Kakadu’s flooded uranium mine causes alarm

Water management a top priority, says ERA: Water was shunted around the site, from the pit after heavy rainfall, through retention ponds and into the giant tailings dam. Ranger had built a $25 million plant to help make sure all the water was treated. Managing water was the No. 1 issue for the mine, said an Energy Resources Australia spokesperson, Amanda Buckley.

Deluge poses no threat, says ERA, experts think otherwise: Buckley explained the mine often closed after heavy rainfall, but this week’s deluge posed no environmental issues. Australian standards were high compared with many overseas mines, said Dr Gavin Mudd, a uranium mining expert and lecturer of engineering at Monash University. “But we still cannot answer the fundamental questions about rehabilitation [of land after mining ceases] and we still have accidents. So, from a scientific point of view, it is still not good enough.”

Rum Jungle, an example of mismanagement: The Rum Jungle uranium mine, about 64 kilometres south of Darwin, is one example of how not to manage a site, critics say. At Australia’s first large-scale uranium mine, the dams, which were meant to prevent acidic materials and heavy metals used in the milling process from reaching rivers and streams, frequently overflowed during the wet season. The environmental damage it caused had still not being fully repaired since the mine was closed in 1971.

ERA’s water treatment not foolproof, says expert: Mudd supported Energy Resource Australia’s investment in a sophisticated water treatment facility. But he said it was not without its problems because of the nature of some of the highly contaminated water it dealt with. He was also concerned that tailings being dumped back into an old mine pit could leach out because the upper parts of the pit walls were permeable.

Land rehabilitation will remain an issue: The academic, who has visited many existing and disused mines here and overseas remained sceptical about rehabilitating land after uranium mining had ceased because of the industry’s poor track record so far. “You need to keep an eye on the old uranium sites to see how they are being rehabilitated and how water was used so that you can draw conclusions about current mines,” he said. “Give me 100 years and then let’s see how good today’s standards are.” He said that because Ranger was planning to extend the life of the mine out to 2011, more room would be needed for the tailings. “Tailings dams are not cheap to build … and it is going to be a huge problem rehabilitating them.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3/3/2007, p. 28

Source: Erisk Net

 

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