Townsville Bulletin: Mine pain for owners

Publish Date:
23rd November 2013

Letter from Justin O'Brien published in Townsville Bulletin

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Claims made by Minerals Council Australia uranium director Daniel Zavetierro (Uranium safety first 18/11) that track record of the Ranger uranium mine provides a blueprint for Queensland must be corrected.

The Mirarr people, Traditional Owners of lands in the Kakadu region including the Ranger and Jabiluka uranium deposits, have the longest lived experience of significant uranium mining in Australia. Ranger was imposed on Mirarr against their strong opposition and has been operating for 30 years. Mirarr now live with the social, cultural and environmental impacts of the mine. The suggestions made by Mr Zavetierro that Ranger's track record confirms the high environmental standard of Australia's uranium mining industry is in stark contrast to that experience.

Just this month there have been two cases of unauthorised and potentially contaminated items leaving the Ranger site. In 2005 mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) was convicted for breaches of  environmental guidelines after workers inadvertently drank water contaminated with 400 times the  allowable level of uranium due to an incorrectly fitted pipe. In 2011 the mining company was forced to suspend processing at Ranger for six months because of an excessive inventory in the tailings dam. In relation to environmental breaches it was recently noted by Supervising Scientist Alan Hughes that “With all the precautionary efforts that are made, there is still room for human error”.

The Mirarr hold grave concerns about the legacy of uranium mining as well as the impact of its products. The fact that Australian uranium was in the failed reactors at Fukushima that have caused so much damage and human misery has been a source of great sadness for the Mirarr.

To cite Ranger as a rationale for expanding the uranium industry in Australia is misleading, dangerous and disingenuous.

Justin O'Brien
Chief Executive Officer
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation