Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

‘Up to $12,000 owing to Adnyamathanha girl’: Grandmother

‘Up to $12,000 owing to Adnyamathanha girl’: Grandmother, Transcontinental, Greg Mayfield 4 Sep 19

Advertisements

September 6, 2019 Posted by | aboriginal issues, South Australia, uranium | Leave a comment

Mirrarr people to lead the Kakadu region’s transition from uranium mining

Kirsten Blair, Community and International Liaison, 15 Aug 19,   Gundjeihmi Aboriginal CorporationToday GAC chairwoman, Toby’s Gangale’s daughter: Valerie Balmoore signed an MOU with the Federal and NT Governments as well as mining company ERA committing all parties to a Mirarr-led post-mining future for Jabiru.

There is still much work to be done on Mirarr country including cleaning up the immense Ranger uranium mine. GAC and others will continue our diligent work in this area – and there are no guarantees the cleanup will be wholly successful – but restoration of country remains the absolute objective.

Mirarr continue to assert their rights as Traditional Owners and lead the way for people and country, this Jabiru story is evidence of a massive shift. The power in these images speaks for itself. Today is deeply hopeful for the Kakadu region and offers an incredible message for all communities resisting unwanted mining projects.

August 15, 2019 Posted by | aboriginal issues, environment, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Yeelirrie uranium project court outcome shows environment laws in need of urgent repair

Conservation groups are calling for state and national environment laws to be strengthened, following today’s confirmation that the Yeelirrie uranium mine approval was valid, despite advice that the project would lead to the extinction of several unique species and was contrary to key principles of environmental law.

Conservationists, Traditional Owners, and supporters of the campaign against the Yeelirrie uranium mine gathered today to hear the news that their legal challenge against the mine approval had been unsuccessful in the WA Supreme Court of Appeal.

Approval for the Yeelirrie mining proposal in the Northern Goldfields of WA was granted during the final days of the Barnett Government, against the recommendations of the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and against the outcome of a subsequent appeal process.

The EPA found that the project would cause the extinction of multiple species of subterranean fauna and the complete loss of a species of saltbush, concluding that the proposal could not meet key objectives of WA’s environmental legislation.

In July 2017, the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) and three senior members of the Tjiwarl Native Title group lodged a Supreme Court challenge seeking to overturn the environmental approval. After this challenge was unsuccessful, the decision was appealed by the applicants.

Vicki Abdullah, Traditional Owner and Tjiwarl Native Holder said, “We are disappointed, but glad we took this to court, to defend our country and expose the problems with environmental law in this state. We won’t give up – our country is too important. We will continue to fight for Yeelirrie and to change the laws.”

CCWA Director Piers Verstegen said that the outcome of the case demonstrated that Western Australia’s environmental laws needed to be urgently strengthened.

“This case has confirmed our worst fears – that it is legally admissible for a Minister to sign off on a project against the advice of the EPA and in the knowledge that it would cause the extinction of multiple species.

“The decision demonstrates that our environmental laws are badly broken. Our community fought for these laws decades ago, and they were never intended to be used by a Minister to commit wildlife to extinction.

“We are calling on the McGowan Government to strengthen our environment laws to give proper protection to our wildlife and its habitat, and to ensure that Ministers cannot make decisions which cause wildlife extinction at the stroke of a pen.

“For the sake of all wildlife across our state, we were determined to challenge what we believe was an appalling precedent set by the previous State Government.

“We have been proud to take this action together with three incredible Tjiwarl Traditional Owners who have stood up for over 40 years to protect their sacred lands and culture from uranium mining.

“The case has drawn national and international attention to the issue and prevented early commencement of the mining project.

“Since this legal action commenced, the economic outlook for uranium mining has significantly worsened, and the community resolve to prevent extinction at Yeelirrie has strengthened. There are also a number of significant hurdles that this company needs to pass before it can commence any mining at Yeelirrie.

“Conservation groups will not give up our fight to prevent extinction at Yeelirrie. The project may have passed in the court of law but it has failed the court of public opinion.

“We will consider options for further appeal of this decision, and we will continue to vigorously engage with the project to ensure the highest level of scrutiny is applied at all approval stages.

