Author Archives: jim


In the late 1970s, the federal government was keen to open up uranium mining in the Kakadu region. First cab off the rank was the Ranger mine which was imposed on local communities despite the clear opposition of the of Mirarr Traditional Owners.

The nearby Jabiluka deposit, also on Mirarr land, was next in line. After six years of ‘negotiations’ over Ranger which ended in the mine being imposed against their wishes, the Mirarr and other Traditional Owners were exhausted. Despite their clear and continued opposition to Jabiluka, another two years of ‘consultation’ was forced upon them. People felt that the relentless meetings would continue until they complied with the government’s agenda and in 1982 then Senior Mirarr Traditional Owner Toby Ganagle said he was too tired to fight any more this was taken as consent for Jabiluka.

The mine remained undeveloped because of the federal Labor government’s no-new-uranium-mines policy from 1983-96.

Senior Mirarr Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula with friends.

When the Howard government was elected in 1996 with an open-slather uranium mining policy ERA was keen to push ahead with Jabiluka. Mirarr remained steadfast in their opposition to further mining on their country and began working with supporters in the environment, peace, anti-nuclear and Indigenous movements from across the country and around the world.

The result was a huge domestic and international campaign against the proposed mine. The campaign involved inquiries by Australia’s Parliament, legal challenges to the mine, a national speaking tour of traditional owners, a protest camp hosting 5,000 people over eight months (527 of whom were arrested in peaceful protests – including Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula), large rallies in all major Australian cities, mobilisation of a national and international support base of tens of thousands of people, a speaking tour in Europe, lobbying to various international bodies including UNESCO (the World Heritage Committee recommended suspension of work at Jabiluka due to threats to Kakadu’s World Heritage values) and the UNHCHR, the European Parliament (which passed a resolution against Jabiluka in 1998) and the US Congress (members of which wrote a letter in support of Mirarr to President Clinton) and much more. Yvonne Margarula and the then Executive Officer of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Jacqui Katona, jointly received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1999 and in 1998 Yvonne was awarded the Friends of the Earth International Nuclear Free Future Award in recognition of her work on the campaign. These phenomenal efforts resulted in stopping the Jabiluka mine. The Mirarr signed an agreement with Rio Tinto in 2005 that prevents the mine’s development without the written consent of the Traditional Owners.

The Mirarr never accepted the inevitability of mining at Jabiluka, despite constant company, industry and government assurances that the project would go ahead. In their struggle to protect their country and culture they made Jabiluka a millstone for one of the world’s largest resource companies and have redefined future resource conflicts in Australia and internationally by elevating the rights of Indigenous people everywhere to determine what happens to their country and their community.

The Mirarr remain clear in their continued opposition to mining at Jabiluka and maintain their long-standing commitment to seeing the area permanently protected.

More information:

Below: Fight for Country

[This webpage last updated November 2014.]

Nolans Bore

Study reveals rare earth project ‘viable’

Anthony Stewart, 21 December 2012,

Arafura Resources says independent analysis shows its rare earth project north of Alice Springs is commercially viable. The study suggests there are enough rare earth deposits at the Nolan’s Bore site for the operation of an open-cut mine for 22 years.

Chief executive Chris Tonkin says the study should boost the company’s attempt to attract enough investment to start mining. “They’d have to have the whole project assessed and in fact we have done all of this involving third parties and in our case it has actually cost us a fair bit of money but it is effectively a tick that the project is viable,” he said.

Mine gets time to submit environmental report
26 November 2012,

Arafura Resources Limited has been given extra time to produce an environmental impact statement for its proposed phosphate and rare earths mine, 135 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

Update: 2016

In 2016, Arafura Resources submitted a new EIS, that specifically disqualified uranium as a target:
“The project does not intend to extract and commercially recover the uranium and thorium, and consequently any uranium, thorium or radioactive decay products (known as radionuclides) in the ore are considered impurities, requiring removal.”

While the post-Fukushima market for uranium means the company currently has no plans to process yellowcake from Nolans Bore, the project configuration includes isolation and shallow burial of both the uranium and thorium, in hope that future markets will emerge for these waste streams.

“if the economics of phosphate or uranium improves sufficiently; or should a commercial market for thorium emerge, consideration may be given to modifying the process to recover and commercialise some or all of these co-products, or to investigating the viability of co-product recovery from tailings or process residues.”

(Nolans Project, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, 2016)

Shoalwater Bay

Shoalwater Bay is used for biennial US-Australian ‘joint exercises’ (war games) known as Talisman Sabre. Tens of thousands of troops descend on Shoalwater Bay and other sites in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Talisman Sabre involves US nuclear-powered ships and submarines. The US fleet may also be carrying nuclear weapons as well as depleted uranium munitions. The Australian government states that depleted uranium munitions are not used in Talisman Sabre exercises.

Kim Stewart listed the following ten problems with Talisman Sabre war games in a 2011 article:

1. Talisman Sabre takes place on indigenous lands and sovereignty has never been ceded. The Darambal people of Rockhampton region are unlikely to ever get land rights while the military control their land.

2. Talisman Sabre takes place in the Coral Sea and traverses the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. If ordinary Australians can’t fish there, neither should the military be allowed to use sonar (known to effect whales and other sea animals) or leak oil and dispose of their waste there.

3. Talisman Sabre takes place in Shoalwater Bay, one of only three locations where endangered dugong dwell in Australian waters. Injury from ships or shock from undersea explosions pose a threat to their existence.

4. Talisman Sabre, like all war games and war itself, is not environmentally benign. Beside material damage to land and flora by tanks and troop movements, all military activities are polluting, including the use of ‘green’ practice munitions.

5. Live firing occurs in the water catchment for the town of Yeppoon. Military toxins from munitions have been and continue to be used in this catchment. Given the military’s record on sexual assaults recently, they are unlikely to confess to water and land pollution and repeatedly ignore the issue in their documents.

6. Talisman Sabre is not required to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment. They do offer a Public Environment Report each two years, but this is no more than a greenwashing exercise that ignores the social justice issues.

7. Talisman Sabre brings many troops to the surrounding towns where drunkenness, street crimes, drug use, prostitution and sexual assaults increase. This is a familiar tale wherever US Troops are based.

8. Talisman Sabre further ensconces Australia in a US Alliance where pre-emptive and unjust wars are the norm. The Australian Defence Force admits it is about ‘interoperability’ with the US military.

9. Talisman Sabre is vehemently opposed by people living near the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area who have been ignored, insulted and buzzed by military helicopters and faced with an ongoing barrage of bomb vibrations all year round from the base.

10. Talisman Sabre is part of the training for ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have already claimed the lives of 27 Australian troops, more than 3000 US troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians, destroying their homes and livelihoods, contaminating their land with depleted uranium and other toxins and driving many of them to seek refugee status in Australia where they are likely to be further abused.

More information:

Above and below: Protests at the Talisman Sabre 2009 war games.


Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is responsible for regulation of Commonwealth facilities such as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) nuclear research reactor site at Lucas Heights. It has other functions such as to “promote uniformity of radiation protection and nuclear safety policy and practices across the Commonwealth, States and Territories”.

ARPANSA was established in the late-1990s after decades of public pressure for a genuine independent regulator. There was discussion about an independent board with overall responsibility for ARPANSA. The Howard Coalition government watered that idea down − instead we got an all-powerful ARPANSA CEO and ANSTO was allowed to participate in the interview panel for the ARPANSA CEO job. ANSTO’s Communications Manager John Mulcair acknowledged that this was indefensible.

There is a revolving door between ANSTO and ARPANSA, further undermining the latter’s independence. At times ARPANSA has employed as many as six ex-ANSTO employees, perhaps more.

ARPANSA’s handling of the ‘clean up’ of the Maralinga nuclear test site was its first test and it was a failure. Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson wrote in his submission to the Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor at Lucas Heights (September 2000) that “The newly formed Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) also has not performed particularly well in its first major assignment − the Maralinga project. Unless their performance as regulators improves, then the new reactor project will be a trail of compromises as is the case on the Maralinga project.”

ARPANSA’s handling of ANSTO’s applications to build and operate a new research reactor was problematic in many respects.

The 2001 Report of the Senate Select Committee for an Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor stated that “provisions for public consultation in the ARPANS Act leave many questions unanswered.”

A 2005 Australian National Audit Office report was highly critical of ARPANSA. It said:

  • The Regulatory Branch’s operational objectives and activities are numerous, vary considerably in scope, are not prioritised, and are insufficiently specific to be clear or assessable.
  • [O]verall management of conflict of interest is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the ARPANS Act and Regulations. … Potential areas of conflict of interest are not explicitly addressed or transparently managed.
  • The bulk of license assessments − some 75 per cent − were made without the support of robust, documented procedures.
  • ARPANSA does not monitor or assess the extent to which licensees meet reporting requirements. The ANAO found that there had been under-reporting by licence holders.
  • ARPANSA has reported only one designated breach to Parliament. This is notwithstanding that there have been a number of instances where ARPANSA has detected non-compliance by licensees.

Problems identified by the ANAO in 2005 are still in evidence. For the past few years the adequacy of ARPANSA’s regulatory performance, and ARPANSA’s independence, have been repeatedly called into question in relation to a number of contamination accidents at Lucas Heights. This ongoing saga is documented on the Friends of the Earth website and a summary is included in the entry for ANSTO / Lucas Heights.

 More information about ARPANSA:

More information on inadequate safety practices at ANSTO and inadequate regulation:

Australian Nuclear Free Alliance

Formed in 1997, the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (formerly the Alliance Against Uranium) brings together Aboriginal people and relevant NGOs concerned about existing or proposed nuclear developments in Australia, particularly on Aboriginal homelands.

The Alliance holds an annual meeting which provides an important forum for sharing of knowledge, skills and experience. Annual meetings elect a national committee which oversees the work of the Alliance for the following 12 months. A majority of the Committee members are Aboriginal people.

The Alliance helped to build the successful campaign to stop the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory, the successful campaign against a proposed national nuclear waste dump in South Australia, and it has been involved in many other campaigns. Recent initiatives include:

  • challenging the pervasive racism of the uranium mining industry;
  • public education work highlighting the unsustainable impact of the nuclear industry on dwindling water resources;
  • an educational poster series covering issues from radiation and health to nuclear waste;
  • submissions to government inquiries and assessment processes; and
  • challenging the role and legitimacy of the Australian Uranium Association’s ‘Indigenous Dialogue Group’.

The successful Alliance model has had ‘spin-offs’ such as the creation of a Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

The most recent Alliance meeting (2011) was attended by representatives of the following Aboriginal and Indigenous Nations and other organisations: Arabunna, Arrernte (central and eastern), Kadyede, Kokatha/Anterkirinya, Kokatha/Mirning, Kokatha/Narrangar, Larrakia, Mirarr, Navajo, Wajarri Yamatji, Warumungu, Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Whagjuk/Yuet, Wilman/Bibulman, Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Arid Lands Environment Centre, Australian Conservation Foundation, Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Choose Nuclear Free, Conservation Council WA, Environment Centre NT, Environmental Defenders Office (NT), French Network for a Nuclear Phase Out, Friends of the Earth (Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane), Medical Association for Prevention of War, Mundatharra Aboriginal Corporation, National Tertiary Education Union (NSW), Public Health Association of Australia, Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance.

