challenged by Singapore-based ERA minority shareholder Richard Magides and his Zentree Investments group who, unlike Rio Tinto, are keen to continue operations at Ranger. The Mirarr Traditional Owners have spoken of the urgent need to secure a funding solution and both they and ACF have welcomed the share move as an important step in providing certainty and capacity for the complex rehabilitation and closure effort.

The challenge posed in attempting to clean up a contaminated site in a tropical landscape is profound. This is exacerbated by the Aboriginal cultural significance and global recognition and awareness of Kakadu. Veteran resource journalist Matt Stevens recently wrote in the Australian Financial Review that Rio "wants to make Ranger the gold standard of mining rehab" and described Ranger as "the most important clean-up in Australian mining history".

In a single sentence he expressed the intent and the determination that has long driven the Aboriginal and environmental positioning around this work: 'this job has to be done right'.

Rio Tinto does seem committed to repairing decades of damage at Ranger. But trust is a finite commodity and must be built, demonstrated and delivered. The Ranger rehabilitation effort remains unfinished business and Rio Tinto remains the focus of global attention and scrutiny.

Closure plan for Ranger U mine in Australia's tropical Top End

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dave Sweeney ‒ nuclear-free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation

Traditional Aboriginal owners and civil society groups have welcomed the public release of a detailed Mine Closure Plan for the controversial Ranger uranium mine in the Kakadu World Heritage region of Australia's Northern Territory.

The Mine Closure Plan was released on June 5, World Environment Day ‒ exactly 21 years since Traditional Owners positioned a massive banner on the Kakadu escarpment opposing the planned uranium mine at Jabiluka.

The plan to mine Jabiluka was defeated, and now the nearby Ranger mine is winding down. The Ranger mine, operated by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) – a Rio Tinto subsidiary – has ceased mining uranium and is now processing stockpiled ore prior to a mandated end of operations in 2021.

The rehabilitation of the site has been a focus for Aboriginal landowners and environment groups in recent years with sustained advocacy highlighting Rio Tinto's responsibility and calling for increased transparency and effective action. The release of the Mine Closure Plan follows recent calls by civil society groups at Rio Tinto meetings in Darwin, London and Melbourne and marks a significant step towards to end of the uranium mining story in Kakadu.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners of the Ranger site, described the plan as 'decades overdue' and called on Rio Tinto to demonstrate they have sufficient resources to provide confidence that they can meet their rehabilitation obligations. A joint statement by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council said: "ERA and its parent company Rio Tinto must clearly demonstrate that they have sufficient resources devoted to mine closure to provide stakeholders with confidence that the objectives outlined in the closure plan can be met. The future of Aboriginal communities downstream of the mine and the World Heritage listed values of Australia's largest national park are at stake. ERA and Rio Tinto's rehabilitation obligations include remediation of the site such that it can be incorporated in the surrounding Kakadu National Park."

Concerns have been raised about the lack of formal feedback opportunities on the plan. Environment and other civil society groups joined Traditional Owners in calling for the need for the broader community to comment on the plan and the proposed clean-up works.

Environment groups are independently reviewing the plan to ensure it is fit for purpose and delivers the best possible rehabilitation outcomes. The Environmental Defenders Office has been engaged by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Environment Centre Northern Territory to provide legal expertise and advice. Principal Lawyer of the Environmental Defenders Office Northern Territory, Gillian Duggin, said: "It's a unique site surrounded on all sides by the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. It's also of incredible cultural significance. So getting the rehabilitation right is critically important and will be a complex and time-consuming exercise."

Cleaning up the heavily impacted mine site after three decades of operation is set to be a complicated and costly process with estimates ranging around one billion Australian dollars (€650 million). The complexity is compounded by the properties of the product and the politics of the place. Large volumes of long lived radioactive mine tailings need to be contained for a period of 'not less than 10,000 years' while the Ranger site is located inside Kakadu, Australia's largest national park and World Heritage listed for both its natural and cultural value. The Ranger rehabilitation must be performed to a standard where the affected area can be accepted into the World Heritage region.

This is a very high bar and, as the Traditional Owners recently told Rio Tinto, 'the world is watching'.

The Mine Closure Plan is posted at

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #820 - 16 March 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

No prosecution for massive spill at Australian uranium mine

In December 2013 a tank collapse resulted in a spill of 1.4 million of radioactive slurry at the Ranger uranium mine in Australia's Northern Territory. Investigations found that damage to a rubber liner had allowed the acidic mixture to corrode the steel wall of the tank, leading to its failure. Operations at the mine were suspended for six months.

