Uranium pollution fears as mine vehicle leaves authorised areas

The Rio Tinto subsidiary that operates the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory has been accused of a safety breach after a vehicle left the mine’s controlled areas.

Energy Resources of Australia has confirmed a vehicle used within the mine left without authorisation.

"The vehicle was stopped by security and retrieved back to the Ranger Project Area," the company said in a statement.

"An inspection by ERA found the vehicle to be free of contamination."

Police are investigating the matter, which took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, and which may be in breach the ERA’s mining conditions.

Traditional owners of the north-east of Kakadu National Park where the mine is located say the Mirrar people are deeply concerned polluted material may have escaped the mine’s confines, SMH reported.

''We think it is very serious that you could take potentially contaminated material from an operational mine site, avoid all scrutiny, leave the mine site with it and then be found down the highway,''  Mirrar spokesperson Justin O'Brien said.

 ''There needs to be a broader inquiry into how on earth this could happen in the first place.''

The relationship with the Mirrar people is crucial if ERA want permission to re-establish mining at the site.

Open-cut mining at Ranger ceased late last year, with the company now looking to establish an underground mine.

But O'Brien said incidents like this would make it hard for the Mirrar people to support further mining operations.

''It can only stress the relationship, it can only challenge the relationship and the test is how the company responds to this in terms of its management of the investigation and its response with the contractor,'' he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney has called on Rio Tinto to ''reconsider the project''.

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