More information:

2011 Alliance meeting, Alice Springs

2009 Alliance meeting, Quorn, SA.

Arabunna Elder Kevin Buzzacott addressing a rally in Alice Springs after an Alliance meeting.

WA mob at the 2009 Alliance meeting.

Honorary Alliance Presidents – Kokatha Elder Eileen Wingfield and Maralinga veteran Avon Hudson.

Below: Alliance co-chair Peter Watts addressing the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World, Japan

Below: Della Rae Morrison speaking at an Indigo Girls concert.

[This webpage last updated July 2012]

French Island

In-mid 1967, Victoria’s State Electricity Commission applied to the Lands Department for the reservation of 400 acres of French Island in Western Port Bay for future construction of a nuclear power plant. The SEC was also considering sites at Portland, Kirk (south of Werribee) and Giffard (on the Gippsland coast). The Kirk and French Island sites are close to the Melbourne metropolitan area. These nuclear power plans were later abandoned.

To get a sense of the devastation that would be caused by a Chernobyl-scale nuclear disaster at French Island, choose the Western Port option from the ‘Chernobyl in Australia’ map below, play around with the different wind settings, and click the pink marker for information on radiation exposure levels and settlement / resettlement impacts.

The Australia Institute considered issues associated with locating a nuclear power plant at Western Port in a 2007 report and noted the following:

  • Medium earthquake risk − 17 recorded earthquakes − several faults and folds identified.
  • A number of important heritage and ecological sites in the area, including Western Port Ramsar wetland, HMAS Cerberus Marine and Coastal Commonwealth Heritage Area, Yaringa Marine National Park and French Island National Park. Numerous nationally-listed threatened species and migratory species are found in the area.
  • About eight per cent of the wider region’s workforce is employed in tourism (Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne East and Philip Island).

More information on the French Island nuclear power plant plan:

Friends of the Earth

In 1974, Friends of the Earth, Australia (FoE) decided to hold its inaugural national meeting at French Island as the threat of a nuclear power plant still loomed. The FoE Australia network was growing quickly at the time. In particular the first bike ride against uranium, which converged on Canberra, built FoE’s profile to such an extent that, in the words of Chain Reaction editor Richard Nankin, “we now work in overcrowded offices, with people coming and going at all hours, the phones always ringing madly”. The history of FoE’s campaign work for a ‘renewable rather than radioactive’ Australia is detailed in the book ‘30 Years of Creative Resistance‘ (PDF) and for current information see the FoE Australia website and the local FoE group websites.

Police violence against an anti-uranium bike ride convergence in Canberra, 1977.
1976 cycle against uranium – Parliament House, Canberra

Below: Two 1977 ‘Ride Against Uranium’ videos produced by FoE’s ‘Bike Ride Committee’ (the previous year, FoE blew the whistle on a global uranium cartel).

Below – FoE’s Radioactive Exposure Tour, 2010

Mt Painter

Mt Painter is located 110 kms north-east of Leigh Creek in the Lake Frome area of South Australia. The Mt Painter uranium deposit is sometimes confused with the nearby Mt Gee deposit, and has also been referred to as Armchair and Streitberg. In general it is best to think of the region as a series of small deposits known as Mt Painter. The Mt Gee − Mt Painter mineralisation is also the source of uranium in the palaeochannels around Beverley, a few kilometres east.

Uranium-bearing minerals were discovered in the region by G.A. Greenwood, son of a local pastoralist and prospector, in 1910. This discovery, on what was later named Radium Ridge, was exploited for radium by the Radium Extraction Company of South Australia Ltd (RECSAL). Many prominent locals from the nearby mining town of Leigh Creek bought shares in RECSAL, in the spirit of the mining boom of the time.

The company opened up several other deposits during the next two years, the largest being the No. 6 workings near Mt Painter. Ore was shipped to Europe until the outbreak of war in 1914 and the company went into liquidation in 1917. (Sir) Douglas Mawson had some uranium from the region shipped to France, where Nobel Prize winner Madam Marie Curie was involved in radioactivity research.

The workings were reopened in 1923 by what was to become the Australian Radium Corporation. Lack of water prevented the erection of a leaching plant on site, and a small crushing and screening plant gave unsatisfactory results. Camels were used in the rugged terrain to carry crude concentrate and hand-picked ore to less hilly country, where it was transferred to motor lorry and carted to the railway at Copley. From there it was railed to the Dry Creek treatment plant. Both the Mount Painter and Radium Hill deposits were mined intermittently until the early 1930s, when mining ceased. The minerals were processed for their radium content which commanded a high price for the use in medicine. Uranium itself had little use then and interest only increased after 1939 with the discovery of nuclear fission. The Australian Radium Corporation ceased operations in 1932.

Exploration at Mt Painter resumed in 1944 in conjunction with re-examination of Radium Hill and other uranium deposits for potential use in allied nuclear weapons projects.

SA Premier Tom Playford (second from left) and Prime Minister Ben Chifley (right) at Mt Painter, 1947.

Roads were constructed into the workings and camps erected, but the deposits proved to be low grade and uneconomic. Drilling and underground development was continued at East Painter by the South Australian government. The East Painter Camp accommodated up to 60 workers and was equipped with a canteen, bunkhouses, and garages. The project was abandoned in 1950 and the East Painter Camp dismantled.

Between 1968 and 1971, a consortium of mining companies discovered further uranium deposits including the richest and most easily accessible at the Hodgkinson Project. The total uranium resource outlined at Mt Painter by Oilmin was about 3,800 tonnes of U3O8 at an average grade of 0.1%. Transoil also prospected with Oilmin at Mt Painter. More than 7,000 tonnes of U3O8 in a number of small deposits were located. Like Oilmin and Petromin, Transoil was partly controlled by the interests of Bjelke Petersen, the ex-Premier of Queensland.

The Mt Painter region saw further exploration through a joint venture between Goldstream Mining NL (75%) and Bonanza Gold Pty Ltd (25%), with Goldstream as the operator. The program was of concern to many local Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners. In August 1999 Goldstream announced “significant uranium mineralisation” but follow-up work apparently failed to identify any significant new deposit. Goldstream then abandoned uranium exploration in the Mt Painter region.


Above: Camels being loaded with hand selected ore at the No. 6 workings, near Mt Painter, at about 1912. The ore was carried west along the camel pad at the base of Radium Ridge to Blue Mine Creek for motorised transport to the railway at Copley. The dark outcrop at top left is mainly hematite, and contains the uranium minerals.

Above: Transferring supplies from motor lorry to camel near Blue Mine Creek in 1926. The lorry carted ore and concentrates to Copley for railing to the Dry Creek radium extraction plant.

Above: Concentrating plant at the No. 6 workings in 1926. Bagged ore was dropped from the mine to the plant down a chute at top left. One of the workers is emptying ore into a small belt-driven jaw crusher; the crushed rock was fed into the ball-mill at right for grinding prior to sieving. The product was sent to the treatment plant at Dry Creek

Above: No. 6 workings and concentrating plant at about 1930. The ore crops out at upper left, with a small open cut and mullock heap to the right. The main ore chute leads to a wooden storage bin just above the concentrating plant roof.

Above: Camels at Mt Painter Camp in 1944. Radium Ridge, site of the original uranium discovery, is in the background. Camels were preferred to horses owing to the lack of permanent water in the area. A well which produced good quality water was sunk a few metres from the eucalypt tree at extreme right.

Above: A 1947 view of East Painter Camp which accommodated up to sixty workers and was equipped with a canteen, bunk-houses, and garages. It was erected in 1944 and dismantled in 1950.

Above: Department of Mines diamond drilling at East Painter in 1947; East Painter Camp is behind the trees.

Above: Government geologists engaged in mapping and prospecting at Mount Painter in 1947. The prominent hill in the background is The Armchair.

Above: Mullock being dumped at the mouth of an East Painter exploratory adit (mine entrance). Mount Painter is in the background.

Above: Official visit to the East Painter Camp in 1947. Mark Oliphant, the atomic physicist (later Governor of South Australia), is seated fourth from left next to the South Australian Premier, Thomas Playford. The Governor, Sir Willoughby Norrie, is seated to the Premier’s left, and seated at extreme right is Ben Dickinson, Director of the Department of Mines.

Above: A map of the uranium deposits in the Mt Painter region.

[This entry is a lightly edited version of material compiled and written by Dr Gavin Mudd and posted at the SEA-US archive.]

[This webpage last updated July 2012.]

Mt Gee

Marathon Resources planned to establish a uranium mine at Mt Gee in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary (AWS). In 2008 the company was found to have illegally disposed of radioactive waste near Mt Gee. Although its exploration licence was later renewed, the South Australian government announced in 2011 that mining would not be permitted in the AWS.

Approximately 100 exploration holes were drilled at Mt Gee between 1969 and 1971 by the Oilmin Group. (Oilmin also discovered the nearby Beverley deposit to the east around the same time. The Mt Gee − Mt Painter mineralisation is also the source of uranium in the palaeochannels around Beverley.)

A May 1972 ‘Report of the Committee on Environment in South Australia’ by the SA government said that “if the exploration had been conducted under the provisions of the latest legislation, much less despoilation of the landscape might have occurred”. History would repeat itself with Marathon’s illegal and substandard practices at Mt Gee 40 years later.

The Mt Gee uranium prospect near Mount Painter in 1970.
A percussion drill rig at the Mt Gee uranium prospect. Mt Gee is in the background.

In 2006, Marathon began uranium exploration at Yankalilla, near Myponga on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Marathon chair Peter Williams said at the company AGM in November 2007: “For Marathon, at Myponga our exploration program met with a powerful community campaign that led to uranium exploration being ruled out in that location by the South Australian Government.” Then SA Premier Mike Rann said: “Under Don Dunstan’s 1971 Mining Act companies have a legal right to explore, but while I’m premier of the state there will be no uranium mining established anywhere near the Myponga Reservoir.”

History would repeat itself with the SA government’s 2011 decision to ban mining in the AWS. The Sprigg family, who have owned and run an eco-tourism operation at Arkaroola for many years, spearheaded the campaign against mining at Arkaroola. The AWS is on the Register of the National Estate and it is a Sanctuary under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. It is an Environmental Class A zone under the SA Development Act which only allows mining when the deposits are of such significance that all other considerations may be overridden. The Sanctuary is home to rare and endangered species including the yellow-footed rock wallaby and the short-tailed grass wren. Sir Douglas Mawson described Arkaroola as “one great open-air museum of geological history”.

Marathon has had some colourful shareholder connections, including the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) with strong connections to the Chinese military; and Ken Talbot, who was awaiting trial on charges of bribing a Queensland government minister at the time of his death in 2010. (And to the east of Mt Gee, the equally colourful Neal Blue, CEO of General Atomics / Heathgate, operates the Beverley uranium mine.)

In 2007 Marathon initiated a pre-feasibility study and an environmental impact study for Mt Gee. Marathon proposed an underground hard rock mine (tunneling into Mt Gee) and a new heavy haulage road across the Sanctuary to transport two million tonnes of ore annually to a processing site to be built somewhere on the plains near Lake Frome.

In September 2008, Marathon announced a resource estimate at Mt Gee with indicated resources of 2800 tonnes and inferred resources of 28,500 tonnes U3O8, with 0.03% cut-off.


