ABC: Worker fell in to radioactive slurry pit

Publish Date:
14th December 2013

Read on ABC website

SIMON SANTOW: The operators of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory are facing fresh allegations they are cutting corners on safety.

A worker told his union he sunk up to his armpits into radioactive slurry while helping to clean up a massive toxic spill caused by the collapse of part of the mine's processing plant last weekend.

The company that runs the mine, Energy Resources of Australia, says it can't confirm the workplace accident and is checking the validity of the claim.

Michael Coggan reports from Darwin.

MICHAEL COGGAN: When a 1,400 cubic metre leach tank at the Ranger uranium mine fell apart last Saturday, workers had to evacuate to avoid being hit by the mixture of sulphuric acid and uranium it was holding.

The company that operates the mine on a lease surrounded by Kakadu National Park, Energy Resources of Australia, says there was no environmental damage. And this week the Northern Territory Mines Minister Willem Westra van Holthe assured the public it is a safe place to work.

But yesterday afternoon Bryan Wilkins from the Manufacturing Workers Union was sent a text message by a worker at the mine explaining how a colleague had fallen into the toxic slurry.

BRYAN WILKINS: I received a message from a worker out at Ranger this afternoon that another worker there was walking on top of the spill area. It's got a crust on it now. He fell through it, was in to the waste up to his armpits. He was taken to first aid, told to have a shower and get back to work. The worker refused to go back to work, so Ranger put him on a plane and sent him home?

MICHAEL COGGAN: What does that say about the safety of the mine site?

BRYAN WILKINS: I think this is fairly typical of safety on that mine site. And it goes to show when the minister said the mine was safe the other day, he obviously wasn't right. There still is safety issues on that site, and there needs to be that full independent inquiry that we called for.

MICHAEL COGGAN: What sort of safety arrangements are there at the mine site as far as you know?

BRYAN WILKINS: As far as I know - my experience with that mine - safety isn't a high priority. I've had lots of complaints from members, contractors and workers at the mine, who complain about the safety at that site. They say that a lot of procedures aren't followed and a lot of short cuts are taken.

MICHAEL COGGAN: How is the worker, do you know?

BRYAN WILKINS: No, I don't know.

MICHAEL COGGAN: Is it dangerous to fall into radioactive slurry?

BRYAN WILKINS: I'm sure it is dangerous to fall into radioactive slurry, and that slurry also contains sulphuric acid.

MICHAEL COGGAN: The company that runs the Ranger mine, Energy Resources of Australia, last night couldn't confirm that any workplace accident had happened at the mine yesterday.

But a spokesman said the company will look into the validity of the claims.

SIMON SANTOW: Michael Coggan there.