“The mining company can expect a long, expensive process if they want to continue pursuing plans to mine uranium at Yeelirrie.

“We thank those who have supported this case to be heard by the WA Supreme Court, and the WA Environmental Defenders Office for representing CCWA and the Traditional Owners in the matter.”

Further Comment:

Piers Verstegen, CCWA Director – 0411 557 892
Kerri Anne (to arrange interviews with the Tjiwarl Women) – 0401 909 332

Further Information:

Background: http://www.ccwa.org.au/yeelirrie_legal_challenge 

Yeelirrie in the Northern Goldfields is part of the Seven Sisters dreaming and has many important cultural sites, all under threat from the proposed uranium projects. The community has fought against the proposed mine for over 40 years, and neighboring pastoralists have joined the fight in recent years.

The Cameco mining proposal was rejected by the EPA but approved by the Barnett Government.

The approved project would involve:
•    A 9km long open mine pit and processing plant
•    Clearing 2421 hectares of native vegetation
•    Use of 8.7 million litres of water per day
•    Generation of 36 million tonnes of radioactive mine waste to be stored in open pits
•    Extinction of several unique species found nowhere else on Earth

August 1, 2019 Posted by | legal, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Rio Tinto moves to own Ranger remediation

Rio Tinto moves to own Ranger remediation, Matthew Stevens, Jul 26, 2019

https://www.afr.com/companies/mining/rio-tinto-moves-to-own-ranger-remediation-20190725-p52ape

In pushing Energy Resources Australia towards a potentially controversial capital raising Rio Tinto has moved to take greater ownership of what is arguably the most important mine retirement and clean-up in Australian resources history.

The task ahead is the required $830 million remediation of the Ranger uranium mine, which sits in a necessarily excised pocket of the United Nations World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

Ranger has been operated by Energy Resources Australia through its often controversial 40-year life. Through that time ERA has been majority owned by Rio Tinto or its Australian forebear, CRA. Currently Rio owns 68.4 per cent of ERA.

But a plan to fill the $400 million or so gap between what Ranger’s remediation is expected to cost and the cash that ERA has at hand to pay for the big clean-up could quite easily see Rio creep to a position that would see the mine operator fully absorbed by the mother ship.

ERA revealed extended discussion with Rio Tinto over how the funding gap would be filled has ended with its Anglo-Australia overseer insisting the only path was for Ranger’s operator to make a renounceable rights issue.

Rio Tinto has committed to take up its full entitlement and to underwrite the balance of any issuance if alternatives are not available.

The erstwhile uranium miner told its minority owners that it is “considering the size, structure and terms” of any potential rights issue “having regard to the interests of ERA as a whole”.

While that is an appropriate expression of independence, the most unlikely outcome here would be an ERA board populated by Rio Tinto appointees will end up doing anything that does not concur with the parent’s view of the company’s future.

The minority question

The most likely question ahead, then, for minority shareholders is going to be whether or not they double-down on a failed punt and back the rights issue needed to sustain the long, costly wind-up of their business?

Whatever the size, structure and terms of the raising Rio Tinto wants ERA to make, it will be material to the minority owners. ERA’s current market capitalisation is $130 million. So tapping the market for even half the shortfall could prove definitively dilutive for those unprepared to throw funds at a business destined to disappear.

In most circumstances this course might be cause to wonder at whether or not this pathway might represent a level of minority shareholder oppression. Rio Tinto’s pitch though is the exception to the rule.

ERA stopped being a miner five years ago and hopes its future might be extended were dashed a few years later when Rio Tinto found itself unable to support the Ranger 3 underground expansion, a conclusion we revealed first in April 2015.

Presently ERA’s only recourse to income is through processing uranium from stockpiled ore. That production will end in 2021 and ERA has a legal obligation to safely close the operation by 2026. The cost of remediation will endure at least half a decade beyond that and so too will the risk to reputation and social licence of any and all shortcomings of that effort.

Quite sensibly, Rio Tinto assesses it fully owns the risk of any failure or future non-compliance. It is regularly reminded of that inescapable reality by the anti-uranium activists, by the increasingly power ESG lobby and by governments state and federal.

