ABC: Uranium miner slammed in report over Kakadu acid spill

Publish Date:
24th October 2014

read on ABC site

By James Dunlevie

A report has criticised standards at a Kakadu uranium mine, but local Aboriginal people say the investigation process had broken down and they had not been told the report was being released.

The investigation looked into the circumstances surrounding the incident at the Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) Ranger uranium mine in the national park, where 1,400 cubic metres of acidic slurry was spilt out of a collapsed tank about 1:00am on December 7, 2013.

The report found "at the time of the tank failure ERA's management of process safety and its corporate governance did not meet expected standards".

In a joint statement announcing the release of the report, Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane and his Territory counterpart, Willem Westra Van Holte, thanked the members of the Ranger Incident Taskforce for their efforts "in particular, the contributions by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council".

The statement said the taskforce, led by NT Department of Mines and Energy, consisted of representatives from NT WorkSafe, the office of the Supervising Scientist, the Department of Industry, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council and was established to provide a "coordinated and consistent approach to managing the regulatory response to the incident".

Justin O'Brien, chief executive of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, said they were not informed of the intention to release the report yesterday.

"I don't know whether they've fallen down their deep dark hole, like in Alice in Wonderland and landed at the Mad Hatter's tea party, because it's just absurd that you would establish a taskforce to investigate, deliberate over a nearly 12-month period and then release the report and not have any dialogue with any taskforce members," Mr O'Brien said.

"We are bitterly disappointed that the investigation taskforce process has broken down, not for any want of trying on our part."

Mr O'Brien said it was critical that the recommendations of the report were fully implemented.

"The highest priority should be given to a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework at Ranger, a point which the ministers have acknowledged but up to this point have not committed to act on.

"The tank collapse which sent over a million litres of radioactive acid spilling across the mine site was yet another example of the poor management and failed systems," he said.

[The split tank from the Ranger Uranium Mine] Photo: This picture shows the tank which split at ERA's Ranger Uranium Mine near Kakadu on Saturday, December 7, 2013.

Mr O'Brien said for the traditional owners to have any confidence in the capacity of ERA and the regulators to manage Ranger the recommendations of the report must be acted on "swiftly and completely".

"ERA wants to expand the Ranger mine underground. Without a comprehensive regulatory review and implementation of the remaining recommendations it would be ludicrous for the Federal Government to even consider such a proposal," he said.

Mr Macfarlane said keeping Kakadu safe from the affects of mining was "critical".

"With the Northern Territory Government, the Australian Government will undertake two years of quarterly monitoring ERA's progress toward improved process safety," he said.

"It is critical that ERA improve process safety practices at Ranger to ensure mining activities continue to have no impact on Kakadu National Park."

Mr Westra van Holthe said the incident caused no "offsite environmental impacts" and that the report will assist ERA in improving their practices.

"ERA must ensure day-to-day safety on site; the protection of workers and the environment is paramount," he said.