In early 2008, Marathon Resources was caught illegally dumping thousands of drill samples in the Mt Gee region. Illegally dumped material included 22,800 calico bags containing drill cuttings, 16 steel and four plastic drums, 1500 empty plastic bags, folding seats, tyres, safety suits, aluminium trays, PVC pipes, oil and air filters, bottles and cans and polystyrene foam.

The SA government said that Marathon had breached its exploration licence conditions through:

  • The unauthorised disposal by shallow burial of approximately 22,800 exploration drill cuttings and assay samples contained in plastic and calico bags along with general waste in “The Frypan” area at Mt Gee.
  • The unauthorised disposal by shallow burial of general waste including burnt cardboard boxes and plastic bags in the Mt Gee West area in a temporary water sump used during exploration drilling operations.
  • The unauthorised disposal by shallow burial of approximately 1700 assay samples contained in plastic and calico bags within 16 plastic and steel drums (approx 200 litres capacity) in the Hodgkinson area by burial in a temporary water containment sump used during exploration drilling operations.

In addition, the AWS managers noted other problems with Marathon’s activities at Mt Gee:

  • numerous hydrocarbon spills;
  • Marathon’s contractors stole 90,000 litres of rainwater;
  • Marathon employee/s stole fluorite from the Mt Gee Geological Monument; and
  • failure to follow safety procedures resulting in loss of wildlife.

In January 2008 the SA government indefinitely suspended Marathon’s exploration licence.

It is important to note that Marathon’s illegal activities were uncovered by detective work by the managers of the AWS; most likely governmental ‘oversight’ and ‘regulation’ would not have uncovered the illegal activities.

Before, during and after its illegal environmental activities at Mt Gee, the company promulgated familiar rhetoric. Marathon chair Peter Williams said at the company’s 2007 Annual General Meeting: “Building a world-class project with world-class environmental and safety standards is a challenging task, but we believe we have the right systems in place to achieve our goals”

Marathon became embroiled in a legal dispute with former Marathon CEO Stuart Hall, partly in relation to the company’s illegal activities.

In August 2008, the SA Department of Primary Industries and Resources approved a clean-up plan by Marathon. All mineral samples, including those containing naturally occurring radioactive minerals, were removed from bags and drums and re-buried under two metres of clean and compacted soil. The clean-up was approved by the SA government in April 2009.

Marathon chair Peter Williams said: “Throughout the review process, I came to the difficult realisation that this incident may in fact have been symptomatic of our culture and Marathon’s overall approach.”


In October 2009, the SA government announced it would allow Marathon to resume exploration at Mt Gee. However in July 2011, the SA government announced that exploration and mining would be banned in the AWS. Then SA Premier Mike Rann said the government would pursue a three-step process:

  • preserving the area from operation under the Mining Act by proclamation, thus preventing future exploration and mining titles being granted in the area;
  • enacting special purpose legislation to protect the natural, cultural and landscape values of the area in perpetuity and to prohibit mining, mineral exploration and grazing in the ranges; and
  • nominating the area for listing on the National Heritage List, and seeking to have it nominated for World Heritage listing.

The SA government made a $5 million ex gratia payment to Marathon Resources in early 2012, acknowledging the costs incurred by the company during exploration. The payment was made despite the SA government’s stated view that it was under “absolutely no legal obligation to make a payment to Marathon Resources or its subsidiaries as a result of the decision to protect the Arkaroola region.” The government stressed that its granting of an exploration licence in no way committed it to permit mining. As a consequence of the agreement, Marathon ceased Supreme Court litigation against the government and the matter has been settled.

Marathon spent $20 million on Mt Gee in capitalised costs and $10m in written-off direct costs according to a report in The Australian. Marathon chair Peter Williams said the company had spent $15.8 million in exploration work at Mt Gee.

Seventy-two percent of South Australians wanted mining banned in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary (82% according to another poll), and supporters of the ban included former Liberal Senator Nick Minchin and SA Liberal MP Iain Evans.

Supporters of uranium mining in the Sanctuary included AWU dullard Paul Howes. The decision to protect Arkaroola from mining was also opposed by the Australian Uranium Association and the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy. The Chamber’s CEO Jason Kuchel said: “the mining industry in this state has exhibited an exhaustive yet highly successful co-operative approach to environmental protection, cultural sustainability, workplace safety and site rehabilitation”.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners are divided on mining at Mt Gee. Vince Coulthard, Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) chairperson and a supporter of mining at Mt Gee, said he felt sad for the “old people” in the area who had been “totally overlooked” by the Premier with his decision to ban mining. However under Mr Coulthard’s leadership, a breakaway group of Adnyamathanha Elders has formed in opposition to ATLA.

Adnyamathanha woman Dr Jillian Marsh said: “Mt Gee is a very significant area to the Adnyamathanha people. It is in the path of Akurra the great spiritual serpent that drank Manda (Lake Frome) dry and travelled back to Yakki water hole where he now rests. Some Adnyamathanha today may not readily acknowledge the importance of our cultural knowledge about the Mount Gee area, but many of us know: ‘If the Akurra’s Back is Broken our Heritage will be destroyed forever’.”

After the government decision to protect Arkaroola, Adnyamathanha Elder Enice Marsh said it was a dream come true for Indigenous people to know the area would be protected. “I just want to thank the people that persevered with this and kept coming to our meetings so that we could document all this,” she said.

In November 2010, SA mining laws were revised to toughen penalties for companies guilty of breaches such as Marathon’s illegal waste dumping.

A bill to ban mining in the AWS passed the SA Parliament in February 2012. The Greens succeeded in making changes in the Upper House, including a requirement for traditional owners to be consulted over management.

In addition to its impact on Mt Gee, the protection of Arkaroola effectively reduced by 38% the size of exploration licence 3666 in which Alliance Resources holds a quarter interest.


Radioactive waste being stored in shed in Arkaroola

Bryan Littlely, December 25, 2012

IT’S the nuclear-waste facility that few people know about – 21 barrels of medium- to high-level radioactive material stored in a tin shed in South Australia’s Outback paradise.

The waste is in the heart of Arkaroola, the Outback wilderness sanctuary the State Government hopes will one day be included on the World Heritage list.

The facility, known as Painter Camp, is not registered under the Radiation Protection Act and a management plan for its safe and secure operation is still being developed. …

The Department of Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy inherited the radioactive materials and Painter Camp in October after it advised Marathon Resources on how to upgrade the facility.

The EPA and Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary also were consulted in the upgrade, which added a series of secure above-ground vaults for storing trays of drilling core samples, and the storage shed. …

An EPA spokesperson said DMITRE has applied to have the facility, which sits in a gully in the shadows of uranium-rich Mt Gee and Arkaroola’s famed Ridge Top Track, registered under the Radiation Protection Act.

The EPA did not elaborate on the radiation levels of the materials, however, it is known radiation levels of the materials stored inside the barrels were too high for it to be returned to the ground during a rectification clean-up Marathon was ordered to take by the EPA in 2009. Most of the barrels now in the shed had been buried by Marathon as a way of disposing of them.


Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary including the Sprigg’s campaign against mining at Mt Gee:

Lots of information and photos by Bill Doyle:

Information on mining at Mt Painter and photo galleries of Mt Painter and Mt Gee:

Marathon Resources:

Documents on the Mt Gee mining application:

Photos of Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

SA Greens MLC Mark Parnell:

If and when that website disappears, here is an archive:

30-second TV advert to protect Arkaroola from mining:

Reports on Marathon’s illegal activities:

Some news reports on the decision to ban mining in the AWS:

Friends of the Earth ‘Radioactive Exposure Tour’ — visit to Arkaroola, 2008.

[This webpage last updated July 2012.]

Angela Pamela

Angela Pamela comprises a number of adjacent uranium deposits located 23 kms south of Alice Springs.  It was first identified and explored by German mining company Uranerz from 1972-1983.

The NT government in February 2008 accepted a bid by 50-50 joint venturers Paladin Energy and Cameco Australia to explore Angela Pamela. The joint venture partners undertook exploratory drilling with a view to developing an open-cut / underground uranium mine and processing mill.

Paladin states that the total inferred mineral resource is 13,980 tonnes U3O8, from 10.7 million tonnes of ore, 1310 ppm grade.

According to Cameco Australia: “It was expected to have a conventional hard rock mill and an alkaline leaching circuit, with production possibly in 2012. However, in September 2010 for political reasons the Northern Territory government refused to allow the Angela-Pamela project to proceed. … In mid-2011, the two partners in the joint venture agreed that Paladin would assume control of the joint venture.”

Cameco Australia further states: “In November, 2010, the joint venture announced that the project would have a reduced program and budget for the rest of 2010 and the early part of 2011. The announcement took into account the uncertainty created by a policy statement made the previous month by the government of the Northern Territory that it would not allow any uranium mine to be built in proximity to Alice Springs.”

Updates on the Paladin website stop at November 2010. A November 2010 Paladin media release says the joint venture partners remain committed to the project but it would continue “with a reduced program and budget for the rest of this year and the first part of 2011”. The media release also said that the companies were set to close their shop front office in Alice Springs and operate from an industrial shed in Alice Springs.

Cameco Australia’s regional director Jennifer Park said in February 2011: “Obviously we’re in a bit of a go-slow mode given the Government’s announcement last year but we are still looking at it.”

The Australian − a conservative Murdoch paper − was apoplectic about the NT Labor government’s decision to oppose mining at Angela Pamela. The Australian Uranium Association was also unhappy.

Opponents of uranium mining at Angela Pamela were delighted but called on the NT government:

  • to unequivocally rule out approving any future application for a mineral lease at the site;
  • to rule out extending the current exploration lease held by Cameco as well as rule out granting a future exploration lease over the site to other miners; and
  • to declare the site ‘special reserved land’ under s112 of the new Minerals Titles Act.

However the NT Labor government did not take any of those steps and it was voted out of office in August 2012.

During parliamentary sittings in Alice Springs in April 2011, an NT government motion − carried 13 votes to 12 − endorsed the government’s opposition to the establishment of the Angela Pamela uranium mine.

In February 2011, the NT Country Liberal Party re-affirmed its policy of supporting uranium mining. The NT News reported that many party members were furious after CLP leader Terry Mills had followed the Labor NT Government and opposed the proposed Angela Pamela uranium mine in late 2010. A series of internal CLP emails were published by the NT News. Some CLP parliamentarians have repeatedly changed their position on uranium mining at Angela Pamela. In June 2012, CLP parliamentarian Robyn Lambley said she opposes a uranium mine “on top of the water table” although the official CLP position is to support uranium mining at Angela Pamela.


The Arid Lands Environment Centre, Families for a Nuclear Free Future, Super Raelene Bros. the Alice Springs Angela Pamela (ASAP) Collective and the Beyond Nuclear Initiative have been working with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents of Alice Springs to stop the proposed mine. The Stop Angela Pamela website is a useful resource.

Concerns include tailings management, dust (winds are predominantly south-easterly, causing significant dust storm activity in Alice Springs), the proximity of Angela Pamela to the water supply of Alice Springs, and water consumption. The Angela Pamela deposit sits directly above the Mereenie aquifer, the town’s underground drinking water supply. Cameco claims there is no risk to water but its record of spills and accidents overseas does not inspire confidence. Nor does Paladin’s record.

