For the environment, the risks are clear, the Mary Kathleen uranium mine, once controlled by Rio, was rehabilitated and relinquished in 1986, winning an award for technical excellence at the time. The waste dump has since failed and the liability and attendant costs now reside with Queensland taxpayers.
Mary Kathleen, whose AFL side once won three regional premierships, is now a ghost town. Radioactive waste has seeped into the water systems.
Taxpayers to foot the bill for mine closures, Independent Australia 26 July 2016 Mine rehabilitation – to avoid toxic seepage – is a costly business which taxpayers look likely to fund, writes Michael West.
MINING COMPANIES and regulators have gravely underestimated the costs of mine rehabilitation, leaving taxpayers in the gun for billions of dollars in clean-up costs, says Rick Humphries.
He should know. Humphries was Rio Tinto’s top adviser on land use before heading up mine rehabilitation for base metals groupMMG.
The environmental scientist has since “switched sides” to consult for conservation groups on mine closure.
Humphries told us in an interview last week:
“The problem is there is a very large and growing environmental liability and if it’s not put in check it will cost taxpayers dearly, and result in large scale degradation of national resources.”
There are some 50,000 abandoned mine sites in Australia. Many are small and old. Others though, such as Century Zinc Mine, Ranger Uranium and the first of the mega coal mines to close – Anglo American’s Drayton and Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol – are large, toxic and present a formidable challenge to close properly.
The humongous Ranger and Century open cut voids alone, will cost around $750 million to $1 billion to rehabilitate and the residual risks and liabilities for their parent companies (Rio Tinto and MMG) are as yet unknown. Continue reading
Indigenous rangers play a silent and undervalued role as leaders and educators in their communities, role models for how to progress in both worlds. It’s important to provide local, challenging, culturally relevant, real jobs to keep these leaders embedded within the fabric of their families and communities.
They need a commitment beyond 2018 that their real jobs will still exist.
[The video below does not apply to The Numbulwar ranger group, but still gives an example of the kind of work that they do]
Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program
As well as protecting the land, Indigenous rangers play an undervalued role as leaders in their communities. It’s never been more important to protect these jobs. Many conservative politicians and commentators argue Indigenous ranger jobs are not “real jobs”. This is perfectly illustrated by the recentleaking to Crikey of a secret federal Coalition government plan to radically change this successful Indigenous ranger program in order to “get participants into employment”. While the minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion has denied he is planning an overhaul of the program, his government has not made a commitment to fund the program beyond 2018.
This question of whether ranger jobs are “real jobs” can easily be put to rest.
The Numbulwar ranger group in Arnhem Land was re-established in November 2015, Continue reading
Leaked docs reveal secret Coalition plans for indigenous rangers Although the Indigenous Rangers — Working on Country program is a huge success, Nigel Scullion wants to overhaul it from a community-run to a top-down structure. Crikey, Josh Taylor , 15 July 16 A secret document, leaked to Crikey, reveals significant changes being considered for the federal government’s wildly successful indigenous rangers program — that is, if Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion keeps his job and is around to implement them.
The “Indigenous Rangers — Working on Country” program was started in 2007 under the Howard government as a means to provide employment and training for indigenous Australians into work applying their knowledge of the local land to care for it. It currently employs 777 indigenous rangers in full-time roles in 107 different groups, and more than 2500 indigenous people overall in full-time, part-time or casual positions…… (subscribers only) https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/07/15/leaked-docs-reveal-coalition-plans-indigenous-rangers/
Production for the period, characterised by a further fall in the already depressed spot price for uranium to $US26.40 a pound, slumped 18 per cent to 489 tonnes.
The 68 per cent-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary had been reduced to treating stockpiled material and was accumulating cash to cover the estimated rehabilitation cost of the mine, inside Kakadu, of more than $500 million.
Recently it reported it was holding cash of $433m, prompting Rio to offer a $100m credit facility to ensure rehabilitation costs were met…….
ERA had been planning to extend its mine life by developing the Ranger 3 Deeps deposit, but Rio and the traditional owners did not support the plan, meaning ERA’s existing Ranger authority to operate is set to end in 2021.
ERA has nevertheless preserved the option of an eventual development of Ranger 3 Deeps by committing to spending about $4m annually on care and maintenance of the exploration decline and related infrastructure.
