The Ranger Uranium mine has been directed to engage in improvements to process safety procedures on site, as a result of inadequate safety at the time of the failure of a leach tank in December last year.
The Department of Industry released a summary joint statement for the investigation which said that at the time of the failure of Leach Tank 1, the management of process safety and its corporate governance did not meet the expected standards.
It was also found that mine operator Energy Resources Australia’s proposed approach to monitoring the integrity of leach tanks was ‘technically sound, but may not be sustainable’, and will require board review no later than July 2014.
Regulators have been tasked with undertaking several actions as a result of the report, which were accepted by the the Commonwealth Minister for Industry Ian MacFarlane and the Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy Willem Westra van Holthe, and will be enforced through the Mining Management Act (NT).
“It is critical that ERA improve process safety practices at Ranger to ensure mining activities continue to have no impact on Kakadu National Park,” MacFarlane said.
The actions include engaging a suitably qualified expert to assist in monitoring the implementation of ERA’s ‘Process Safety Improvement Action Plan’ on a quarterly basis for the next two years to ensure it is effectively implemented, including review of Return to Service documentation on a sampling basis; relevant process safety capabilities to be be improved in NT Department of Mines and Energy and the Department of Industry; and the Department of Industry, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, will consider the need for a review of the regulatory arrangements as they apply to the Ranger uranium mine.
However, a fourth recommendation which called for a comprehensive review of the regulations governing Ranger to ensure these are comprehensive and clear, was merely ‘noted’ and both the NT and Federal government ministers have so far refused to take further action.
Dave Sweeny of the Australian Conservation Fund called for Federal and NT governments to accept the key recommendation calling for a comprehensive review of the adequacy of regulations at Ranger, including a detailed and publicly reported assessment of the integrity and status of mill and processing infrastructure at Ranger, and a halt to applications for the new Ranger 3 Deeps underground expansion until all actions are completed.
“This report has taken too long and delivered too little. It fails to address the cause of the failure or actively reduce repetition – and its key recommendation has already been ignored,” he said.
An investigation taskforce, led by NT DME and consisting of NT WorkSafe, SSD, the Department of Industry, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), and the Northern Land Council was established to provide a coordinated and consistent approach to managing the regulatory response to the incident, however the GAC chief executive Justin O’Brien expressed their disappointment with having been given no indication of intent to release the summary report.
“We are bitterly disappointed that the investigation taskforce process has broken down, not for any want of trying on our part,” he said.
“It is critical that the recommendations of this report are fully implemented with highest priority given to a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework at Ranger, a point which the ministers have acknowledged but up to this point have not committed to act on.
“The tank collapse which sent over a million litres of radioactive acid spilling across the mine site was yet another example of the poor management and failed systems at Ranger.
“For Traditional Owners to gain have any confidence in the capacity of the Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) and the regulators to manage this mine the recommendations of this report must be acted on swiftly and completely.
“ERA wants to expand the Ranger mine underground. Without a comprehensive regulatory review and implementation of the remaining recommendations it would be ludicrous for the Federal Government to even consider such a proposal.”
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