Angela Pamela is located just 10 kms from four Indigenous town camps and the Indigenous boarding college. Christobel Swann, matriarch of the Pertame (Southern Arrernte) people, said: “We are worried about the health of our children. If something goes wrong, white people can go back to wherever they came from, but where are Aboriginal people going to go? This is the only place we have.”

The potential risks associated with dust dispersal were addressed in a letter by Dr Peter Tait from the NT Branch of the Public Health Association of Australia, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (vol.35, no.6, 2011). Dr Tait concludes as follows: “In conclusion, given the right wind and weather conditions, failure of dust suppression and tailings management at any Angela Pamela mine means workers at the Brewer Industrial Estate, prisoners and officers at the Correctional Facility, staff at the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap and residents of the Iwupataka Homelands are at a low but still significant risk of dust exposure. Alice Springs itself, workers and tourists at the airport and residents at Amoonguna are at lower but not nil risk. The Ilparlpa subdivision carries an intermediate risk. Grazing cattle and station workers in the surrounding country would always be at some risk.”

A group of Alice Springs doctors said they would leave the town if a uranium mine goes ahead in the area. Sixteen doctors from the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress wrote to the NT and Federal governments threatening to immediately leave the town if the Angela Pamela uranium mine goes ahead. Dr Koen de Decker said: “The prompt for writing the letter was borne out of concern, out of deep concern, for the implications of having a uranium mine here …”

Don Wait, owner of Wayoutback Tours, said: “What bloody idiot came up with the idea of a uranium mine in the water catchment? Governments are responsible for looking after people, not putting them in jeopardy. Travellers come here from all over the world to experience our unique untouched natural landscape. The investment in tourism in this area has been massive for a large number of years and you can ruin our reputation overnight by plonking a uranium mine right next to Alice Springs.”

The Alice Springs Town Council expressed concern about Angela Pamela. A Council meeting in 2008 passed a recommendation to request guarantees from the Mining Minister.

According to Cameco, “[U]ranium in its natural state is relatively safe, with core samples handled freely by geologists and the drilling crew. Normal hygiene measures are followed, particularly washing hands after handling uranium-bearing rock before eating or smoking.” (NT News, 13 May 2009.)


Below: A contestant called ‘Angela Pamela’ submitted entries in almost every prize category at the 2009 Alice Springs Show − and she cleaned up! Cameco was there as well – handing out glow-sticks. Read Ellie Rennie’s report at

Below: A Pram Jam organised by Families for a Nuclear Free Future.

Above: Super Raelene Brothers singing ‘Nuclear Kop’. You can listen to their song ‘WIYA! Angela Pamela’ at and also download it and buy the CD. In the Pitjantjatjara and Luritja languages ‘Wiya!’ means ‘No!’ A JJJ video about ‘WIYA! Angela Pamela’ is posted at John Schumann from Redgum said: “In the anti-nuclear cause I’m delighted to see that the Redgum baton has been grabbed by the Super Raelene Bros and I’m delighted to reflect that Nuclear Kop has stood the test of time.

Below: Christobel Swann, senior Arrente Matriarch and member of the Little Sisters Collective, says Wiya to uranium mining near Alice Springs.

Below: NT Energy Minister Kon Vatskalis attended a March 2009 meeting called by opponents of Angela Pamela.

[This webpage last updated June 2012.]

Rum Jungle

Rum Jungle is about 64 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, among the headwaters of the East Finniss River.

The Rum Jungle mining project operated from 1954 to 1971. Processing of uranium and copper continued from stockpiles until April 1971 although uranium ore had last been extracted in 1963.

A total of 863,000 tonnes of uranium ore were processed, the average grade was 0.28-0.41%, and 3,520 tonnes of U3O8 were produced from various Rum Jungle deposits − White’s (U-Cu-Pb), Dyson’s (U), Rum Jungle Creek South (U), and Mt Burton (U-Cu).

Entrance to the Rum Jungle mine.


Uranium and copper mineralisation was discovered in the Rum Jungle area in 1869 by Goyder’s survey party, but it was not recognised as such until 1949. In April 1948 an announcement in the Commonwealth Gazette stated that rewards would be paid for the discovery of uranium in Australia and its territories. The maximum amount of the reward was fixed at £25,000. Time Magazine reported on 15 September 1952:

From Darwin to Melbourne, the word had got around that Australia’s vast, tropical Northern Territory was bursting with uranium. Hundreds of adventurous young men from Australia’s overcrowded southern cities, plus many an old gold fossicker from West Australia, were making their way up through the desert by jeeps, horse-drawn wagons, on horseback, even in airplanes. In Darwin, Geiger counters were sold out as fast as they came into the store. One newspaper advertised counters: “Find Uranium and Make Your Fortune.” The excitement had begun at Rum Jungle, 60 miles south of Darwin, where a prospector named Jack White uncovered a three-mile-long lode of uranium-bearing ore in 1949.

In March 1952, representatives of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC) and of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) visited Australia to discuss, among other things, the development of the Rum Jungle uranium field. This led to the provision of funds to develop the Rum Jungle project by the Combined Development Agency and the signing of an exclusive supply contract between the Commonwealth and the CDA. The uranium produced between the commencement of production in 1954 and January 1963 was used to fill the supply contract with the CDA for use in nuclear weapons.

The Commonwealth entered into a contract with the Consolidated Zinc Group in August 1952 to develop and operate the Rum Jungle project. In the same year Consolidated Zinc formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, Territory Enterprises Pty Ltd (TEP) to manage all aspects of the operation including exploration, mining and milling. (In 1962, Consolidated Zinc merged with the Rio Tinto Mining Company of Australia Ltd to form Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd or CRA.)

The town of Batchelor was redeveloped to service the mine. Batchelor became a booming township with a power station, acres of suburban homes, a hotel, a community centre, and a population of 500. Many workers lived in seriously sub-standard conditions. In 1956, a Melbourne newspaper ran a front-page story describing the conditions at the “Rum Jungle Hell Hole”. Security at the mine site was tokenistic.

In addition to supplying the CDA, some uranium was put on the open market, and some uranium was stored at Lucas Heights in southern Sydney. About 2,000 tonnes of yellowcake was stockpiled by the time the mine closed in 1971. In 1994, 239 tonnes of Rum Jungle uranium oxide were sold to a US utility, leaving 1814 tonnes still stockpiled. The remainder was sold in subsequent years.

Uranium ore from other deposits − including the Eva deposit near the Queensland border, and Adelaide River − was processed at Rum Jungle.



From the start of processing operations in 1954, the discharge of tailings was unconstrained and the solids settled out, while the acidic supernatant liquors drained into ‘Old Tailings Creek’ and thence to the East Branch of the Finniss River, 0.8 km to the west. Barren liquors from copper launders constructed between the plant site and the Old Tailings Dam also flowed into the East Branch via Old Tailings Creek.

Thus in the early period of operation, there was not even a dam wall to contain the tailings, which were simply discharged onto a flat plain and allowed to drain into the river. Successive walls were then built and washed away by floods until, in 1961, the tailings were discharged into disused (but presumably quite porous) open-cuts rather than onto the flat plain.

The tailings were redirected to Dyson’s Open Cut in 1961, the copper launders were relocated from the Old Tailings Dam area to a site adjacent to Dyson’s Open Cut, and a system of controlled discharges was introduced. Under this system, spent process liquors were collected during the Dry Season, in two dams fitted with sluices that were constructed across the East Branch of the Finniss River. With the onset of the Wet Season, fresh water entered both these dams and a relatively unpolluted tributary which was also dammed (called the Sweet Water Dam). When the river flooded, all dams were breached, releasing water to the East Branch through the diversion channel and White’s Open Cut. At that time, it was considered that this procedure would provide sufficient dilution to allow safe discharge of water. More recent calculations have shown that the policy of “safe dilution” could not have worked.

The practice was abandoned between 1965 and 1968 when tailings were directed to White’s Open Cut, the walls in the riverbed were breached, spent process liquor (called raffinate) was directed either to the copper heap leach site or directly to White’s Open Cut, and partial recycling of raffinate commenced in the treatment plant. This method of effluent disposal continued until operations ceased in 1971.

The 1970 report of a Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution said: “One of the major pollution problems in the Northern Territory is that caused by copper and uranium mining at Rum Jungle. The strongly acidic effluent from the treatment plant flows via the East Finniss River into the Finniss River, making the water unsuitable for either stock or human consumption for a distance of 20 river miles. Vegetation on the river banks has been destroyed and it will be many years before this area can sustain growth.”

The mining company Conzinc (now part of the Rio Tinto Group) has consistently denied any responsibility for rehabilitation.

The Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Commonwealth government nuclear agency based at Lucas Heights, lied about the extent of the environmental damage at Rum Jungle, obfuscated, and refused to release relevant information to other government bodies (see SEA-US and The Age 1/12/76).

The saga also reveals complicity between government and companies. In June 1971, Mr R. E. Felgenner, First Assistant Secretary, Northern Territory Economic Affairs, presented to his Minister a submission in which he sought approval to investigate the situation at Rum Jungle. In the submission he said: “Early in 1962 the Minister for Territories informed the Minister for National Development that, while the source of pollution has been established beyond doubt and constituted an offence against the provisions of the Control of Waters Ordinance, he was reluctant to proceed against the companies for reasons of their association with the Commonwealth in the venture.”


An initial attempt to clean up Rum Jungle was made in 1977, which led to the setting up of a working group to examine more comprehensive rehabilitation. A $16.2 million Commonwealth-funded program got under way in 1983-88. A supplementary $1.8 million program to improve Rum Jungle Creek South waste dumps was undertaken in 1990-91.

One of the principal problems associated with rehabilitating the Rum Jungle Creek South (RJCS) open cut was that the area was converted to a lake after mining ceased, and as the only crocodile-free water body in the Darwin region, the site quickly became very popular with locals and Darwin residents as a recreation reserve. The mine area was characterised by high external gamma levels, alpha-radioactive dust and significant levels of radon daughters in prevailing air. It is known that the rates of radioactivity in the area were much higher after mining than before. Based on these post-mining radiation levels, it had been estimated that annual doses of some individuals were about 5 millisieverts (mSv), the Australian limit for public exposure up until the late 1980s. As the new limit was about to be dropped to 1 mSv per year, rehabilitation was required. As a result, a supplementary $1.8 million program to improve Rum Jungle Creek South waste dumps was undertaken in 1990.

In 2003, a government survey of the tailings piles at Rum Jungle found that capping which was supposed to help contain radioactive waste for at least 100 years had failed in less than 20 years. The Territory and Federal Governments continued to argue over responsibility for funding rehabilitation.

In November 2010, the Rum Jungle South Recreation Reserve was closed due to low-level radiation in the area. The Department of Resources said tests at the waste rock pile at the reserve detected low-level radiation. It advised the local council to shut down the reserve as a precautionary measure. The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist was tasked with carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the site. (Click here and here for more information.)

On 7 October 2009, the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments entered into a four-year $7.05 million National Partnership Agreement on the management of the former Rum Jungle Mine site. The purpose is to undertake various studies to inform the development of an updated rehabilitation strategy, which may then lead to future rehabilitation works under new arrangements.

In other words, the saga of environmental pollution at Rum Jungle continues, 41 years (and counting) after the closure of the mine in 1971.