The option was the key finding of the group’s strategic review, released in May, after it was clear the support of Rio and the traditional owners was not forthcoming.
Rio’s no-interest rehabilitation credit facility came with the condition that ERA did not seek to extend production at Ranger beyond 2020 by developing the Ranger 3 Deeps.
ERA previously said that while it expected to fully fund the rehabilitation, it might have to draw on the Rio funding in some situations…..http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/companies/era-uranium-output-slumps/news-story/08e7df8b9a063dc6c8baa203d471f0ff
Indigenous rangers on the frontline of coral bleaching in remote Australia, ABC News By the National Reporting Team’s Kate Wild, 12 July 16 [Excellent pictures and video] In April this year Indigenous rangers from the Crocodile Islands received an alarming photograph of a coral reef off the coast of Arnhem Land. Leonard Bowaynu, who has fished the same reef since he was teenager, had seen small scattered patches of white coral before — but never anything this extensive.
“We used to go out, catch fish from the reefs. I never seen coral turning to white, like around the island or reef,” he said. Concerned by the image, rangers travelled to the area with a drone and GoPro camera to collect further evidence.
Michael Mungula said it was the first time Yolgnu people had seen the coral bleached white at that reef.
“At Murrangga [Island] we never seen white coral there before, during the 50s, 60s and 70s. But we seen it now, 2016.” “We need scientists to come here and do research in the Crocodile Islands,” Mr Mungula said. Meanwhile, 300 kilometres south-east, in waters around Groote Eylandt, Indigenous Rangers were watching giant clams turn white as well.
Anindilyakwa Rangers on Groote Eylandt began trialling the cultivation of giant blue-lipped clams (Tridacna squamosa) five years ago.
But in April the rangers noticed a number of the clams had turned white. Rick Taylor, the ranger manager, sent underwater footage of the clams to the ABC. He said it was first time he had seen the clams bleach since the trial was established in 2011.
With the two ranger groups’ permission, the ABC sent images of the Crocodile Islands coral and clams from Groote Eylandt to marine scientist Andrew Heyward at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Dr Heyward said the aerial photograph from the Crocodile Islands provided the first confirmation of a bleaching event in Arnhem Land. “It appears that in those areas checked it was severe,” he said. He said the photograph Crocodile Islands Rangers had received was confirmation of a massive bleaching event over the reef.
“The comments by the local rangers that they have never seen it [like this] before in their country is particularly telling that things are unprecedented, at least in human generational time frames,” Dr Heyward told the ABC……..
Skilled observers a precious commodity Dr Heyward said Indigenous rangers were able monitor environmental shifts in parts of the country most people cannot reach, and said he was keen for scientists and rangers to work together……Ranger groups have expressed enthusiasm for equal partnerships with scientists. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-11/indigenous-rangers-on-the-frontline-of-coral-bleaching/7557646
KENBI: settlement at last!
‘As we look to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act,
final settlement has been reached over the Kenbi land claim. In a battle that has been going on for nearly as long as the existence of the Land Rights Act itself, the Kenbi claim has been the focus of numerous court cases and claim hearings, and hostility from a succession of CLP governments.’
Land Rights News | Northern Edition | April 2016 Issue 2 Page 1
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/wgar-news/2AjmlTzThP0 via WGAR News
In the space of three months, the community’s power bill dropped by more than half, the population grew from three to 40, and local jobs and a school sprang up.
“The sun hits your solar panel, which is on the roof, and creates energy,” Mr Pratt said. “The community will either use that energy during the day, and energy that they’re not using will get stored in the batteries, and they’ll use that energy at night-time when the sun goes down.”
Indigenous Business Australia bought the Allgrid solar system and leased it to the Munungurra Aboriginal Corporation.
Graeme Smith said leasing the system saved the corporation making a large capital withdrawal and allowed the community to change along with developments in technology.
“We can go back and renew our lease upon the latest technology that comes in, so we’re not stuck with the system we’ve got,” Mr Smith said.
Income from the community’s investment portfolios will pay the leasing costs until Munungurra owns the power system outright. With the promise of cheaper power, the community transformed.
