ABC: Govt defends investigation into radioactive leak

Publish Date:
10th December 2013

Read on ABC website

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is defending the independence of the scientist looking into the spill of radioactive waste at the Ranger uranium mine amid claims the investigator is conflicted because he used to work for the mining company.

"The chief scientist is independent," Mr Macfarlane said on Darwin Local Radio on Tuesday.

"The chief supervising scientist has at their disposal a whole array of information and to have someone with experience in that position is important," Mr Macfarlane told the ABC.

"We have total confidence in the chief supervising scientist," he said.

The current person who is Acting Supervising Scientist for the government is Richard McAllister, who between 1994 and 1998 worked for Energy Resources of Australia (ERA).

On the weekend ERA admitted to spilling a radioactive slurry from a leaching tank that had a capacity of more than one million litres, although the company said the material was contained on site and there was no impact on the environment.

Mr McAllister is now tasked with conducting the investigation into the company he used to work for, at an incident at a mine in Jabiru, where he once worked from.

A former scientist at the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Geoff Kyle, questioned the independence of Mr McAllister.

"The current senior scientist who is acting is a former Ranger employee and an employee of the Northern Land Council," Mr Kyle said.

"People who work for Ranger went to work for the Supervising Scientist in the Department of Mines.

"Everybody swaps roles up here. It is a very small pond. There is no independence," Mr Kyle said.

In January the Northern Land Council signed off on new mining agreements with ERA for Ranger.

Mr Macfarlane said there had been no damage to the environment from the latest spill.

"Those people who want to take a political opportunity can say and do whatever they like the reality is that this operation in the last five years has operated in accordance with the guidelines that have been laid down," he said.

"This mine is an important mine. It produces not only material for export but also provides local jobs," he said.

Ranger is one of the world's largest uranium mines and is located within the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park and began production in 1981.

The processing operations at Ranger have been suspended following Saturday's slurry spill and ERA says clean-up operations are well advanced.

Mr McAllister's office was contacted by the ABC to arrange an interview, but the query was referred to a media unit in Sydney, which did not immediately respond to the request.