Over two years later, the NT Department of Mines and Energy has decided not to prosecute Rio Tinto subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) for the massive spill. The Department claimed "that it is not in the public interest to prosecute ERA under the Mining Management Act" ... or any other Act.

The decision was "derelict, deficient and deeply disappointing", said Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation. "Many people expected the regulator to step up and regulate – these people and Kakadu deserve better than this failed and flaccid response from the Department."

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said: "The regulator failed to prevent the spill, they took years to deliberate, and came up with nothing. They've essentially announced to mining companies in the NT that there are no legal consequences for catastrophic negligence. We urge the NT government to reverse this decision immediately and force ERA to be accountable."

Under the terms of ERA's lease all mining and processing at Ranger is required to cease by January 2021. The company is legally obliged to rehabilitate the site so it can be incorporated into the surrounding World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park by 2026.

Mapped: The world's nuclear power plants

Carbon Brief has produced a useful online resource showing the location, operating status and generating capacity of all 667 power reactors that have been built, or are under construction, around the world. The website also provides a useful snapshot of the sick and sorry state of the nuclear power industry worldwide, with statistical information on increased construction times, the aging of the global fleet of nuclear reactors, nuclear power's economic negative learning curve, and nuclear's falling share of worldwide electricity generation.

Switzerland to start nuclear phase-out in December 2019

BKW is to permanently shut down its 373 MW Muehleberg nuclear power plant in western Switzerland on December 20, 2019, the company said on March 2. Muehleberg is to be the first Swiss nuclear plant to close under a federal government plan to phase out the country's entire 3.3 GW nuclear fleet by 2035. BKW had intended to operate the plant until 2022, but in October 2013, the company announced it would close the plant in 2019, three years ahead of schedule, to avoid making long-term investments in the plant. BKW concluded that a weak power price outlook – in particular impacted by continuing expansion in renewable power in neighbouring Germany – could not justify the significant investments required for longer-term operations.

Situation of the five Swiss nuclear power reactors as of August 2015:

Beznau I

365 MW

46 years old

Beznau II

365 MW

44 years old


373 MW

43 years old


970 MW

36 years old


1190 MW

31 years old

Nuclear energy conference in Prague

The third annual Nuclear Energy Conference, 'Nuclear Energy – Expensive Gamble' will be held in Prague on Tuesday April 5, 2016. It is organized by Hnutí DUHA (FoE Czech Republic), Calla – Association for Preservation of the Environment, and South Bohemian Mothers. Emmerich Seidelberger will address risks of the nuclear power industry in the world; Ian Fairlie will reflect on the Chernobyl disaster; speakers will address nuclear safety issues in Belgium, Slovakia and France; Oda Becker and Jan Jílek will report on the results of the risk and safety assessments carried out in response to Fukushima; and Tobias Heldt will discuss the issue of limited liability for nuclear damage. The Conference is free of charge. Translation into English, German and Czech will be provided.



In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Norway: New report on hypothetical Sellafield accident.

On 23 March, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority published a report on the possible consequences for Norway of an atmospheric release of radioactivity from the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste at Sellafield. The report shows that an accident could entail considerable fallout over Norway. The release of just 1% of the tanks' contents could result in levels of radioactive fallout in Western Norway that are five times higher than those measured in the worst affected areas of Norway after the Chernobyl accident.

If an accident caused the release of 10% of the tanks' contents, it is calculated that the fallout would be 50 times the maximum level experienced in Norway after Chernobyl. A major accident is of course considered to be less likely than more limited releases. However, the British authorities have not provided Norway with any specific information indicating that such an incident can be ruled out.

The report considers an accident involving the storage tanks for highly active liquid waste. These currently contain about 1000 m3 of radioactive waste from several decades of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Norway would be vulnerable in the event of a large release of radioactivity from Sellafield, both because of its geographical position and because of the prevailing weather conditions. The impacts of a major atmospheric release could be particularly severe. The Norwegian authorities consider that in the worst case, an accident at Sellafield could have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment and society for decades to come.

Ministry of the Environment (Norway), 26 March 2009

Australia: Queensland: The return of an anti-uranium state government.

