AAP: Ranger 3 Deeps future uncertain

Publish Date:
9th April 2014

by Neda Vanovac

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THE Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park is currently on track for the site to be fully rehabilitated when it closes - but it can't guarantee that if the Ranger 3 Deeps underground project doesn't go ahead.

It has been a difficult year for mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), marred by security breaches and the collapse of a leach tank in December that spilled about one million cubic litres of radioactive and acidic slurry at the site.

ERA says there has been no impact on the surrounding environment, but processing operations are still suspended and no resumption date has yet been set.

CEO Andrea Sutton told AAP after the company's annual meeting on Wednesday that "ERA with its current plan and strategy for the business will be able to meet its obligations with regards to rehabilitation" of the Ranger site.

The obligations mean a stop to mining activity by 2021 and a full rehabilitation so it can be incorporated into the surrounding national park by 2026.

But in its annual report, ERA said the ultimate cost of rehabilitation is uncertain and if the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed "ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation".

"It's deeply disturbing that they think they can play this kind of brinkmanship," said Dave Sweeney, spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The implied threat was bad for business, said Justin O'Brien, CEO of the Gundjeihmi Corporation, which protects the interests of the traditional Mirarr people.

The traditional owners of Kakadu are still willing to look at the geological results for the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground project to determine whether to allow it go ahead, he said.

An ERA-commissioned investigation into the collapsed tank found seven critical actions relating to tank inspections, and thickness testing for all leach tanks must be addressed before processing resumes.

"How does that happen at what is repeatedly claimed to be the most monitored and regulated mine in the world?" Mr Sweeney asked.

"It's radioactive roulette."

Gundjeihmi Corporation is part of a coordinating taskforce established by the federal government to conduct its own investigation into the collapse.

"It's telling that the taskforce and the Australian government have been silent while ERA has commenced rewriting the history of what happened," Mr O'Brien said.

ERA posted a full-year after-tax loss of $136 million.

"The company has been losing cash, contaminants and credibility over recent years," Mr Sweeney said.

"The most responsible thing to do would be to draw a line under mining and begin to make an orderly, costed, measured transition to (rehabilitation)."

Ms Sutton said the Ranger 3 Deeps escalation decline and pre-feasibility study are both on schedule and on budget despite the December incident, and first production is still on track for next year, subject to approvals.