RELATED: Rio Tinto worried about ERA’s Ranger uranium mine

The funding proposal sketched out on Thursday announces those warnings were unnecessary. Rio Tinto really does want to own Ranger’s remediation.

July 27, 2019 Posted by | environment, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Continuing problem of radioactive waste at Hunters Hill – contamination from old uranium processing site

Hunters Hill residents reject plan to store radioactive waste in their street  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-24/hunters-hill-radioactive-waste-plan-rejected/11339572

Key points:

  • The area on Sydney’s north shore was the former site of the Radium Hill refinery, which closed in 1915
  • Residents have fought for decades to have the Government remove the contaminated soil
  • A plan to keep the waste in “cells” on site has been rejected and labelled a “temporary” fix

Several properties on Nelson Parade at Hunters Hill have been built on land contaminated by the former Radium Hill uranium processing plant in the 1900s.

Residents have spent decades urging the government to remove the affected soil, which the NSW Environment Protection Authority found was contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, coal tar pitch, arsenic and lead.

The Council has now voted against a recommendation by its own consultants to “encapsulate” the low-level radioactive material in cement “cells” and store it onsite.

Philippa Clark from the Nelson Parade Action Group said residents felt the plan would make their lives worse.

“The cells will make the stigma permanent, our anxiety increased, trapped in unsaleable homes.

“The proposal is silent on all of those impacts.

She said most Hunters Hill residents knew nothing of the latest plan by Property NSW as few residents were formally notified and it was on exhibition over the school holidays.

The existence of the radioactive material, in the soil for over a century, was discovered 53 years ago and remains unmanaged.

The Council and residents want the soil removed altogether but an earlier proposal to send it to a waste facility at Kemp’s Creek in Sydney’s West was abandoned after a backlash from the local community.

There is no other waste facility in the state licenced to handle the material and a national radioactive waste management facility is yet to be established by the Federal Government.

Ms Clarke told Monday night’s council meeting that if the radioactive material was stored onsite at Hunters Hill, there was no guarantee it would be moved later when suitable off-site storage becomes available.

Former Hunters Hill mayor Richard Quinn also urged the Council to reject the proposal.

“Whilst we might wish to see progress at last and endorse this [proposal], the onsite encapsulation component of this report I believe cannot be accepted,” he said.

“It’s contrary to the best practice in sustainable remediation, and it’s not unreasonable for this community to expect anything less than best practice.”

Resident John Akin thought the Council had no choice but to accept the proposal, saying those pushing for outright rejection “overlook the health risk from the waste being left in its current uncontrolled state”.

But Mayor Mark Bennett said Property NSW told the Council during a meeting that the majority of Hunters Hill ratepayers were against the encapsulation option.

“It will be interesting to see what the Government decides to do as a result of this … it’s a decision of the Government at the end of the day.

“My opinion is we should not vote for encapsulation because I think it could be a permanent solution without any guarantees that it’s an interim solution — I can’t support it.”

Last year the NSW Government announced $30 million to fully remediate the land after a parliamentary inquiry a decade ago.

July 25, 2019 Posted by | New South Wales, politics, uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

Huge volumes of water gulped by Olympic Dam uranium mine – even more with expanded mine

The nuclear cycle of destruction, Red Flag, James Plested, 12 July 2019  “……..The first stage of the cycle – the mining of uranium, the fuel used in nuclear power stations – is particularly relevant to Australia, home to an estimated 31 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves.

Uranium mining requires huge volumes of water – an obvious problem in arid Australia – and produces large quantities of toxic “tailings” which threaten the surrounding environment and people.

The historical record speaks for itself. According to the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, over the 38 years of operation of the Northern Territory’s Ranger mine, there have been around 200 leaks, spills or other breaches of the mine’s operating licence. In 2013, the collapse of a leach tank resulted in a spill of about 1 million litres of radioactive waste over the mine site.

Beyond the risk of accidents, there are many other downsides to nuclear power. One particularly relevant factor for Australia is that nuclear reactors require massive amounts of water. A typical US reactor, for example, consumes 114 million litres of water an hour. To put this in perspective, total residential water consumption in Melbourne, a city of 4.8 million people, in 2018 was around 32 million litres an hour.