PULL down the bunting, recork the champagne, throw out the sausage rolls -- there will be no celebration party for the Queensland uranium players. Labor is back. There will be no uranium mining for at least the next three years…so began a report in the conservative daily newspaper The Australian shortly after the recent Queensland state election. Uranium mining emerged as an issue in the 21st March election with the incumbent Labor party pledging to retain its long standing ban on mining while the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) threw its weight behind an open slather mining policy. The Greens committed to legislate against the industry and ruled out any preference deals with the LNP on the back of their uranium policy. The uranium industry lobbied hard in the lead up to election and mobilized considerable media support for its spurious claims of employment and revenue benefits. National and state environment groups worked to keep the issue live and publicly rated the various party’s performance and promises against a range of issues, including their position on uranium mining. The return of an anti-uranium state government has been welcomed by campaigners as an important development in the continuing and very active national uranium debate.

Dave Sweeney, email, 29 March 2009

No new IAEA-DG, yet.

The IAEA Board again is inviting governments to nominate candidates for Director General. Neither of the two candidates that the Board voted upon on march 26, received the necessary two-thirds majority of votes during successive rounds of secret balloting. The Board’s Chair - Algerian Ambassador Taous Feroukhi noted that in accordance with the Board’s agreed procedure, the slate of candidates is considered to have been wiped clean. She said she will again be inviting Member State governments to nominate candidates on 30 March 2009, with nominations to be submitted within four weeks thereafter. The Board voted on two candidates - Ambassador Yukiya Amano of Japan, and Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa. Under the Board’s agreed procedure, either or both of these candidates can be re-nominated by Member States.

The Director General is appointed by the Board of Governors with the approval of the General Conference for a term of four years. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei´s term of office expires on 30 November 2009. He has served as Director General since 1997. (see also: Nuclear Monitor 685, Briefs)

IAEA Staff Report, 27 March 2009

France: cancer-figures temporarily workers are increasing.

In February, a man perished at a building site at the nuclear reactor in Paluel, France. This was not given much attention, because he was "only" a temporary worker. There are 20.000 temporary contractors working in nuclear power stations in France. Without them, reactors would not keep going or get repaired. A confidential report by EDF reveals that 84% of the subcontractors in the nuclear industry would like to quit because of bad working conditions. Safety measures are minimal, and the employees are under enormous pressure since every day the reactor is offline (because of maintenance, for instance) costs EDF 1 million Euro's. Research by the Centre International de recherche sur le cancer shows that while temporary workers get 80% of the radiation, the employees of EDF get 20%. The group of EDF employees show an increase in cancer of "only" 8%, the subcontractors 40%.

Siné Hebdo (Fr.), 18 March 2009

Too little too late: Financial compensation for French test victims.

The French government says it will pay out at least 10 million euros (US$13.6 million), initially for one year, to people with health problems as a result of French nuclear tests carried out in the Algerian Sahara and in Polynesia, Defense Minister Herve Morin was quoted as saying on Tuesday, March 24. Some 150,000 people are estimated to have been affected.

France tested its first nuclear bomb on February 13, 1960 in the Algerian Sahara. Between 1960 and 1996, France carried out a total of 210 nuclear tests in Algeria, French Polynesia and the Pacific Ocean. Participants in the tests and people living in areas close to the testing zones have long complained of health problems including leukemia and other forms of cancer. France has for a long time refused to officially recognize a link between its testing of nuclear bombs and health complaints reported by both military and civilian staff involved in the tests.

Compensation in other countries:

  • Russia: Test veterans get a medal, pension, pride of place in parades and use of a special radiation hospital.
  • China: announced last year that military and civilian veterans would get pensions.
  • U.S.A.: Ronald Reagan introduced a compensation deal (the 'Radiation Exposure Compensation Act') in 1990 which has since paid out a total of US$1.4 billion.
  • Australia/New Zealand: Veterans with any illnesses known to be caused by radiation are entitled to subsidized private medical care.
  • U.K.: Government still insists veterans were not harmed and denies any responsibility.

AP, 24 March 2009 / Sunday Mirror (UK), 29 March 2009

India: first uranium delivery from France.