Remote community transformed after swapping diesel generator for solar panels http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-14/remote-community-swaps-diesel-for-solar-panels/7508300 By the National Reporting Team’s Kate Wild Graeme Smith was mulling over a long-standing problem at the end of 2015: how to provide affordable power to his tiny, off-grid community.
Despite having freehold title to 170 square kilometres of land east of Tennant Creek and plenty of money in the bank, members of the Munungurra Aboriginal Corporation could not afford to live on their country.
The cost of providing power to such a remote location prevented them building an economy on their land.
“We originally had no power and no water, because we’re not on a grid. We put houses on it, we put generators on it. But still that wasn’t enough,” said Mr Smith, the corporation’s chief executive.
The corporation paid for two diesel generators to run power to two small communities, where two out of eight houses were permanently occupied.
“Whilst it gave people reliable power with two houses pulling off a generator, we’d be going through $600 to $700 a week in diesel,” he said.
“Because we have no employment on community, people weren’t able to pay for the diesel. So they decided to live in town, look after their kids at school, get houses in town, and just go on the dole.”
So on Mr Smith’s initiative, Munungurra Aboriginal Corporation leased a solar power system at a cost of more than $200,000 from Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), and switched off its diesel generator.
IBA is a government-funded organisation that promotes economic independence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Continue reading
Rum Jungle uranium mine in NT polluting environment 45 years after closure, ABC Radio The World Today By Sara Everingham Traditional owner Kathy Mills finds every visit to site of the old Rum Jungle uranium mine upsetting.
The site, 100 kilometres south of Darwin, is overrun with scrubby weeds, there are two abandoned mining pits, large mounds of waste rock and the water in a diverted channel of the Finniss River is tinged orange and brown from contamination.
But the great-grandmother wants to show people around in the hope it will help her family’s long battle to have the site rehabilitated.
“It has just been lingering on and on and on and many of my people have passed on and I am almost the last man standing in that people who fought for recognition of this land,” she said.
Ms Mills wants the Commonwealth to “hurry up” and rehabilitate the Rum Jungle mine — a Commonwealth-backed venture that produced uranium for the nuclear weapons programs of the US and British governments.
The mine closed 45 years ago but acid and metals are draining into the environment and the site remains off limits to the public including traditional owners.
This month’s federal budget had $11 million for the NT Government to put the finishing touches on a plan for rehabilitation.
Ms Mills said she was running out of time to see Rum Jungle fixed.
Mine took away ‘aspect of land’s importance’
When Rum Jungle was developed traditional owners had no say in it.
One mining pit was dug into a sacred women’s site on the east branch of the Finniss River and the flow of the river was diverted for one kilometre. Ms Mills vividly remembers the anger of one of her older relatives when he saw for the first time how the mine had transformed the land.
“It took away the whole aspect of the importance of that land,” she said.
But in the early 1950s the Commonwealth saw uranium as an opportunity to develop the north.
At the time, Rum Jungle was a major industrial development in northern Australia.
The then prime minister Robert Menzies came to the Top End to open it.
Notorious for environmental problems
When mining finished at Rum Jungle in 1971, no rehabilitation was done and the site became notorious for its environmental problems.
In the early 1980s, the Rum Jungle site could not be handed over to traditional owners as part of the successful Finniss River Land claim in case they became liable for the environmental problems.
The Commonwealth spent $18 million on rehabilitation in the 1980s but some of the work did not last.
At Rum Jungle, scientists from the NT Government are monitoring contamination in the Finniss River…….http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-30/rum-jungle-uranium-mine-in-nt-polluting-environment-45-years-on/7460666
Darwin at Center of Nuclear Waste Controversy The Maritime Executive, By MarEx 2016-05-23 The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has said it will fight any plans to allow the world’s spent nuclear fuel rods and radioactive waste to enter Australia through the Port of Darwin.
The MUA is outraged that Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has offered to accept the waste which would then be transported thousands of kilometers to South Australia.
“Mr Giles is happy to sell out Territorians so that Malcolm Turnbull can use them as a dirty rag for his own personal gain and to benefit his top end of town mates,” MUA Northern Territory branch secretary Thomas Mayor said.
“It’s like putting Homer Simpson in charge of nuclear waste and his big business “Mr Burns” mates are rubbing their hands together. All the while Chief Clancy, aka Natasha Griggs, is none the wiser.”…….
