Sky: Rio should 'reconsider Ranger'

Publish Date:
9th April 2014

read on Sky website

Rio Tinto should cut its losses with ERA's Ranger Mine and start preparations to rehabilitate the site in Kakadu National Park, environmental activists say.

The subsidiary company will hold its annual meeting, which in closed to media, in Darwin on Wednesday after a year studded with 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 have not resumed.

An ERA-commissioned investigation found that apart from damaged rubber lining in the tank and metal fatigue in a second tank, another 35 other critical actions must be taken before processing resumes.

'It's radioactive roulette ... We have a profound combination of metal fatigue, management fatigue, and deficient and complacent regulation,' said Dave Sweeney, spokesman for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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

'We're calling on Rio Tinto to reconsider its options at Ranger,' Mr Sweeney told AAP.

'Rio is not mining, it's not processing, and the clock is ticking.'

Mining and mineral processing at Ranger is prohibited after January 2021, and the site must be fully rehabilitated by 2026.

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

'ERA is increasingly out of favour with the market; it's a damaged brand. Rio Tinto is not.'

The Gundjeihmi Corporation represents the interests of the Mirarr traditional owners, and chief executive Justin O'Brien say they retain a willingness to look at the geological results that come in for the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground project to determine whether to allow it go ahead.

In its annual report, ERA said the ultimate cost of rehabilitation was uncertain.

'If the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area,' it reads.

Mr O'Brien said such a veiled threat was bad business and 'doesn't bode well for a productive relationship with the Mirarr'.