Australian business heads and governments have long had an eye on further uranium mines. The anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s and early 1980s, as well as the later campaign against the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine (see article in this issue), kept this aspiration in check. In recent years, however, state and federal governments have renewed the push.

The South Australian government is supporting a proposal by BHP to expand massively the operations of its existing Olympic Dam mine – which contains the largest single uranium deposit in the world. And the day before the last election was called, the federal government abruptly announced its approval of a new uranium mine in Western Australia…….

The need for water means that reactors must be located close to rivers, lakes, dams or the ocean. In Australia, this would inevitably mean reactors would need to be built in or near densely populated areas…..” ……  https://redflag.org.au/node/6835

July 13, 2019 Posted by | environment, South Australia, uranium | Leave a comment

Hasty, secretive federal approval of Yeelirriee uranium project shows contempt for the scientific environmental evidence

New light on WA uranium mine approval sparks call to put environment before economics,  WA Today. By Cameron Myles, July 10, 2019 — New light shed on the “clandestine” approval of a uranium mine in Western Australia’s outback has sparked calls to beef up the country’s environmental laws, amid concerns the minister responsible prioritised the economy over the environment.Then-environment minister Melissa Price signed off on Cameco’s Yeelirrie project near Wiluna on April 10 this year, the day before the federal government called the May 18 election.

News of the project’s approval did not emerge until around Anzac Day later that month, with no releases announcing the minister’s decision, prompting Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney’s call that it was a “clandestine approval under the cover of a national election”.

Yeelirrie, which sits within the boundaries of Ms Price’s vast federal electorate of Durack, had a long history of resistance.

It was previously rejected by the WA Environmental Protection Authority which flagged, among others, concerns about the project’s impact on 12 species living underground and in the water table.

Some species were only found in the area covered by the project and there were fears they could go extinct as the miner dug through groundwater to get to the uranium below.

It was later approved at a state level by the then-Barnett government, and several options on how to proceed were presented to Ms Price by the federal Department of the Environment and Energy on April 5 this year.

But the release last week of a statement of reasons from Ms Price – secured by the ACF – has revealed she signed off on the project with a less stringent set of environmental conditions than those recommended by the department, noting that if she attached the more onerous conditions “there is a real chance that the project could not go ahead”.

“I was satisfied that if the project did not go ahead and the social and economic benefits would not be realised, this would have an adverse effect on the region and the State as a whole,” Ms Price wrote.

The Wilderness Society WA state director Kit Sainsbury said the revelation meant the minister put economic and social conditions ahead of what should be her primary consideration – the environment.

“To see both at the state and federal level such contempt for the scientific evidence suggesting that this project is environmentally unsustainable – yet receiving approval – is galling and highly contentious,” he said.

“As the Yeelirrie decision proves, too often decisions affecting the environment are made behind closed doors … a national body with teeth can stand up for the communities which need it and their country they honour.”……….

Tjiwarl native title holders and conservationists are also appealing a Supreme Court decision against their challenge to the WA government’s approval of Yeelirrie, which Ms Price had previously told media she would wait for the outcome of before signing off on the approval. …….. https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/new-light-on-wa-uranium-mine-approval-sparks-call-to-put-environment-before-economics-20190709-p525mx.html

July 13, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

BIRDS VS BHP: Evaporation ponds at BHP’s Olympic Dam mine are killing hundreds of birds

BIRDS VS BHP: Evaporation ponds at BHP’s Olympic Dam mine are killing hundreds of birds

Hundreds of birds are dying each year after mistaking Olympic Dam’s evaporation ponds for wetlands. Environment campaigners want the miner to stop using them. Clare Peddie, Science Reporter, The Advertiser, July 10, 2019   

Conservationists want BHP to stop using evaporation ponds at Olympic Dam that kill hundreds of birds, including threatened species.

They want BHP to cancel plans for a new pond and phase out 146ha of existing ponds, which are used for the disposal of acidic waste water………

Scientist and environment campaigner David Noonan says it’s shocking that birds are drowned, choked or scalded by BHP’s highly acidic, toxic wastewater.

