AAP: Uranium mine leaks dominate Rio AGM
8th May 2014
by Greg Roberts
RIO Tinto's uranium operations are contributing nothing to its profits - but they dominated its annual general meeting.
Anti-nuclear activists had plenty of ammunition after two toxic, radioactive spills in a week at its two uranium mines shortly before Christmas.
Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney accused the board of shirking its responsibilities by refusing to guarantee that it would fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine site.
The site is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, was shut down after December's spill and is operated by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), which Rio owns 68 per cent of.
"I would urge you to commit to Rio Tinto addressing its full financial and other responsibilities for its subsidiary," Mr Sweeney said at the AGM in Melbourne.
"You share common uranium marketing with ERA, you direct ERA and ERA reports to Rio Tinto's energy division."
Rio's chief executive Sam Walsh told the AGM ERA was a public company controlled by an independent board that would decide how to rehabilitate the area.
As the major shareholder, Rio would play its part and he insisted there had been no overflows of leaked material into rivers.
The company was also presented with a letter from a community group representing people connected to Rio's Rossing uranium mine in Namibia.
It stated that higher than normal rates of cancers had been detected in past and present workers there going back to the 1970s and called for an epidemiological study.
Mr Walsh said he took the claims seriously and would order an independent review, but that there was no medical evidence of any issues.
Unions and workers from Rio's Hunter Valley coal mines in NSW also accused the company of shoddy industrial practices and safety standards.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union vice president Wayne McAndrew said Rio was the worst industry offender for relying on casuals and contractors, which led to slipping safety standards.
Mr Walsh said he cared deeply that three people were killed at Rio's operations last year.