In the 2000s, Compass Resources pursued plans to mine copper, cobalt, nickel, lead and silver near Rum Jungle (and near the town of Batchelor). Compass acknowledged that it was also interested in mining uranium at the nearby Rum Jungle site, over which it held a lease, including the Mount Fitch resource estimated at 4050 tonnes U3O8. Compass commissioned the Browns Oxide mine − about 1 km west of the former Rum Jungle complex − to mine cobalt, nickel and copper mining. The first shipment of copper left the mine in October 2008. But costs had blown out, cash had run out, the company was placed under administration in January 2009 and the Browns Oxide mine was put under care and maintenance (see Friends of Compass Resources and The Australian.) In May 2009, a decision was made to liquidate Compass Mining and place Compass Resources under a Deed of Company Arrangement.

Chinese company HNC (Australia) Resources proposed to develop the Area 55 Oxide Project to mine copper, cobalt and nickel and to process it at the nearby Browns Oxide plant. HNC also had an interest in restarting mining at Browns Oxide (it previously had a Joint Venture agreement with Compass). Those plans hit hurdles but may yet be revived.


Radiation hot spots at NT lake

Northern Territory News, 3 December 2012, by Alison Bevege

RADIATION hot spots many times higher than background levels were found at a popular recreational lake downstream from one of Australia’s worst polluting mines yesterday.

Monash University senior environmental engineering lecturer Gavin Mudd found radiation levels as high as four microsieverts in spots around the carpark and barbecue areas of Rum Jungle Lake near Batchelor, 100km south of Darwin.

School children come on excursions to the lake for canoeing and kayaking while locals use it for swimming and relaxing.

Dr Mudd said the background radiation level was 0.1 microsievert. A conventional chest X-ray is 20 microsieverts according to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. Dr Mudd, who was testing the site with a geiger counter for the Environment Centre NT, said there was no immediate risk to the public but the site might need warning signs. “It wouldn’t be exposing the public to the limits in a couple of hours … but it is significant,” he said.

The lake was closed for 18 months as a precaution but re-opened in September.

Batchelor resident Bruce Jones, 70, often swims in the lake and said he was not worried. “We’ve got a letter saying it’s all OK out here,” he said. “They’ve opened it to swimming and the kids are coming from all the schools.”

Uranium was mined by the Federal Government at Rum Jungle from 1952 until 1971.

It did not clean up the site until 1983, but the clay covers put on the tailings heaps failed soon after being installed. Heavy metals and uranium have been leaking out ever since.

In September, the NT Government called for tenders for a new cover design to contain leaking.


Clean-up not on federal agenda

NT News, 11 Dec 2012

THE Federal Government has refused to commit to fixing radiation pollution it left in the Northern Territory after mining uranium at Rum Jungle. Radiation levels are so high that camping has been banned at the nearby Rum Jungle recreational lake for public health reasons. The lake is popular with school excursions and is considered safe for day trips, including kayaking and swimming.

The Federal Government began mining uranium in 1953 near Batchelor, 100km south of Darwin, for use by the UK and the UK in nuclear weapons and for research. Mining ceased in 1971, leaving one of the worst polluting legacy mines in the Territory. In the 1980s efforts made to clean up the site failed.

A four-year study of the site is due to end in June. But the Federal Government has refused to commit to fixing the site once the study is complete. Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson refused to commit to spending the estimated $100 million needed to clean up the site when questioned by the NT News.

Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt also refused to commit to action should the Coalition be voted in at the next election. “We will await the outcome of that report before making a commitment,” Mr Hunt said.


Articles about pollution and rehabilitation:

[This webpage last updated September 2012.]

Nabarlek former uranium mine

Queensland Mines mined the Nabarlek uranium deposit for four months in 1979. Milling of stockpiled ore commenced in 1980 and produced 10,858 tonnes of uranium oxide up to 1988 with sales to Japan, Finland, France, South Korea and the USA for civil power generation.

The average grade was 1.84% U3O8, 763,000 tonnes of ore were milled, and a total of 2.33 million tonnes of ore and waste rock were excavated.

There is ongoing uranium exploration in the Nabarlek region. In early 2008 Uranium Equities Limited bought Queensland Mines, thereby acquiring the Nabarlek lease, and has developed plans to further explore the lease. A new Mining Management Plan was submitted and an exploration authorisation granted on 28 May 2008.

Traditional Owners

Altman and Smith state in a detailed briefing paper: “All told, in the period 1979-93 approximately $14 million was paid to Aboriginal people in the West Arnhem region with respect to the QML [Nabarlek] mine and it now appears clear that few resources have been utilised for long-term investments that would allow the creation of an economic base for future generations.”

Jon Land wrote:

“Queensland Mines’ dealings with the Oenpelli people were deplorable. In June 1970, the company dug exploration holes without permission, desecrating the Green Ant sacred site. Repeated actions such as this prompted the solicitor representing the Oenpelli to write to the NT administrator in 1972, stating: “Our clients are most concerned that Queensland Mines Ltd has in the past shown a complete disregard for their traditions and way of life … and has shown no willingness to cooperate or even communicate with our clients.”

“Other than direct confrontation, the company “communicated” its intent to mine by attempting to buy off the traditional owners with offers of sums which rose from a paltry $5000 in 1970 to $3 million by February 1974. When these offers were refused, Queensland Mines launched a malicious media campaign.

“In a submission to the Ranger inquiry on uranium in August 1976, the Oenpelli Tribal Council told the commissioners that “If Oenpelli had the power to make the final decision, it would oppose mining”. Despite the lengthy and determined opposition of the Oenpelli, Queensland Mines was finally given approval to go ahead in 1978.”

Unions and ALP policy

In August 1980, the Darwin branch of the Waterside Workers Federation refused to load Nabarlek yellowcake. In March 1981, the Darwin branch of the Seamen’s Union of Australia voted unanimously against carrying yellowcake. A combined union picket to prevent the shipment of yellowcake from Darwin was initiated in October 1981 and lasted six weeks until the ACTU executive stepped in and argued for the bans to be lifted.

Jon Land wrote: “In a move designed to maintain some credibility in the eyes of the anti-uranium movement and prevent disgruntled members leaving the party, [Prime Minister Bob] Hawke announced that Labor would maintain its ban on the export of uranium to France. The policy, which had been adopted at the 1982 national conference, stated that the sale of uranium to France could only be contemplated when that government ceased all nuclear testing in the Pacific. This had a significant impact on operations at Nabarlek as France was the major purchaser of the uranium mined and processed there. … But within six weeks of the 1986 conference the policy was ditched, supposedly to meet the needs of the August budget. … With the restriction on sales of uranium to France lifted, Queensland Mines was able to sell its 2600-tonne stockpile by 1989 and the mine ceased. The company then attempted to have prospects it controlled outside the original Nabarlek lease included as part of the three mine policy. This was opposed by local Aborigines and denied by the federal ALP government.”

Corporate shenanigans

Mudd details the corporate shenanigans surrounding the Nabarlek mine. A few excerpts follow:

“It was not until August 12, 1971, that the new Queensland Mines board and the public learned that the reserves amounted to only 8,932 tons (8,103 tonnes U3O8), some of which was at 16 lb per short ton and some at 240 lb. This was only one-sixth of the amount stated as indicated reserves a year before. The news shocked financial circles, despite persistent rumours that the mine might be downgraded. …

“The Rae Committee concluded: ‘On each of these selling occasions Mr Hudson [Roy Hudson, chair and managing director of Queensland Mines] was privately aware of developments which widened the glaring discrepancy between the ascertained geological facts and state of confident belief in the market to which he sold the shares. Each of the selling transactions coincided with an advance in his personal understanding of the discrepancy. Mr Hudson’s explanation of the sales does not alter the grave impropriety of the share dealings. This is a case of ‘insider trading’ with a peculiarly objectionable twist. The person who made profits from his possession of the information that made a mockery of the market’s belief in his company’s shares was also one of the persons responsible for misleading that market for a period of nearly a year.'”

Environmental impacts

A few environmental low-lights from Nabarlek (see Mudd for more detail):

  • 1980, July 22 and 26 − The pipeline returning water from the stockpile runoff pond to the mill ruptured along a weld seal. Less than 30,000 litres of water escaped.
  • 1981, March 7 − Water flowed from the Restricted Release Zone (RRZ) after heavy cyclonic rain; radioactive material was released from the plant runoff pond into a nearby creek. The infringement wasn’t reported to the Office of the Supervising Scientist (OSS) or the NT government by the company, and only came to light four months afterward following media reports, though the environmental requirements demand immediate notification. When the company presented a report to OSS, it contained contradictions and insufficient information. OSS expressed concern over monitoring of water quality, concentrations of radioactive dust, and lack of response from Queensland Mines over plans for decommissioning, dewatering and covering the tailings, and rehabilitation at the end of the project.
  • 1982 , April 1 − Two leaking joints were discovered on a pipeline between the Waste Rock Runoff Pond and Evaporation Pond No 2 and repaired immediately. The quantity of runoff water estimated to have leaked was 40,000 – 80,000 litres.
  • 1983, March 4 − A small leak from a tailings line in the plant area was detected during routine surveillance and reported by the company. Less than 1,000 litres of tailings sprayed over the top of the retaining bund to a distance approximately three metres outside the RRZ.
  • 1983, Nov 17 − A split in a pipe from a stockpile runoff pond to the mill resulted in less than 500 litres of liquid being sprayed over the bund. The pipe was replaced.
  • 1984, March 27 − A small quantity of tailings in suspension (about 300 litres of liquor, 25% solid tails) sprayed from a pipeline outside the Nabarlek RRZ.
  • 1987 − Tree death started in the area called the Forest Irrigation Area. Eventually the whole ten hectares of the irrigation area lost their trees.
  • 1989, August 3 − A break occurred in a T-joint from the main irrigation plot 8. An estimated 10,000 litres of Evaporation Pond 2 water escaped the RRZ.


Nabarlek is said to be the only mine which has gone through the entire cycle of commercial mining, mine closure and rehabilitation, but it still requires ongoing monitoring, which is carried out by government and funded by taxpayer. There have been ongoing site contamination and lasting impacts on water quality. Problems include significantly elevated gamma radiation rates compared to pre-mining as well as failure to achieve the reductions in radon emanation predicted for rehabilitation (Mudd, 2008).

According to the Office of the Supervising Scientist: “The tailings, and the material from the evaporation ponds placed in the pit in October 1992, represent a source of solutes which will affect groundwater quality in this area for the long term. Conductivity, sulphate, and nitrate values are continuing to increase in bores affected by the pit, while pH is decreasing.”

The 1985-86 OSS Annual Report stated: “Disposal of uranium mill tailings in surface dams, no matter how well stabilised and protected, almost certainly involves the acceptance of eventual tailings release to the environment. While this risk may be reduced … it is unlikely that any containment structure could remain totally impregnable to the natural processes of slow erosion over periods comparable to several half-lives of the longest lived isotopes retained in the tailings.”

References and more information:

Above and below: Nabarlek, 1995.

[This webpage last updated June 2012.]

Oban uranium deposit

The Oban trial in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mine in north-east South Australia lies 105 kms from Broken Hill on Mulyungarie Station. It is owned and operated by Oban Energy, a fully-owned subsidiary of Curnamona Energy.

Curnamona Energy was set up by Havilah Resources in 2004 specifically to explore uranium deposits on its South Australian tenements. Havilah retained an interest of 45.4% in the company. Both Curnamona and Havilah have a number of exploration licences in the region, with Curnamona’s tenements covering 8000 square kms.