“They see this as a wetland in an arid region as they’re travelling through,” he said. “They’re typically poisoned by contact, they die on site or they’re poisoned and die later.”

BHP found 224 dead birds during weekly monitoring in the 2017-18 financial year and that included 39 banded stilts, a vulnerable species in SA.  The number of dead birds found annually has hardly changed since 2011-12, when the banded stilt, red-necked avocet, whiskered tern, grey teal, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, …..

Plans for a huge open cut mine that were shelved in 2012 would have required a phase-out of evaporation ponds, but BHP says that condition is no longer relevant or applicable to current growth and expansion of the underground mine.

BHP is preparing to make a submission to both state and federal governments for a sixth evaporation pond.

A separate submission on a the new tailings storage facility – about the size of the Adelaide CBD and ten storeys high – has already been made, triggering an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act referral, as in the case of the endangered bird in the path of the interconnector.  https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/evaporation-ponds-at-bhps-olympic-dam-mine-are-killing-hundreds-of-birds/news-story/1b886e4946f87fb7a729e201282f5cfb

July 13, 2019 Posted by | environment, South Australia, uranium | Leave a comment

Uranium contamination in groundwater in an Adelaide suburb

July 8, 2019 Posted by | environment, South Australia, uranium | Leave a comment

Former Environment Minister rejected department advice and approved uranium mine day before election called

Melissa Price approved uranium mine knowing it could lead to extinction of 12 species  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/melissa-price-approved-uranium-mine-knowing-it-could-lead-to-extinction-of-12-species?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other  Former environment minister rejected department advice and approved Yeelirrie mine day before election called. Lisa Cox,  4 Jul 2019  The former environment minister Melissa Price acknowledged that approval of a uranium mine in Western Australia could lead to the extinction of up to 12 native species but went ahead with the decision anyway.

The admission is contained in a statement of reasons signed by the minister before she approved the Yeelirrie uranium mine, 500km north of Kalgoorlie, the day before the federal election was called in April.

The document also shows the environment and energy department recommended conditions that would require the developer, Cameco, to ensure the project would not result in the extinction of up to 11 stygofauna, which are tiny groundwater species.

But Price instead adopted a weaker set of conditions aimed at reducing the risk to groundwater species but which the department said contained “significant uncertainties” as to whether or not they would be successful.

Price acknowledged the department had recommended tougher conditions but said in the statement that if they were imposed there was “a real chance that the project would not go ahead”.

“In making this recommendation, the department considered only the environmental outcomes, and did not weigh the environmental risks against the social and economic benefits of the project,” she said.

“Rather, as the department’s briefing noted, this balancing exercise was for me to do”.

Price wrote that she “accepted that there was a risk” that species could be lost but that the department’s advice was this was not “inevitable” if the project went ahead.

The statement of reasons also notes that the project could lead to the wipeout of the entire western population of a species of saltbush, known as the Atriplex yeelirrie.

The saltbush has just two distinct populations, the western and eastern population, both of which are found on Yeelirrie station.

The statement of reasons says the western population occurs entirely within the proposed area for the mine and there is a risk the development would clear all of it.

The Australian Conservation Foundation, which requested Price’s statement of reasons, described the document as “an extraordinary piece of decision making”.

July 4, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics, uranium | Leave a comment

BHP’s Olympic Dam uranium mine: tailings dump to larger than Adelaide and up to 30 metres high

