Guardian: Kakadu uranium mine closure planning ignores impact on Jabiru township
6th June 2018
Ranger mine, which ceases operations in 2021, releases plan for rehabilitation, but fails to mention town of 1,000
by Helen Davidson
Operators of a controversial uranium mine inside Kakadu national park have released their plans to close it, but make no mention of how the shutdown will affect the nearby town that has relied on the mine for its survival.
The Ranger mine, which in its more than 30-year existence has had a number contamination and fire incidents, including one that prompted a six-month shutdown, will stop operations by January 2021 and close by January 2026.
Energy Resources Australia (ERA) had sought to extend its operations with another site, the 3 Deeps mine. In 2015 it said its clean-up costs were contingent on the expansion, but the mine lost the support of its parent company, Rio Tinto, and the expansion was rejected by traditional owners later that year.
The more than 500-page plan for closure, released on Tuesday, is based on Western Australian guidelines for mine closures as the Northern Territorygovernment has none of its own. It comes after years of concern at the lack of planning by previous NT governments leaving residents and business owners in limbo.
The closure plans are vital to the future of Jabiru, the township of about 1,000 people, originally built to service the mine but which has now grown into a tourist hub for Kakadu.
The report acknowledged the mine was a “significant” socio-economic contributor to the town and region, however there is no formalised plan to transition away from a mine-based economy.
While ERA has conducted a social impact assessment of the mine’s five-year rehabilitation phase, it has not yet done one for after it has closed.
The assessment on the rehabilitation phase had recommended “early decision making about Jabiru and its closure”.
The general obligation of the mine’s rehabilitation is that the area is returned to its original site but there is no desire for Jabiru to close or to lose ERA-built services, including the airport.
The long-term future of the airport is undecided and plans for the town itself aren’t covered by the plan.
The Ranger mine site is surrounded by Kakadu national park and sits on Mirrar traditional land. It has recorded 171 places of Indigenous cultural heritage significance and more than 160 archaeological sites and artefacts, including one that proved Indigenous habitation of up to 80,000 years.
How or if the site will be incorporated into the world heritage-listed park is up to the Unesco world heritage committee, and ERA said that might not happen until well after the mine was closed.
ERA said consultation with Aboriginal traditional owners had identified some future uses including land management activities, traditional food sourcing, cultural visits and ritual responsibilities as people reconnect with the land.
A separate rehabilitation plan will be submitted to the federal government to determine how much of its security bond the government will keep.
The Northern Land Council and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation welcomed the plan, which they said was of a very high level but “decades overdue”. They said a “significant amount” of planning and supporting studies were still outstanding.
“Rio Tinto must clearly demonstrate that they have sufficient resources devoted to mine closure to provide stakeholders with confidence that the objectives outlined in the closure plan can be met,” the organisations said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Centre NT said Ranger’s mining period was “highly adversarial” and ERA and Rio Tinto had to adopt the “highest levels of transparency, inclusion, and evidence-based decision making”.
“It is essential that the new post-mining chapter at Ranger reflects a new way of working,” said ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney. “Australia has a sorry history of poor or failed mine rehabilitation and Ranger cannot be allowed to join this list.”
The closure plan has been assessed by Rio Tinto but is still undergoing a feasibility assessment.
The chief executive of ERA, Paul Arnold, said it was fully committed to meeting its rehabilitation and environmental obligations.
“The plan, which will be subject to ongoing review and refinement, is based on extensive scientific research and world class engineering design,” Arnold said.