In April 2007, the Australian Government Department of Environment and Water Resources ruled that the proposed ISL trial mine was not a “controlled action” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), continuing a trend begun in the late 1990s in the Beverley field trial approval process, leaving trial ISL mines outside the operation of the EPBC Act and its requisite environmental assessment processes.

Trial ISL mines have the same environmental impacts as commercial mines. As a Friends of the Earth briefing paper notes: “Despite being called ‘trials’, such mines inject real chemicals into real groundwater, extract real uranium and produce real radioactive waste.”

Field trials began mid-2010 and by late 2011 the trial was suspended due to low recoveries of uranium from the leaching process. Bench laboratory tests are currently being conducted with alkaline leachate (instead of acid), and (perhaps conceding that the problem may not be overcome) the company is re-evaluating the inferred resource estimate of the deposit.

As a result of the failure of the leaching process, the company directors have written off over $3 million in exploration expenditure associated with the Oban site. Exploration of other potential deposits with similar geological characteristics has ceased and associated capital expenditure written off. As of 31 January 2012, the company had available funds of approximately $1.52 million.

Curnamona Energy is currently in the midst of a merger with Havilah Resources, by way of an off-market takeover bid offering Curnamona shareholders one Havilah share for every five Curnamona shares they own.

Havilah is a junior explorer with the stated goal of becoming a significant copper, gold and molybdenum producer. It has extensive exploration tenements in the surrounding area, which are registered as seeking uranium amongst other minerals, but no operating mines as yet. Its nearby Portia open-pit gold mine is in the final stages of the approval process, and will see Havilah transition from an exploration company to production.

Update December 2012: Havilah takeover now complete with the share buy-back leading to Havilah owning 91.37% of issued shares by June 2012. The remaining interest in Curnamona was compulsorily acquired by Havilah, and Curnamona Energy was removed from the ASX.

 More information:


Beverley North uranium mine

The Beverley North in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mine is owned and operated by Heathgate Resources, owner of the adjacent Beverley uranium mine and 100% owned subsidiary of US corporation General Atomics. Adjoining the Beverley mining lease directly to the North, it lies between the northern Flinders Ranges and Lake Frome on Adnyamathanha country.

Beverley North was approved by the South Australian government in November 2010 as a field leach trial, after being ruled “not a controlled action” by the Federal Environment Minister, meaning that despite being a nuclear action it does not trigger the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This designation precludes the requirement for environmental assessment under the Act, which often includes, for example, an Environmental Impact Statement, and leaves environmental assessment to the South Australian government. Furthermore, it relegates trial ISL uranium mines to a category less than a nuclear action (as nuclear actions trigger the EPBC Act), even though uranium mines are supposed to trigger the Act, and even though trial mines typically have the same environmental impacts as commercial mines (if not on the same scale).

Uranium from the trial mine is trucked to the existing processing plant at the Beverley mine for processing and assessment of yield. The two uranium deposits currently targeted by the trial are conceived of as the first “uranium satellite mines” (around the Beverley mine), and considered the “nuclei” of the Beverley North project, with Heathgate claiming further mining is expected to follow.

Heathgate has two other exploration licences in the immediate surrounding area (south and east of the Beverley uranium mine), totalling 2097 square kilometres. They are both jointly owned with Giralia Resources, with Heathgate retaining a 75% share in each licence.

Impacts on groundwater are assessed within a framework of ensuring groundwater remains within the same water quality category of use it was prior to the trial. Heathgate claims that the groundwater in the target aquifer is of a low quality preventing its use as potable water or for irrigation, due to its salinity and the presence of uranium and fluoride. The only commitment made is that post mine closure the groundwater will remain in the same (low quality) use category, rather than returning the groundwater in the aquifer to the same state it was prior to the trial. Conceivably, the groundwater in an aquifer may be left contaminated with much higher levels of uranium and other heavy metals, now in a biologically mobile form as a result of the ISL process, and remain within the same low quality category of use it was prior to the trial.

Between 1998 and 2012, Heathgate reported 59 spills at the Beverley mine, with some of these incidents involving multiple spills. In February 2012, Heathgate estimates that 30-34 cubic metres of pregnant liquor escaped from a damaged valve into surface run-off. The spill was not confined due to flooding of the site and the local creek. The report summary states that “radiation levels are expected to be low due to dilution by stormwater.”

Further reading:

Beverley Four Mile uranium mine

The Beverley Four Mile deposit lies 550 kms north-east of Adelaide, just west of the Beverley uranium mine. The project is a joint venture between Quasar Resources (75% − an affiliate of Heathgate Resources, which is in turn a subsidiary of notorious US corporation General Atomics) and Alliance Craton Explorer (ACE − 25% − a subsidiary of Alliance Resources). Heathgate is the proposed mine operator.

The Beverley Four Mile deposit contains an estimated 32,000 tonnes of U3O8 (indicated and inferred). Used in power reactors, that amount of uranium would produce over 4,500 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (in the form of spent nuclear fuel) and enough plutonium to build over 4,500 nuclear weapons (1% plutonium in spent fuel; approx. 10 kgs of ‘reactor grade’ plutonium for one nuclear weapon).

The major customer for the uranium is likely to be the US, a nuclear weapons state which has no intention of fulfilling its binding disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and which has for many years blocked progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

A 10-year mining lease was granted on 26 April 2012 spanning 12206 hectares adjacent to the Beverley tenement, also owned by Heathgate. A Mining and Rehabilitation Program must next be approved by the South Australian Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy before mining at Beverley Four Mile can commence.

The project will use the in-situ leach (ISL) mining method, planning wellfields of the same design as those currently used on the Beverley mining lease, and the construction of a satellite facility on Heathgates’ existing Beverley mining lease close to the Four Mile deposits. The satellite plant would remove the uranium from the pregnant liquor, producing uranium bearing resin, which would then be trucked to the existing Beverley processing plant to strip the uranium from the resin and then process the uranium. The liquid radioactive waste produced will be disposed of in the aquifers at Beverley. Alliance puts the mine’s life at over 15 years, and claims it has the potential to be the largest and highest grade ISL mine in the world.

Alliance has formed a strategic alliance with Japanese Fortune 500 company ITOCHU Corporation. The terms of the alliance will allow ITOCHU Corporation, through its wholly-owned subsidiary NURA 3, to acquire up to 40% of Alliance or its subsidiary ACE, pending shareholder approval and the resolution of litigation with Quasar. Alliance anticipates that the funds raised through this alliance would be enough to bankroll the development of Four Mile as a stand-alone project with its own uranium processing plant at Four Mile, rather than as a satellite project of the Beverley uranium mine.

Turncoat Peter Garret (then Minister for the Environment) approved the Beverley Four Mile mine in July 2009. Only a Public Environment Report was required of the proponents rather than a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement process.

Above and below: Protest in Melbourne against Peter Garrett’s approval of Beverley Four Mile

Although it had also been approved at the state level, granting of a mining lease was delayed due to litigation between the joint venturers concerning the Native Title Agreement and other matters, including ACE accusing Quasar and Heathgate of withholding information regarding the prospectivity of the Four Mile deposits.

The litigation concerning the Native Title Agreement has been resolved, allowing for the registration of a Native Title Mining Agreement and the granting of a mining lease, although the companies remain in the courts in relation to the other matters.

Native Title and Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners

In South Australian law, a Native Title Agreement is required for a mining lease to be granted. However, Native Title holders have no legal right to veto mining on their land. If an agreement cannot be “negotiated”, the matter is referred to the Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court to make a determination. A determination by the ERD Court is considered a Native Title Agreement for the purposes of the law and the granting of a mining lease.

In a 15 July 2009 statement, Adnyamathanha Elders Enice Marsh and Geraldine Anderson called on Peter Garrett to reverse his decision at least until the completion of an investigation being conducted by the SA government into long-standing Aboriginal heritage concerns raised by Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners.

Enice Marsh said Aboriginal heritage clearance was never given: “Women speaking out on sacred women’s sites were silenced and the anthropologists never ever completed those reports. If there are dissatisfied people about where the drilling is going to take place, surely that should be in the report.”

Geraldine Anderson said destroying sites goes against cultural laws. “This Labor Government is saying sorry to the Stolen Generation, on the other hand they’re taking the way of destroying our sites and taking our identity away. So when’s this going to stop?”

Enice Marsh said: “What more can we do to protect our land from being raped by mining companies that are allowed to pollute the water and carve up the waterways, even contaminate the soil with radioactive waste? The general public need to know what is going on and ordinary people need to take action to stop the abuse of our environment.”

In addition to their battle with state and federal governments and mining companies, some Adnyamathanha Elders are battling within their own community. They have formed an Elders Group as a separate forum from the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association. Enice Marsh said: “There have been many attempts over the past 10 years to try and bring greater accountability to what’s happening in Native Title, and to stop the ongoing assault on our Yarta (country). Many of us have tried with very little resources, limited understanding of the legal system and environmental laws, and despite a mountain of bullying, lies and deceit from mining companies, lawyers, and self-inflated thugs in our own community who dare to call themselves ‘leaders’.”

Adnyamathanha community member Jillian Marsh, who has completed a PhD thesis on the Beverley mine, said: “The native title process is not a process that offers any decision making power for Aboriginal people and there are regulations and requirements under the Aboriginal heritage legislation that are yet to be addressed. … Quasar Resources has actually formally stated in one of their archaeological reports that they don’t want women participating in work area clearance, which is totally unacceptable.”

Even those Adnyamathanha custodians who supported the agreement to mine Beverley Four Mile seem unimpressed with the process. Vince Coulthard, chair of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Land Association, told ABC radio on 17 July 2009: “Well I think people have come to the understanding that if they didn’t support it, it’s going to happen in any case so the best thing to do is to negotiate an agreement.”

In-situ leach mining

Like the nearby Beverley mine, Beverley Four Mile will be an in-situ leach (ISL) mine. Dr Gavin Mudd, a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University, said: “My review of the available literature across the world dispels the myths promulgated by ISL uranium mining companies. It is not an environmentally benign method of uranium mining − it is inherently risky and is unlikely to meet ‘strict environmental controls’. The ISL technique treats ground water as a sacrifice zone and the problem remains ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”

In addition to the pollution of groundwater, another feature of ISL mining is surface contamination from spills and leaks of radioactive solutions. The SA Department of Primary Industry and Resources lists 59 spills at Beverley from 1998-2007.

More information:

[This webpage last updated June 2012.]

Radium Hill former uranium-radium mine

The Radium Hill deposit was discovered in 1906 and mined for radium between 1906 and 1931 and for uranium between 1954 and 1961. In the early days it produced radium for the Curies in France. The ore concentrate was treated in New South Wales and Victoria to yield a few hundred milligrams of radium and several hundred tonnes of uranium by-product. Later, a plant at Dry Creek, near Adelaide, processed Radium Hill ore to extract radium. The radium produced was used for medical purposes and the uranium by-product was used as a bright yellow pigment in glass and ceramics.

By 1952, Radium Hill had been proved large enough to mine uranium. The underground mine was recommissioned in 1954 and operated by the South Australian Government to satisfy a cost-plus contract signed by the Commonwealth and SA Governments with the UK-USA Combined Development Agency for delivery of uranium oxide over seven years. The CDA was the agency responsible for obtaining uranium for the British and US nuclear weapons programs. Radium Hill was operated on land previously occupied by Aboriginal people, and its yellowcake was incorporated (along with Australia’s other source material) into nuclear weapons later tested on Aboriginal land and people.