David Noonan shared a link. No Nuclear Waste Dump Anywhere in South Australia  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1314655315214929/    June 22 19
BHP Olympic Dam Tailings dump to be larger than the CBD of Adelaide AND to be up to 30 metres high at the centre of the tailings pile – around the height of a 10 story building.
All BHP Olympic Dam radioactive toxic mine tailings waste must be isolated from the environment for over 10,000 years…
Please consider making a submission to the federal government who are inviting comments on the BHP Olympic Dam Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) 6 project – but only up to cob Friday 28th June, with no extensions (scroll down for info). Tell the fed’s they must not just approve this TSF 6 on the basis of the vested interest BHP Referral documents.
Key Recommendations are provided along with two Briefing papers prepared for Friends of the Earth Australia (FoEA) and available on-line:
“BHP seek a Toxic Tailings Expansion without a full Safety Risk Assessment” (DN, June 2019, 3 pages)
https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/ODM-Tailings-Briefing-22June2019.pdf
and
“Migratory Birds at Risk of Mortality if BHP continues use of Evaporation Ponds” (DN, June 2019, 3 pages)
https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/ODM-Migratory-Birds-BHP-Evaporation-Ponds-22June2019.pdf
A set of Key Recommendations on these issues to put to the federal government:
1. The Olympic Dam operation be assessed in its entirety with the full range of project impacts subject to public consultation
Given that uranium mining at Olympic Dam is a controlled “nuclear action” and Matter of National Environmental Significance (NES) under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the integrity of environmental protection requires that the entire Olympic Dam operation be subject to impact assessment so that regulatory conditions can be applied “to consider impacts on the whole environment”. Continue reading

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Olympic Dam, politics, South Australia, uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

The reason Australia doesn’t have nuclear power: the workers fought back

The movement’s real strength always depended on its grassroots – on the willingness of activists to defy the rightwingers in Labor and the unions, even to the extent of facing arrest.

The reason Australia doesn’t have nuclear power: the workers fought back https://www.theguardian.com/environment/commentisfree/2019/jun/24/the-reason-australia-doesnt-have-nuclear-power-the-workers-fought-back  Jeff Sparrow Workers have been fighting uranium mining for decades – the environment needs mass civil disobedience  @Jeff_Sparrow 24 Jun 2019 

What do Clive PalmerTony AbbottCory BernardiBarnaby JoyceMark LathamJim MolanCraig KellyEric Abetz and David Leyonhjelm have in common?

No doubt many answers will come to to mind. But whatever else unites them, they all support nuclear power.

Jim Green from Friends of the Earth Australia, which compiled the above list, says that nuclear energy now functions more as a culture war troll than a serious policy, not least because the people who want atomic solution to climate change are usually the same people (as the group above illustrates) who don’t believe climate change requires a solution at all.

Despite the best efforts of Queensland conservatives, Australia will not go nuclear. The former chair of Uranium King, Warwick Grigor, says flatly: “No one is going down that path in the foreseeable future.” Even industry boosters see nuclear power stations as feasible only if the government introduces, um, a carbon tax, a proposal to which the culture warriors would react like vampires to garlic.

Nevertheless, progressives should discuss nuclear energy and climate change, if only because the campaign we need against coal can learn from the historic struggle against a different mineral. Continue reading

June 25, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, history, reference, uranium | Leave a comment

Tailings dams at Olympic Dam uranium mine are in the “extreme risk” category.

it is deeply disturbing that BHP recently confirmed that three of the tailings dams at Olympic Dam are in the “extreme risk” category.

This is the highest risk status according to what is often regarded as the best global industry benchmark – the Canadian Dam Association’s safety standards – and relates less to the likelihood of collapse and more to the severity of the resulting human and environmental impacts if a failure did happen.

The environmental threat of tailings dams    https://independentaustralia.net/business/business-display/the-environmental-threat-of-tailings-dams,12805

By Dave Sweeney  14 June 2019  BHP has applied to expand the Olympic Dam mine in SA, but with the recent failure of tailings dams, caution must be taken, writes Dave Sweeney.

AWAY FROM THE airbrushed corporate head offices, staged media events and slick communications products, the reality of the mining trade is pretty basic and very intrusive.

An orebody is identified, extracted, processed and removed and while the clothing might be high-visibility, many of the industry’s impacts tend to stay pretty low on the wider world’s radar.

Right now, the world’s biggest mining company, BHP, has formally applied to expand the massive Olympic Dam mine in northern South Australia.

This plan deserves serious attention and scrutiny for three key reasons: it involves the long-lived and multi-faceted threat of uranium, it proposes to use massive amounts of finite underground water and the company is in trouble globally over the management of mine wastes and residues currently stored in multiple leaking – and sometimes catastrophically failing – tailings dams.

