Production at ERA’s uranium mine took a 60 per cent hit in the December quarter after a leach tank rupture forced operations to close at the site.
While a slight fall in production was expected after the completion of mining in the high-grade open-cut Ranger pit, matters worsened for the miner when a leach tank at the site’s processing plant ruptured and collapsed, causing an acidic radioactive slurry spill.
The incident forced the shutdown of operations and a massive clean-up at the site, with the Federal Government announcing the mine will not be able to restart production operations without regulatory approval and the go ahead from a joint operation taskforce.
Processing operations remain suspended while clean-up and recovery operations at the Ranger processing plant are ongoing.
In an ASX announcement the Rio Tinto-owned ERA revealed uranium production for the December quarter was 503 tonnes, down 17 per cent on the preceding September quarter and 59 per cent down on the previous corresponding period.
The fall cut annual output by 20 per cent to 2960 tonnes.
The company said the mill was primarily fed with lower grade stockpiled material and as a result production in the quarter was adversely affected.
“Upon recommencement of processing operations, the mill will continue to be fed with lower grade stockpiled material until the commencement of production from the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps mine should it receive ERA Board approval and regulatory approvals.”
The Ranger 3 deposit represents the miner’s long-term future, holding more than 34,000 tonnes of high grade ore, however mining the area is subject to approval from the government and traditional owners in the region.
However the latter approval may be difficult to come by with the Mirrar people previously stating that a number of safety incidents at the site had caused distrust.
In early November a mine left the site’s controlled areas sparking fears of contamination, while later that month four uranium storage barrels were discovered in bushland near Darwin.
"Day by day, litre by litre, incident by incident, they're losing whatever trust traditional owners have in them," Mirrar spokesperson Justin O'Brien said.
The company spent $46 million exploring the Ranger 3 Deeps decline in 2013, with 40 holes completed in the December quarter totalling 8,383 metres.
It says exploration of the underground deposit remains on schedule and on-budget.