(April 1, 2009) Following clearance by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, first batch of 60 tons uranium ore concentrate imported from Areva NC France was received on March 31, by the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad. India. This uranium ore would be processed and used in pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) in India.
India and France had entered into an accord for supplying reactors and fuel consequent to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the 123 agreement. As a first step, Department of Atomic Energy had entered into a contract with French Nuclear supplier AR EVA NC for the supply of 300 tons of uranium ore concentrate 31 March & 1 April 2009

Australia; Ranger:

The controversial Ranger uranium mine inside the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory is again under scrutiny following confirmation of the extent of a long standing and unresolved seepage problem at the operations main tailings dam. In February the Supervising Scientist, a federal agency set up to monitor the impacts of Ranger, confirmed the existence and extent of the seepage problem to a parliamentary Senate hearing. Around 100,000 litres of contaminant is leaking in an uncontrolled fashion from the dam every day. Australian environmental and anti-nuclear groups have been active in highlighting this and a series of other operational failures at Ranger in the national media. The timing of the leak has been highly embarrassing to mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA – 68% owned by resource giant Rio Tinto) as the company has just applied for federal approval for a major expansion of the aging mine. ERA are seeking approval to build a new tailings dam and a large scale acid heap leaching facility to process low grade ore and waste rock stockpiles. The company has further flagged plans to construct an underground shaft from the base of the current open pit operation to exploit a lens of uranium ore that runs towards the Magela floodplain, a pivotal component of Kakadu’s unique wetlands environment. The expansion plans have been fiercely opposed by ERA’s critics who are calling on the federal government to veto the move and initiate an independent inquiry into the performance and environmental and social impacts of Australia’s oldest uranium mine.

Dave Sweeney, 28 March 2009

Quote of the month:

“We have continued to see incidents over the last few years that indicate that safety culture was not a priority through all the staff at all the plants,” NRC Chairman Dale Klein, 10 March, at the 21 annual Regulatory Information Conference of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) cited in Nucleonics Week, 19 March 2009


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Diet Simon

(May 18, 2007) Australian uranium exports are set to leap up regardless of what government takes power in elections late this year. As mentioned very briefly in the latest issue of the Nuclear Monitor, Australia's opposition Labor Party (ALP) has just narrowly scrapped its 25-year-old opposition to development of new uranium mines.

(656.5804) Diet Simon - A motion from Kevin Rudd, the new ALP leader, supported by South Australian Premier Mike Rann, to lift the ban and allow more uranium mining passed 205 votes to 190. But Rudd told a national conference of his party that he's leaving it up to the states and the Northern Territory, all of which have Labour governments, to decide whether to license new mines. Most state governments are still opposed.

There are now three producing mines in Australia: BHP Billiton's enormous Olympic Dam in South Australia (the biggest uranium mine in the world); the Beverley mine, also in South Australia; and the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory.

The premiers of Queensland, Western Australia and NSW said their states would remain free of uranium mines, despite the policy change. Western Australia and Queensland have some of the most promising uranium prospects in the country and it's expected that ultimately there will be enough pressure on their governments to eventually force uranium mining in those states. But WA premier Alan Carpenter said uranium mining would not happen under his watch. His government could face pressure, though, from mining giant Rio Tinto which wants to develop its Kintyre deposit in the state's north.
Carpenter said while he had concerns about the environmental impact of uranium mining, he also did not want to see WA become the world's dump site for atomic waste. "We are not going to take the world's nuclear waste even though there is strong lobbying and big financial incentives (that) are talked about for our state to do that," he said.
Premier Peter Beattie of Queensland may find himself under pressure from his own party and although saying he personally doesn't want uranium mining in his state, he'll be mindful of countries like China and Japan, which buy Queensland's high quality coals and have a thirst for nuclear energy. Coal is still Australia's biggest export earner.

"Open for business"
So far the premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, is the odd man out, welcoming more uranium mining. Rann lobbied hard for the change and expects the expansion of uranium mining to create billions of dollars in revenue and tens of thousands of jobs in his state over the next few decades.
SA already has two uranium mines, BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam and the Beverley mine, owned by Heathgate Resources, and the new Honeymoon mine will begin production next year. The Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine holds about one third of the world's uranium reserves. A mining license has also been granted to SXR Uranium One for an ISL (In Situ Leach) mine at Honeymoon. Rann called the policy change a great victory for his state. He said South Australia was now "totally and completely open for business" in the area of uranium mining and export. But he also opposes having a nuclear waste dump in his state.

Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, is known for her anti-uranium stance, but Prime Minister John Howard's conservative national coalition government has pointedly reminded her that it's paying most of the NT's bills and she should allow more mines to open. Australia's third, and longest serving uranium mine, Energy Resources of Australia's Ranger, is in the NT, as are many advanced projects. The federal government has the power to approve new mines in the territory, leaving that option available for any future Rudd government, though the Howard government has not taken it up.

