The Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu is leaking 100,000 litres of contaminated water from the tailings dam everyday, according to the Commonwealth supervising scientist, Alan Hughes.
Uranium tailings are the residues from the mining process and contain around 80 per cent of the radioactivity of the original ore. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation they pose a long term hazard to humans, animals and plants.
According to Alan Hughes, the water is leaking into rock fissures beneath Kakadu. He told the Senate estimates hearing "At this stage, I do not see any significant reasons for concern." But there are questions about how ERA intends to recover this contaminated water.
The Ranger mine, owned by Energy Resources Australia (ERA), is legally obliged to isolate the tailings from the surrounding Kakadu National Park "for a period of not less than 10,000 years".
ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney said "There is a serious environmental management problem at the aging and under-performing Ranger mine. The continuing leak means miner ERA is breaching its operating requirements."
"Federal Labor’s policy clearly states the ALP will ensure stringent environmental controls on uranium mines, based on world’s best practice standards. The Ranger mine comprehensively fails this test and federal action is needed now." he said.
"The Federal Government should set up an independent review of the impact of ERA’s mining operation, full disclosure of the status of the tailings leak and options for its redress, rapid implementation of a series of outstanding Inquiry recommendations and a legal assessment of whether ERA is in breach of Commonwealth requirements." said Dave Sweeney.
ERA has found a potential 40,000 tonnes of uranium nearby and is proposing underground mining from the present open pit to mine these deposits to extend the life of the mine and mine infrastructure.