Turnbull has already sold out Australian shipping, says Mayor. “Not only will foreign flagged ships carry the hazardous cargo, but the port that they are taking it to will also be run by foreign interests.”
Mayor said there was no agreement with traditional land owners to use their land……http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/darwin-at-center-of-nuclear-waste-controversy
4 May 16 The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Mineral Policy Institute have today welcomed further moves towards the end of the uranium industry in Kakadu and called for confirmation that no underground mining plans will be pursued ahead of Energy Resources of Australia’s (ERA) annual meeting in Darwin today.
Last week ERA confirmed it had finally formalised a A$100 million credit deal with parent company Rio Tinto to provide extra certainty and capacity around rehabilitation of the Ranger mine site. The credit deal, described by ERA as ‘prudent, appropriate and in the best interests of all shareholders,’ is predicated on no further uranium mining at Ranger.
“ERA no longer mines uranium and soon will no longer process uranium at the troubled Ranger site,” said ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney. “This annual meeting is a good time for the company to accept that the uranium production era is over and it is now time for clean-up and repair. ERA should now formally withdraw its Ranger 3 Deep (R3D) application for underground mining at Ranger and instead focus its full efforts on closure, exit and transition”.
All mining and mineral processing at Ranger is required to end by early January 2021 and ERA is obliged to ensure the comprehensive rehabilitation of the mine site and surrounds.
This rehabilitation is required to be of a very high standard – suitable for the former Ranger mine site to be formally included into the surrounding Kakadu World Heritage region. Environment groups will be inside the Darwin meeting and will ask questions of ERA about the future rehabilitation of the site.
“There are massive challenges facing ERA and Rio Tinto at Ranger and they will be long judged by their efforts in the coming years,” said Mineral Policy Institute legacy mines project coordinator Lauren Mellor.
“Ranger has had a troubled and contested history and there is a clear need to now do business differently and better. Many eyes across Australia and around the world are watching ERA and Rio Tinto and this rehabilitation work is a key test of the company’s credibility and responsibility”.
Environment groups will be continuing their efforts to ensure the highest standard rehabilitation and closure work at Ranger and to support the aspirations of the region’s Mirarr Traditional Owners in the transition to a vibrant post mining regional economy.
ERA to unveil strategy as Ranger mining ends BARRY FITZGERALD, RESOURCES EDITOR, THE AUSTRALIAN APRIL 12, 2016 MELBOURNE BARRY FITZGERALD HAS COVERED THE RESOURCES INDUSTRY FOR 30 YEARS. THE INAUGURAL WINNER OF THE DIGGERS & DEALERS MEDIA AWARD IN 2003, BARRY IS A COMMITTEE MEMBER OF THE MELBOURNE MINING CLUB, A NON-PROFIT ORGANISATION FORMED TO FOSTER INDUSTRY DEBATE.
Energy Resources of Australia is close to releasing the outcome of its strategic review into its future. The review was forced upon the company after Rio Tinto and Ranger’s traditional owners rejected its plan to extend the life of its uranium mining and processing operations inside Kakadu by developing the Ranger Deeps deposit.
Its pending release comes as ERA continues to narrow the gap between its cash balance and the $509 million needed to complete the rehabilitation of Ranger. At last report, ERA was holding cash of $433m and had no debt after adding $72m to its cash balance during 2015.
While mining operations have stopped, ERA continues to produce from stockpiled material, and has said previously it could possibly continue to do so until late 2020.
The rate of cash accumulation over the past five years suggests ERA could end up with cash surplus to the rehabilitation costs, raising the prospect of an eventual capital return to shareholders, depending on what plans for ERA’s future emerge from the strategic review. Continue reading
Ranger uranium mine open cut pit capped as part of ongoing site rehabilitation ABC Radio NT Country Hour By Daniel Fitzgerald 10 Mar 16 An open cut pit at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory has been capped after 20 years of rehabilitation work.
Energy Resources Australia (ERA) began filling in Pit 1 after mining in the pit ceased in 1996, with work continuing intermittently around other activities at the site, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park. AUDIO: Tim Eckersley speaks about rehabilitation works at ERA’s Ranger mine (ABC Rural)
Leftovers from the processing operations at the mine, known as tailings, were dumped into the large pit and left to settle. General manager of operations at the Ranger mine, Tim Eckersley said the tailings were a “sandy, muddy mixture so it has taken quite some years to consolidate.”………..