The uranium issue does not arise in Tasmania or Victoria while New South Wales has for decades banned exploration for uranium, and any change of heart would still see NSW out of contention in the race to develop new mines. NSW Premier Morris Iemma said his state would not change the ban, in place since 1980.

"More uranium into a dangerous world"
Both Iemma and Carpenter condemned Prime Minister Howard's announcement of a plan to develop a nuclear power industry in Australia. "The Prime Minister is determined to rush headlong into giving us a nuclear industry and the NSW government will oppose him all the way," Iemma said. However, a recent opinion poll found popular opposition to nuclear power in Australia had edged down from 51 to 50 percent.

The numerically insignificant Australian Greens have lambasted both the Howard government and the Labor opposition over their respective plans for nuclear power and expanding uranium mining. Greens Senator Christine Milne accused Howard and Rudd of "cozying up" to big business. "We are witnessing a new low in moral cowardice in Australia," Senator Milne said. "What Mr Rudd and the Prime Minister are doing is putting more uranium into a world market, driving the nuclear fuel cycle. History will judge them both for sending more uranium into a very dangerous world at a time when we don't need to be doing it."
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says Australians should be very worried by both government and opposition nuclear announcements. The ACF's Executive Director Don Henry says he is concerned that both parties are heading down the nuclear path. The Democrats, another small opposition party, also oppose expansion of the nuclear industry.

The Mining Council of Australia has welcomed the new ALP policy, but added that it must be complemented by key enabling reforms from the state governments. MCA Chief Executive, Mitchell H Hooke, said: "This is a logical first step in establishing a nationally consistent, modern policy governing the production and export of uranium for peaceful purposes. We strongly endorse Australia's strict regulatory regime governing the production and export of uranium and Australia's stringent export safeguard arrangements to ensure that Australia's uranium is only used for peaceful purposes.

"Increasing world energy demand as well as concerns over climate change and energy security have stimulated global demand for mined uranium as reflected in a significant increase in its price. With 38% of the world's economic demonstrated resources and over 60 companies currently exploring for uranium, Australia is well positioned to meet this demand from both the developed and developing world," the mining body said.

The ALP is still digesting its uranium decision, with some in the party angry at the nature of the two-hour debate and others determined to move on to attacking the government's nuclear industry plans.
Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett (known to many as lead singer of rock band Midnight Oil), says despite voting against the decision, he accepts it. He says Labor should now challenge Howard over his plan for nuclear power plants. "He's taking us down a road and a path which I think is very dangerous," he said.

Howard for his part has slammed the new Labor uranium policy as "hypocritical opportunism" - and offered to arrange a tour of a Chinese nuclear power station for both the federal and South Australian Labor leaders to "see where Australian uranium actually goes". Howard's government is poised to sign a new uranium export deal with China, which could be worth billions of dollars. "You have this ridiculous situation where they have hailed themselves as apostles of the 21st century by ending their three mines policy on uranium, yet in the same breath they're saying 'but of course, we can't convert the uranium for nuclear power in Australia although we can sell it to countries overseas and they can use it for civilian nuclear purposes.'"

If Howard's Liberals stay in power after the next election, they plan to allow an increase in the quantity of uranium exports to an ever wider range of customers, and they visualize the development of a domestic enrichment and fuel fabrication industry, plus a raft of new nuclear power reactors.
Most of these are of the allegedly safe and terrorism-proof "generation 4" type, and have yet to leave the drawing board, let alone receive operational approval. Canberra would remove "unnecessary constraints on expansion of uranium mining, such as overlapping and cumbersome regulations relating to the mining and transport of uranium ore".

Predictably, support for nuclear energy comes from the Australian Nuclear Association whose Clarence Hardy says the reactors currently being developed will produce less waste and are extremely safe. "There are one or two of those designs which are literally impossible to melt down," he said.

Labor argues that nuclear energy would be far more costly for Australia than clean coal or exploiting renewable energies. "Developing nuclear reactors, constructing them, is a generation-long endeavor, these are not quickly developed facilities let alone solving the issue of where are they going to go.
"We have the ability to develop all of the technologies to make that energy useable, we can better invest in clean coal, we can better invest in renewables. Let's get on with that rather than having, what in some ways is, an unproductive debate about nuclear energy," ALP deputy leader, Julia Gillard said. Australia has abundant alternative energy resources - solar, wind, geothermal and coal.