A township to support 1100 people was built at Radium Hill, with water being piped from NSW, a railway spur constructed to connect Radium Hill with the Broken Hill–Port Pirie line, and a power transmission line constructed from Morgan.

Concentrate was railed 300 kilometres to a treatment plant at Port Pirie designed to produce 160 tonnes of uranium oxide per year and operated by the SA Department of Mines. The uranium mine operated from September 1954 to December 1961. The Port Pirie uranium treatment plant operated from 1956 to February 1962, producing 852 tonnes of U3O8.

Although the uranium grades at Radium Hill were moderate to low, the rare earths grade was exceptional, with values up to 7% rare earth oxides. A proposal was made public in the late 1980s to mine and extract the rare earths from the remnant tailings at Port Pirie, although the project was abandoned due to intense public opposition and known community health problems from the uranium tailings and lead-zinc smelting.

In 1982 the South Australian Health Commission and Adelaide University commenced a study of ex-miners at the Radium Hill mine (see Woodward, 1991; Woodward et al., 1991; Mudd, 2008a). In July 1986, the Commission issued a progress report. More lung cancers were attributable to the workforce than in the community at large, but the Commission could not decide whether these were due to radon exposure in the underground workings, or the heavy rate of smoking. Moreover “significant numbers of Radium Hill miners were immigrants, some of whom may have had uranium mining experience in high-exposure mines in other countries”.

The Radium Hill health study was finally published in 1991, nine years after its inception. It dismissed some of the complacent interim conclusions of 1986, and concluded that radiation may have contributed to premature deaths among the workforce. The Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Peter Cook, held out the possibility of compensation to 56 families of victims of Radium Hill.

Little remains today of the 1954-61 uranium-mining period or earlier radium extraction operations other than a number of foundations, infrastructure remnants, tailings impoundment and some waste rock and heavy media reject piles.

In late 1997, it was discovered that radioactive solid wastes from a Field Leaching Trial conducted at Beverley by Heathgate Resources were to be disposed of at the “Radium Hill Shallow-Ground Radioactive Waste Disposal Site”, operated by the SA Dept. of Mines and Energy. This was the first time it has become public knowledge that the old underground workings from the Radium Hill mine were a licensed repository for such wastes.

The SA government states that in 1981: “the site was also established as a repository for low-level radioactive waste materials, primarily to facilitate the clean-up of contaminated soil held in Thebarton in the Adelaide metropolitan area.”

A 2003 SA government audit of radioactive waste states: “There are approximately 400,000 tonnes of tailings that remain at Radium Hill, held in a rectangular pile consisting of two sections, each approximately 125 m square and 8 m high. The northern end of the tailings dam has been used intermittently as a repository for low level radioactive waste since April 1981, when the site was gazetted under the Crown Lands Act 1929 and placed under the care, control and management of the (then) Minister of Mines and Energy. The material placed in the repository between 1981 and 1998 includes contaminated soil and ore residues from the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories (AMDEL) (Thebarton), ore residues from AMDEL (Frewville), contaminated soils from a former radium plant at Dry Creek, and some contaminated equipment from test work conducted at the Honeymoon site in the early 1980s. The repository now contains approximately 200 m3 of material in 200 L and 50 L drums buried in the dam. … The repository has not been used since 1998. It is regularly inspected by officers of PIRSA for any damage to the clay cover, and remedial action is taken as appropriate. … The future intermittent disposal of radioactive waste at the Radium Hill repository is not recommended as the site is not engineered to a standard consistent with current internationally accepted practice.”

The 2003 SA government audit also states: “Several piles of material, possibly crushed waste rock or rejects from the former heavy media separation plant, also remain on site.”

As of May 2012, it appears that a risk assessment process conducted by the SA government is ongoing.

Lottermoser and Ashley (2006) write:  “Rehabilitation was limited to removal of mine facilities, sealing of underground workings and capping of selected waste repositories. In 2002, gamma-ray data and samples of tailings, uncrushed and crushed waste rock, stream sediment, topsoil and vegetation were collected to assist in examining the current environmental status of the mine site. The data indicate that capping of tailings storage facilities did not ensure the long-term containment of the low-level radioactive wastes due to the erosion of sides of the impoundments. Moreover, wind erosion of waste fines (phyllosilicates, ore minerals) from various, physically unstable waste repositories has caused increasing radiochemical (from a background dose of 35 – 70 nSv/h to max. 0.94 mSv/h) and geochemical (Ce, Cr, La, Lu, Rb, Sc, Th, U, V, Y, Yb) impacts on local soils. Plants (saltbush, pepper tree) growing on waste dumps display evidence of biological uptake of lithophile elements, with values being up to 1 – 2 orders of magnitude above values for plants of the same species at background sites.”

Lottermoser and Ashley conclude: “The Radium Hill uranium mine in South Australia ceased operations in 1961 and underwent rehabilitation in the 1980s. The mine area now consists of numerous waste rock dumps, several tailings storage facilities and numerous relicts and foundations of buildings and other structures. The waste dumps are prone to physical erosion involving wind and seasonal rain. Physical dispersion of mineralised particles from waste rock dumps and tailings repositories, has led to local enrichment of lithophile elements (Ce, Cr, La, Lu, Rb, Sc, Th, U, V, Y, Yb) in adjacent soils. Plants (pepper tree, saltbush), growing on contaminated soil, display enhanced uptake of lithophile elements. The enrichment in common species implies that there is potential for transfer of U into grazing animals and their bioaccumulation. Additional capping and landform design of the crushed waste and tailings repositories are required in order to minimise erosion and impacts on surrounding soils and sediments.”

References and more information:

[This webpage last updated August 2012.]

Samphire uranium project

In January 2011 federal approval was given to Samphire Uranium, wholly owned by South Australian company Uranium SA, for a trial In Situ Leach (ISL) uranium mine approximately 20 kms south-west of Whyalla on the Eyre Peninsula and 3.5 kms from the coast. It was ruled “not a controlled action” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, hence not triggering the requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement.

At the state level Uranium SA / Samphire Uranium is awaiting approval (as of May 2012) for a Retention Lease over the Blackbush deposit, which is the target of the proposed trial mine. This is the first requirement in a two-step regulatory process. If the mining tenement is granted, the company will need to submit a Program for Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation (PEPR). The company has engaged the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to do a series of tests with resins found to facilitate the extraction of uranium from saline solutions, as the formation waters in the sediments containing uranium are saline to hyper-saline. At the time of discovery the extraction of uranium from saline solutions was not commercially practical.

ISL mining routinely contaminates groundwater with heavy metals and radioactive materials by pumping acid into an aquifer to dissolve the uranium and other heavy metals, pumping the solution back to the surface to extract the dissolved uranium, and then pumping the radioactive waste produced back into the aquifer.

Despite the half-life of some radionuclides being tens of thousands of years, the Retention Lease proposal does not assess the impact of the mobilisation of radionuclides and heavy metals in the target aquifer by the ISL process and how this will impact on the future use of the groundwater or the wider ecosystem.

The proposal assumes that since the salinity, radium and uranium concentrations of the target aquifer exceed the limits for any agricultural or potable use, it is acceptable to mobilise radionuclides and heavy metals, and use the aquifer as a radioactive waste dump. It does not address whether the radium and uranium naturally existing in the target aquifer are in the same bioavailable form as the radionuclides that are a product of the ISL process. It also ignores the fact that even if the target aquifer is taken to be confined (which is arguable), the groundwater in this aquifer is not eternally confined, but part of a hydrologic cycle that moves water throughout the ecosystem, from rainfall, to rivers, to underground storage. Given that ISL mining mobilises radionuclides with extremely long half-lives, the long residence time for water in groundwater systems is no guarantee that these radionuclides will not eventually move to another part of the ecosystem, such as the Spencer Gulf.

The trial was originally planned to continue for 12 to 18 months and produce 36 tonnes (120 drums) of yellowcake and 10-20 cubic metres of waste. However, a re-evaluation of the Samphire Project was announced in December 2011, following the identification of uranium mineralisation in the bedrock underlying the recognised Blackbush deposit. As the newly identified uranium would not be extractable by the ISL method which is only appropriate for near-surface deposits, the company is now considering the option of open-pit mining, and has commenced a drilling program. At this stage the ISL trial is planned to proceed, pending approvals, but at a reduced scale. Uranium SA anticipates that site work will commence in 2012.

Uranium SA claims the mineralisation of the Blackbush deposit defined to date may be sufficient to support a commercial mine life of 5–10 years. It is estimated that the deposit could produce 12,700 tonnes of uranium oxide. Add this to the 6,300 tonnes estimated from the Plumbush deposit, also within the Samphire project.

More information:

[This webpage last updated July 2012.]

Kalgoorlie uranium tailings

More than 5,000 tonnes of tailings from the Yeelirrie uranium deposit, near Wiluna, were buried in the Hannan area of Kalgoorlie after BHP stopped testing processing ore there in the 1980s. In 2012, damage to a security gate allowed children to enter the site on dirt bikes. BHP Billiton said it would improve security.

More information:

50 people attended an anti-uranium protest in Kalgoorlie in 2010.

[This webpage last updated May 2012.]

Westmoreland uranium deposit

Westmoreland comprises the eastern end of a series of small prospects and deposits spread over about 50 kilometres straddling the Queensland − Northern Territory border, about 400 kilometres north of Mount Isa. Westmoreland is on the Queensland side of the border and its deposits extend over about 10 kilometres.

The deposit is estimated to contain about 22,000 tonnes U3O8 (indicated plus inferred).

The Westmoreland deposit was discovered by Mount Isa Mines in 1956 and has had a long history of exploration. Most recently it was held by Rio Tinto Exploration from 1990 until 2000. It is now owned by Canadian company Laramide Resources Ltd, which purchased the lease in 2004 for US$150,000 plus some Laramide shares.

As of May 2012, the Queensland Liberal National Party government has maintained the previous state Labor government policy of banning uranium mining.


Laramide’s time to shine

Brooke Showers, 1 November 2012,

LARAMIDE Resources has been in high spirits since Queensland’s ban on uranium mining was lifted, where it hosts its trophy asset and is now exploring the option of an Australian listing later this year. Laramide is a uranium focused company, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with projects in the US and exploration tenements across Queensland and the Northern Territory. …

Westmoreland currently holds an inferred resource of 52 million pounds at 900 parts per million uranium oxide, and contains outcropping and shallow mineralisation, suitable for open pit mining. …

Although, how ever high the feat of jumping the uranium ban, there is another obstacle on the company’s path to production – commodity prices. The current spot price for uranium is sitting at $US43 per pound, although term prices are higher, at about $60/lb. … At current spot prices, the Westmoreland project is not economic. But at $60/lb the project could advance and at the long-term outlook of $70/lb, the project was shaping up to be very robust. Laramide’s immediate focus is to push the resource up towards the 70Mlb target, which would have then have the potential to produce 4-5Mlb over a 15 year mine life.

