A tank containing toxic radioactive acid has burst at Rio Tinto’s Ranger uranium mine within the bounds Kakadu National Park. Up to one million litres of radioactive acid slurry has escaped the containment area of the holding tanks, and has forced an immediate halt to all processing. It is understood the area will be inoperable for over a month.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners of the area, is calling for a comprehensive audit of the entire Ranger operation including the aging plant facilities. This is a major nuclear accident, and comes within a month of two other high risk operational incidents, leaving the Mirarr Traditional Owners in the region concerned for the safety of the Park and its residents and visitors.

GAC’s Chief Executive Officer Justin O’Brien said: “People living just a few kilometres
downstream from the mine don’t feel safe. How can we trust the assurances of a company which has repeatedly failed to safely manage this highly toxic material? What may happen next?”

The news has placed further strain on the relationship between Rio Tinto and Mirarr
Traditional Owners at a time when Rio Tinto is seeking approval for its proposed Ranger 3Deeps underground uranium mine.

“Litre by litre, incident by incident, Rio Tinto’s assurances are proving less and less reliable and yet the company is still hopeful the Mirarr will trust them to build a new mine on this site.

“This is nothing but a hillbilly operation, run by a hillbilly miner with hillbilly regulators.
Based on the woefully inadequate government response to the previous incident, we have no confidence that this will be taken seriously enough.

“This company, and the Australian and Northern Territory governments are clearly out of their depth here and must seek international assistance on the safest way to clean up this mine and protect the people and environment of Kakadu.” Mr O’Brien concluded.
Media Statement:  For further information or comment: Justin O’Brien on 08 8979 2200 or 0427 008 765

Ranger Uranium Mine spill prompts calls for inquiry 

The Northern Territory (NT) Branch of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) is calling for a full independent audit of all infrastructure at Ranger Uranium following a spill of up to a million litres of radioactive and acidic slurry there on Saturday morning.  

Gundjheimi Aboriginal Corporation – representing the local Mirrar traditional owners – has revealed that communities living near the mine no longer feel safe and there is a risk of contaminated water supplies given the radioactive slurry broke the containment levee and ended up in mine storm water drains. 

“Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) and the Federal Environment Minister are both saying that the spill has been contained and there will be no impact to the environment.  ERA has also stated that no workers have been injured,” said Dr Michael Fonda, Secretary of the NT Branch of PHAA.   

“PHAA wants the evidence supporting these claims scrutinised and a reassurance that workers were not exposed to excess radioactivity and that surrounding locals will not be impacted by it. 

“Ranger Uranium Mine should not resume operations – if at all – until its ageing infrastructure is found to meet strict safety standards as required by Federal regulations,” said Dr Fonda. 

This hazardous spill follows two other widely publicised and significant safety incidents in recent weeks for Ranger, on top of a long history of leaks, spills and breaches.   

“These ongoing safety incidents continue to demonstrate that the uranium industry is never safe and will always present health hazards to workers, local communities and the environment.  They reinforce the importance of a comprehensive review by the regulators and the Federal Government of the entire mining operation at Ranger,” Dr Fonda said. 

These events come at a time when ERA is seeking to expand the operations at Ranger with the ‘3 Deeps’ underground project.  

“In light of the safety problems plaguing the ageing uranium mine the 3 Deeps expansion should be withdrawn and the focus placed on rehabilitating the existing mine,” Dr Fonda said. 

For further information

Dr Michael Fonda, NT Branch Secretary, PHAA