BHP has recently commissioned a “tailings taskforce” to conduct a high-level review of the management of the company’s tailings dams or tailing storage facilities.

The move comes in the literal wake of the collapse of a tailings dam at the Samarco iron ore operation in Brazil in 2015 that saw 19 deaths along with widespread and continuing environmental damage.

The mine was a joint operation of BHP and Vale, a Brazilian mining multinational that is a major player in global iron and nickel production, promoting its mission as transforming natural resources into prosperity.

Or maybe not after an estimated 40 million cubic metres of toxic sludge from the collapsed dam poisoned the Doce River and utterly devasted the lives of the local Krenak people.

Nothing quite focuses the corporate mind as a high profile and high cost legal action and in May, BHP was served with a multi-party damages claim for over $7 billion on behalf of around 235,000 claimants.

The memory of Samarco and the dangers of large-scale tailings dam failure were tragically highlighted in January this year when another Vale tailings dam at the Brumadinho mine failed, resulting in terrible loss of life with a death toll of between two and three hundred people and massive environmental impact.

In this context, it is deeply disturbing that BHP recently confirmed that three of the tailings dams at Olympic Dam are in the “extreme risk” category.

This is the highest risk status according to what is often regarded as the best global industry benchmark – the Canadian Dam Association’s safety standards – and relates less to the likelihood of collapse and more to the severity of the resulting human and environmental impacts if a failure did happen.

In preparing to contest the new Olympic Dam expansion, environmental groups have commissioned a detailed analysis that clearly shows the tailings present a significant, near intractable, long-term risk to the environment.

However, there are serious concerns that BHP is seeking this major tailings expansion without a full Safety Risk Assessment — such an approach is inconsistent with modern environmental practice and community expectation.

Olympic Dam tailings contain around 80 per cent of the radioactivity associated with the original ore as well as around one-third of the uranium from the ore.

Since 1988, Olympic Dam has produced around 180 million tonnes (Mt) of radioactive tailings. These are intended to be left in extensive above-ground piles on-site forever.

BHP’s radioactive tailings at Olympic Dam are extensive and cover 960 ha or 9.6 km2, an area one-third larger than Melbourne’s CBD.

They have reached a height of 30 metres, roughly that of a ten-storey building, at the centre of tailings piles where water sprays are used to limit tailings dust release and potent radioactive radon gas is released to the atmosphere.

Critics of the planned expansion are calling for safety to be comprehensively and transparently assessed across all tailings at Olympic Dam, without any restrictions, exemptions or legal privileges to the company, before any decision on new storage facilities or more radioactive tailings production.

In the public interest, a full comprehensive tailings Safety Risk Assessment is required from BHP in the expansion Assessment Guidelines and this must be subject to public scrutiny in the EIS Assessment process.

Environment groups are demanding that the EIS Guidelines adopt the Federal Government’s Olympic Dam Approval Condition 32 Mine Closure (EPBC 2005/2270, Oct 2011) as a requirement on BHP for a full Comprehensive Safety Assessment, covering all radioactive tailings at Olympic Dam including that the tailings plan must:

‘…contain a comprehensive safety assessment to determine the long-term (from closure to in the order of 10,000 years) risk to the public and the environment from the tailings storage facility.’

In recognition that tailings risks are effectively perpetual, Condition 32 on Mine Closure requires environmental outcomes:

‘…that will be achieved indefinitely post mine closure.’

The SA Government’s Guidelines and the full comprehensive tailings Safety Risk Assessment must also incorporate the higher environmental standards set by the Federal Government in 1999 to regulate the Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu in the Northern Territory:

‘to ensure that:

  1. The tailings are physically isolated from the environment for at least 10,000 years;
  2. Any contaminants arising from the tailings will not result in any detrimental environmental impact for at least 10,000 years.’

There is an obligation for these Guidelines to mandate the application of the ‘high environmental standards’ set out in Object D of the Commonwealth-SA Assessment Bilateral Agreement.

BHP must demonstrate a plausible plan to isolate radioactive tailings mine waste from the environment for at least 10,000 years, in line with the Federal Government’s environmental requirements at the NT’s Ranger uranium mine.