Since 2012 ERA said it had spent more than $400 million on rehabilitation works at the mine.
Environmental management of the mine site had been marred by several incidents in recent years.Last year, a fire on the site burnt into Kakadu National Park and threatened nearby Indigenous cultural sites.ERA avoided charges over a 2013 incident when 1,400 cubic metres of radioactive slurry was spilt after a tank collapsed.
The mine has an uncertain future after traditional owners said they would not support mining operations after the mining lease ended in 2021. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-09/disused-open-cut-pit-at-ranger-uranium-mine-capped-era/7221720
What is a regulator for again? http://linkis.com/greensmps.org.au/1cNkL 12 Feb 2016 The Northern Territory mine regulator is inviting uranium companies to ignore any environmental safeguards with their refusal to prosecute Energy Resources Australia, the Australian Greens said today.
“After more than two years, the NT regulator has given ERA a pass. The Ranger mine leaked nearly 1.5 million litres of radioactive acidic sludge into the plant area, and could have got people killed,” Australian Greens Deputy Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said today.
“Under estimates questioning we were told that the report into the leach tank spill was kept from the public while a decision was made about whether or not to prosecute. It’s hard to envisage a scenario that warranted the application of the full force of the law more than this one.
“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,” Senator Ludlam said.
“We urge the NT government to reverse this decision immediately and force ERA to be accountable.”
ERA radioactive slurry spill: NT Government won’t lay charges against miner A uranium miner has avoided charges over a 2013 spill of 1,400 cubic metres of radioactive slurry at its Ranger mine in the Northern Territory. ABC News 12 Feb 16
- Report focuses on radioactive spill from 2013 at Ranger Mine near Kakadu NP
- NT Government says not in public interest to lay charges
- Mining company Energy Resources Australia welcomes findings
The spill at the Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) Ranger uranium mine, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park, saw a holding tank collapse on December 7, 2013. Workers discovered a hole in the side of the tank and were evacuated before the tank burst and the slurry escaped.
ERA said no-one was injured and no uranium leaked off the site into Kakadu.
The NT Government on Friday released the findings of its Completed Investigation Into Failure of Leach Tank 1 Ranger Uranium Mine.
Department of Mines and Energy chief executive, Ron Kelly, explained in the report that he accepted the “admission of fault by ERA to the unauthorised spill as a result of the failure of Leach Tank 1”.
“However I have decided that it is not in the public interest to lay a charge against ERA under Section 33 of the NT Mining Management Act [MMA],” he said……..
EDO blames ‘lack of political will’ for failure to prosecute
Principal lawyer with the non-profit Environmental Defenders Office in the NT, David Morris, said the Government did not need to show that ERA intended for the spill to occur to successfully prosecute the miner.
“The reason they are not bringing this prosecution? I think, lack of political will,” Mr Morris said.
“What this decision does is send a message to the Northern Territory community that we are not going to hold companies to account for a really poor standard of quality control on their mine sites,” Mr Morris said.
He said being forced to shut down the site was not a penalty.
“That is the cost of doing business when you do business poorly.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-12/era-avoids-charges-over-radioactive-slurry-spill/7163560
Opposition resources minister Gary Gray has said that a closure of Ranger would have “massive implications” for the economy of Arnhem Land and would be unfortunate for the uranium industry in Australia.
Energy Resources of Australia nears decision on future of Ranger uranium mine, SMH, January 12, 2016 Angela Macdonald-Smith Energy Reporter The future of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory hangs in the balance as owner Energy Resources of Australia nears a decision on a strategic review.
Rio Tinto-controlled ERA said on Tuesday it would update the market this quarter on the strategic review, which it kicked off in October after being advised by traditional owners that they oppose an extension of production at the mine near Kakadu.
The Mirarr traditional owners refused to back the miner’s bid to extend its processing permits beyond the current expiry date of January 2021.
ERA, 68 per cent-owned by Rio, warned then that it may have to write down its assets as a result. Some analysts calculate the impairment could reach several hundred million dollars. ERA, for whom Ranger is its only producing asset, is due to report its 2015 earnings on January 28…………. Continue reading