Preparing for a boom
Australia's uranium industry is preparing for boom times ahead. Uranium mining companies are pushing ahead with applications for licenses that once lay dormant. In South Australia alone the government is fast-tracking 100 exploration licenses in the wake of the Labor policy change.

Premier Rann said 60 companies in South Australia hold 160 exploration licenses for uranium, with another 100 in the queue. "What we'll be seeing is a rush for exploration licenses," he said. Jason Kuchel from the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy says companies that have found substantial deposits had previously been reluctant to move ahead. "Prior to the Labor conference those companies were unsure of whether or not they would be able to proceed," he said. He expects companies to apply to open new uranium mines within 12 months.

A mining industry conference in Adelaide heard that now that both sides of the political divide are aligned on uranium mining policy, judging each project on its merits, all the uncertainty in the industry is gone.

A mining executive argued that there's general acceptance that uranium mining and exploration is good, provided it translates into jobs and regional development and things for ordinary Australians.

Toro Energy, a uranium explorer based in Adelaide with projects in South Australia and the Northern Territory, says the new Labor policy will be viewed positively not only by the local uranium mining industry but also by overseas companies looking to source uranium.

There's an enormous uranium boom in Australia where more than 140 listed explorers are operating, many in WA despite the highly publicized opposing stance by Premier Carpenter. Even before the Labor conference took its decision, uranium stocks generally rose, some explorers reaching new peaks. More than 100 companies are keen to mine uranium all around the country, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland, now that they don't face blanket rejection.

Australia holds around 25% of the world's known uranium reserves, and the price of the mineral has climbed consistently since the start of 2004. Exploration expenditure in Australia has increased tenfold in three years, and the Labor switch is expected to boost investment further.
The spot price of uranium climbed from .50 a pound to in the past year and now it looks as if Australia's exports of the controversial product will be increasing whichever party wins the next national election. The value of listed uranium explorers in Australia surged 23 per cent in the first three months of the year.

Though Canada is now the dominant supplier, Australia is the second biggest exporter, with the largest and lowest-cost recoverable resources. It mines 19.1% of global uranium production compared with Canada's production of around 24.9%.
The hefty rise in uranium stocks this year is largely due to expectations of prolonged high demand.

More than enough uranium can be extracted from existing mines to satisfy all Australia's overseas customers for some time to come. New mines will simply increase the competition for existing markets.

Forty-eight new nuclear reactors are expected to be commissioned globally by 2013, including 13 in China and eight in India, these optimistic numbers seem to create strong demand for Australian uranium. A condition for allowing new mines under ALP policy will be that the buyer must be from a country that has signed the nuclear non-proliferation accord.
Although the federal government continues to claim that Australia strongly supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will not sell uranium to non-adherents to it, it appears Australia now indirectly sells it to Taiwan through the United States, and is considering selling it to India.

Former diplomat, Professor Richard Broinowski at the University of Sydney, author of "Fact or Fission - the Truth about Australia's Nuclear Ambitions", commented in the "Canberra Times" newspaper: "Howard seems to be doing his utmost to weaken what remains of the treaty's credibility. If Australia sells uranium to India, it will tempt other states to walk away from their treaty obligations. If Howard joins the proposed nuclear fuel-making consortium led by the US, he will reduce the effectiveness of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and cut across its own plans to develop and control a nuclear enrichment and supply group."

There's some suggestion that Labor has made the change to avoid being attacked by the prime minister for adhering to its three-mine compromise formulated during the passionate nuclear debate at the 1982 ALP national conference.

Source: Diet Simon
Contact: Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Floor 1, 60 Leicester St, Carlton, Vic 3053, Melbourne. Australia.


New law bans nuclear power in Queensland.


Nuclear power stations, nuclear facilities and radioactive waste dumps are now banned in Queensland. Queensland Mines and Energy Minister Geoff Wilson said the Nuclear Facilities Prohibition Act 2006 came into effect on May 1 "There is no need for Queensland to go down the path of nuclear power plants or toxic waste dumps when we don't need to." Mr Wilson said that under Queensland's new law, a plebiscite would have to be held if the federal government tried to override it to build a nuclear facility in Queensland. Banned nuclear facilities include reactors, uranium conversion and enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants, spent fuel processing plants and facilities used to store or dispose of material associated with the nuclear fuel cycle such as radioactive waste material. Facilities for research and medical purposes and the operation of a nuclear-powered vehicle are exempt.
The Age, 2 May 2007

Olympic DamBeverleyRanger Mine

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