And the South Australian and Federal Governments have a clear duty of care to make sure they do. After Brazil, no one in industry or government can ever say they didn’t know.

June 15, 2019 Posted by | South Australia, uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

Vimy Resources managing director Mike Young talks up uranium industry, despite its gloomy market

Vimy Resources eyes US uranium fix, Stuart McKinnon, The West Australian 1 June 2019  Vimy Resources managing director Mike Young refers to himself as a “silver-lining guy” and jokingly admits “you have to be … in uranium”.

The Andrew Forrest-backed Vimy has a completed definitive study for its $493 million Mulga Rock uranium project 200km east of Kalgoorlie, has two granted mining leases and other key approvals in place. It just needs the price of yellowcake to roughly treble so it can push the button.

The spot price of uranium has been in the doldrums since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, which prompted a phasing out of nuclear power in western countries, particularly in Europe.

Despite several false dawns, sentiment for the commodity has remained stubbornly low for the past eight years.

But the forthright Mr Young and Vimy’s chief nuclear officer Julian Tapp are hopeful the market might be approaching an inflection point.

They see a looming decision of the US Government as a potential catalyst to move uranium prices higher.

President Donald Trump is expected to decide next month whether to introduce trade restrictions to protect US-based uranium producers……..

If a quota is introduced, the company is hopeful Australia’s close relations with the US could win the country key concessions as it has done with aluminium and steel.

But whatever the outcome, Vimy believes a decision will provide clarity to a market starved of certainty for the past 18 months. US utilities, representing nearly a third of the global uranium demand, have effectively been on a buying strike since the start of last year.

… Politically, people are now thinking of nuclear as an avenue to emissions-free, dispatchable power 24/7 in all weather conditions,” Young said. “There’s still an anti-nuclear lobby, but by and large mainstream environmental scientists are getting on board nuclear power.” ….. https://thewest.com.au/business/spinifex/vimy-resources-eyes-us-uranium-fix-ng-b881212458z

June 3, 2019 Posted by | business, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Uranium market now weaker than ever?

Uranium Week: Buyers’ Market.  https://www.fnarena.com/index.php/2019/05/28/uranium-week-buyers-market/ By Greg Peel, May 28 2019

Sellers continue to chase down ever more empowered buyers in an ongoing weak uranium market.

-Uranium spot price continues to fall
-Rio Tinto may shut down Rossing
-US production falls dramatically

It was Groundhog Week last week in the uranium market. With utilities largely out of the market pending a section 232 decision, sellers continue to lower prices in order to flush out buying interest.

And the buyers are not making it easy. Having the upper hand, they are not simply insisting on lower prices, industry consultant TradeTech reports, but on specific origins, delivery locations and other restrictive terms and conditions.

Four transactions totalling 500,000lbs U3O8 equivalent were recorded in the spot market last week. TradeTech’s weekly spot price indicator has fallen -US20c to US$24.30/lb.

The spot price has now fallen -16% in 2019, whittling a 12-month gain down to 6%.

There were no transactions reported in uranium term markets. TradeTech’s term price indicators remain at US$28.50/lb (mid) and US$32.00/lb (long).

Supply Response

Australian-listed diversified miner Rio Tinto ((RIO)) has announced it will advance the closure of its 69% owned Rossing uranium mine in Namibia to June 2020 if the Namibian competition regulator blocks the US$104m sale of the mine to China National Uranium Corp.

Rio cannot continue to operate the loss-making business and would rather cease operations ahead of a forecast 2025 mine life if the sale is rejected.

The Namibian government owns a 3% stake in Rossing but 51% of the voting rights. The Iranian Foreign Investment Co holds 15% and the Industrial Development Corp of South Africa owns 10%.

Persistently low uranium prices continue to impact on global supply. Last week the US Energy Information Agency reported US uranium mines produced 700,000lbs U3O8 in 2018, down -37% from 2017.

Total shipment of uranium concentrate from US mills fell -35%. US producers sold 1.5mlbs of concentrate at an average price of US$32.51/lb.

May 30, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, uranium | Leave a comment