ERA under pressure to close Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park

Mining companies continue to be at odds with traditional Aboriginal land owners, this time in the world-heritage listed section of the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

Earlier this week, an Aboriginal elder in the Kimberly slammed environmentalists who called for a rejection of a gas project on the coast , and further in land in Western Australia, the Yindjibarndi people remain locked in a battle over land near Karratha with Fortescue Metals’ Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.

Energy Resources Australia (ERA) currently produces about 10 per cent of the world’s uranium, but the Mirrar people who own the section of the Kakadu National Park that includes the company’s Ranger mine wants to stop mining there.

The mining company suspended operations in January due to the wet weather, with the mine’s tailings dam near capacity.

It has operated on a lease inside Kakadu for 30 years, and joins other companies fighting battles over land rights.

The ABC is reporting that just days prior to ERA’s annual general meeting, a scientist previously employed by the company revealed contaminated water leaking from the mine into nearby waterways is a possibility.

His comments mean the mine will most likely remain closed for the rest of the year.

During a public forum in Darwin last night Mirarr woman Yvonne Margarula, the senior traditional owner of the mine site said the Indigenous community remains opposed to mining, and pointed towards the risk of unsatisfactory water management and possible downstream environmental damage as part of the reason they are against ERA continuing at Ranger.

"We still say no – no more mining," she said.

An industrial chemist who worked for ERA and is now employed by the Mirarr people told the forum the company would not be able to safely treat the contaminated water stored at Ranger by the time the mining lease expires in 10 years.

"They have facilities to remediate water through chemical water processing, ends up with micro-filtration and osmosis, and it is top-shelf stuff, but it can only do a couple of megalitres a day – and they have got 10 gigalitres," he told the audience.

"We are terrified that this is going to ruin our country."

An announcement to confirm whether the mining suspension will continue is expected from ERA on Tuesday and Kyle thinks the mine will remain closed more than three months.

"The facts are that the pit has already got a big mob of water in it and I can’t see Ranger getting started again this year."

Traditional owners are also against ERA’s planned use of an acid-leaching process to increase production and the construction of a new exploratory mine shaft and are calling for Ranger to be shut permanently prior to the annual general meeting scheduled for next.

Earlier in the week ERA chief executive Rob Atkinson said the company is making changes to improve the management of contaminated water from its Ranger mine.

"I mean you go through a wet season like we have done – it does cause you to think, to assess, to work out how you can do things better, safer," he said.

Image: The Sydney Morning Herald