The next steps involve moving the inferred resources into to the indicated category and upgrading the scoping study, before applying for permits and advancing towards a production decision. In 2007, MinCorp Consultants completed a scoping study on Westmoreland, which envisaged mining 1.5 million tonnes per annum for about 3Mlb per year. Jacobs has been appointed to start a follow-up study this year, which is looking to upgrade this to 2-2.5Mt.

More information:

Valhalla uranium deposit

The Valhalla uranium deposit, 40 kms north-west of Mt Isa, is majority owned by Paladin Resources and Areva has a smaller stake. It is part of a field that also includes the Skal and Anderson’s Lode deposits.

Valhalla’s total measured plus indicated resources are 28,778 tonnes U3O8 and the inferred resource is 5,824 tonnes U3O8.

As of May 2012, the Queensland Liberal National Party government has maintained previous state government policy of banning uranium mining.

In May 2012, Mount Isa’s mayor-elect Tony McGrady was lobbying for a change of state government policy. Mr McGrady, a former mines and energy minister, denied any conflict of interest despite being on the boards of two uranium mining companies − Laramide Resources, which owned the Westmoreland deposit on the Queensland/NT border, and Alligator Energy, with interests in the NT.

More information:

Below: video about uranium mining in Queensland:

[This webpage last updated May 2012]

Mary Kathleen former uranium mine

The Mary Kathleen open-cut uranium mine operated from 1958-63 and again from 1976-82. About 9,200,000 tonnes of ore were processed yielding a total of just under 8,900 tonnes U3O8.

The deposit was discovered in July 1954 by prospectors from nearby Mount Isa, soon after the discovery of the nearby Skal deposit sent hundreds of prospectors madly roaming the Mt Isa and Clonclurry countryside.

A sales contract with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority was signed in 1956. Mining commenced at the end of 1956 and the treatment plant was commissioned in June 1958. The project was developed by Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd (MKU) at a cost of $24 million.

Above: Crushed ore conveyor, second period of operation, 1976-82.

Above: Prime Minister Robert Menzies with miners.

Over the years various attempts were made to find markets for the rare earths as a co-product, to no avail.

The mine was closed for more than a decade. New contracts with utilities in Japan, Germany and USA for 4,740 tonnes of uranium oxide were negotiated early in the 1970s and recommissioning began in 1974. The Commonwealth Government, through the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, underwrote this, thereby obtaining a 42% holding in the company. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited, a successor of Rio Tinto Mining, held 51%, and the public 7%.

A 2009 article in the Courier Mail states: “Anti-uranium activists from Townsville held up the first, secret rail shipment of 130 tonnes of U308 from the revived mine for an hour [in 1976], the Australian Council of Trade Unions called for a ban on exports, and the Seamen’s Union organised a blockade. Not only that, the mine’s owners were forced to pay $34 million compensation to Westinghouse, which used Australian uranium in its power plants, after the Friends of the Earth green group was handed documents showing evidence of a uranium cartel. But the most extraordinary revelation came in 1980, when two tonnes of yellowcake was stolen and later found in Sydney. The company downplayed the incident, likening it to an employee stealing office stationery!”

In the mid-1970s documents were leaked to Friends of the Earth revealing:

  • shoddy environmental practices at Mary Kathleen;
  • close surveillance of environmental organisations;
  • the close relationship between the most senior ranking Australian trade union official, ACTU President Bob Hawke, and the chairman of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), Sir Roderick Carnegie; and
  • the complicity of Australian government officials in providing advice to mining companies on how to avoid important nuclear non-proliferation safeguards treaties to sell uranium to places like Taiwan (which was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) via “Toll Processing” in the US.

At the end of 1982 the mine was depleted and finally closed down after 4,802 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate had been produced in its second phase of operation.

One million litres of radioactive liquid were deliberately released in February 1984 from the mines evaporation ponds during an unexpectedly wet wet season.

Mary Kathleen then became the site of Australia’s first major rehabilitation project of a uranium mine, which was completed at the end of 1985 at a cost of $19 million. The mining company covered the tailings with crushed rock instead of clay in order to save millions of dollars. The seepage of radioactive radium and thorium and toxic elements from the tailings has been much greater than if clay had been used as a relatively impermeable barrier. There is ongoing low-level uptake of heavy metals and radionuclides into vegetation.


Qld Government to probe Mary Kathleen uranium site

Kate Stephens and Virginia Tapp, 6 December 2012,

The State Government says it will begin investigating ways to unlock $4 billion worth of mineral resources at the former Mary Kathleen uranium mine site in north-west Queensland. Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps says the State Government is particularly interested in the site as a potential hot spot for developing rare earth.

Mr Cripps says there are millions of tonnes of ore tailings at the site, which is in the Selwyn Range between Mount Isa and Cloncurry, making it one of the largest deposits of rare earth in Australia. He says no companies are involved with the process at this stage.

More information:

Above: Aerial view of the tailings dam and evaporation pond, 1976-82.

Above: The abandoned open pit at Mary Kathleen, 2009.

Below: video about uranium mining in Queensland:

[This webpage last updated in May 2012.]

Ben Lomond uranium deposit

The Ben Lomond uranium (and molybdenum) deposit is located 50 kms west of Townsville. It is owned by Mega Uranium, which purchased it in 2005. The deposit is estimated to contain an estimated 4760−6800 tonnes U3O8 (for comparison, BHP Billiton plans to mine three times that amount of uranium annually at Olympic Dam in SA). If the mine proceeds, it will likely be a combination of open-cut and underground mining.

As of May 2012, Mega Uranium was undertaking prefeasibility studies with a view to determining the project economics, the preferred mining and processing options and the key steps in mine development. The recently-elected Liberal National Party state government has thus far maintained previous government policy of banning uranium mining, but Mega Uranium is betting on a change of policy.

The deposit was discovered in 1975 by the French company Pechiney, then explored and evaluated in detail between 1976 and 1982 by associated companies Total Mining and Minatome. In addition to problems with the Queensland state government, plans to mine Ben Lomond came unstuck because of federal Labor’s ‘three uranium mines’ policy from 1983 onwards.

Far-right pro-uranium federal MP Bob Katter had this to say in Parliament on 1 November 2005:

I present a serious note of warning to the House. Of the people in North Queensland that I represent, some 50,000 or 60,000 live on the watershed of the Burdekin River and draw their water from there. The honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Dawson are from there. The Burdekin Falls Dam provides water for some 210,000 people. These people are drinking water that comes from the lower reaches of the Burdekin River. The Ben Lomond uranium mine, 40 or 50 kilometres from Townsville, stands right above it. A French company—I think it was Aquitaine—proposed the development of that mine. I was very positive about it. I had been brought up and lived in Cloncurry, my hometown, beside Mary Kathleen. I knew all the people who lived there. I played football there. I went to church there. I did hundreds of things there. We had no evidence that indicated uranium mining was dangerous. Some greenies living up there—not a race of people that I like in any way, shape or form; but in those days there were some sensible people associated with them—started making a noise that there had been a spill of high-level radiation.

Whilst I have waxed lyrical about the dangers of uranium not being great, there is a limit to the dangers we will accept. In the case of Ben Lomond, the company said that there had been no spill. The government agency—the forebears of what we now call the Environmental Protection Agency—also said that there had been no spill. That was for the first three or four weeks. When further evidence was disclosed, they said, firstly, that there had been a spill but the level of radiation was not dangerous and, secondly, that it had not reached the water system from which 210,000 people drank.

For the next two or three weeks they held out with that story. Further evidence was produced in which they admitted that it had been a dangerous level. Yes, it was about 10,000 times higher than what the health agencies in Australia regarded as an acceptable level. After six weeks, we got rid of lie number 2. I think it was at about week 8 or week 12 when, as a state member of parliament, I insisted upon going up to the site. Just before I went up to the site, the company admitted—remember, it was not just the company but also the agency set up by the government to protect us who were telling lies—that the spill had reached the creek which ran into the Burdekin River, which provided the drinking water for 210,000 people. We had been told three sets of lies over a period of three months.

So I say to the people of the Northern Territory: make sure that ordinary people have some sort of oversighting mechanism. Do not leave it up to the government or its officials. They will dance to the tune played by whatever piper is in charge money-wise or politically. They will not answer to the tune of protecting the people. That has been my experience.

The case of Ben Lomond was notorious, and the very development oriented Bjelke-Petersen government said no to Ben Lomond. The most development oriented government in recent Australian history said no because of the absolutely outrageous performance of their own regulatory body, as well as the mine itself. One other humorous aspect, which was not really humorous at all, was when I asked the regulatory authority chief, ‘How do you get your water samples?’ He said, ‘We have them collected.’ I said, ‘Who do you have collect them?’ He said, without any guile, ‘The company.’ So we had the company protecting itself, not the people of Queensland or the people who were depending upon this water for their water supply.

Mudd provides a fascinating history of the attempted development of the mine from the 1970s onwards. A few highlights and lowlights from that history:

  • The Queensland government’s eagerness to get the mine underway hinged on plans to site a uranium enrichment plant in Townsville − one proposal for which, at an estimated A$1000 million, came from Minatome in October 1979.
  • Officially the Minatome lease was granted in early 1980 but, a year previously, the state Minister for Mines, Energy and Police, Ron Camm, announced that the mine would be given a quick go-ahead, in a statement made well in advance of completion of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
  • Not only did the state government refuse to consult with the Townsville City Council and local shires (authorities), it also altered the Mining Act, thus allowing its Mines Department to over-rule local authorities, and it doctored procedures for conducting EIS’s − by dropping the term “Environmental” from the rules.
  • Local surveys showed a majority of residents opposed to the project; and there had already been an anti-uranium march, in spite of the state’s draconian ban on all such demonstrations.
  • From this point on, opposition mounted dramatically. The Australian Telecommunications Employees Association in February 1981 imposed communications bans on Minatome. The Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM) also announced a “tent village” at Ben Lomond, to be held that summer.
  • The opponents’ case depended not only on previous experience in the uranium industry, but Minatome’s existing practice at the mine site. The Queensland Campaign Against Nuclear Power claimed that: “Already a level of radioactivity two and a half times the legally permitted level has been recorded in a creek which flows into the river. This was from a stockpile of 3500 tonnes. When the mine is in operation, the stockpile will be two and a half million tonnes.”
  • Neil Heinze, a local civil engineer, claimed that radioactive leakage was “certain” to occur from the site, while all artificial methods of containment were inadequate. Professor Frank Stacey, Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Queensland, predicted that inevitable radioactive leaking would pollute the Burdekin river system, especially as the proposed dam across the river would “ensure that heavy pollutants tend to accumulate in the reservoir and any area in which water from the reservoir is used, instead of being flushed out to sea”.
  • The Queensland Mining Warden rejected Minatome’s application based on environmental considerations. He found that there was no proper long-term arrangement for the containment of tailings. He questioned the appropriateness of clay as a liner for the evaporation ponds and tailings dumps.
  • The Queensland Mines Minister, Ivan Gibbs, sought to overturn the Warden’s decision. By this time, another scandal was in the news. The national news magazine National Times revealed that Minatome had destroyed several vital Aboriginal sites “in the past couple of months” including one possibly some 4,000 years old, “considered to be one of the most significant in North Queensland”. This site was bulldozed by the company to make way for an experimental evaporation pond.
  • Another Aboriginal quarry site “considered to be unique in Australia” was also under threat by planned high-tension power lines and water pipes, while a sacred pool was threatened by nearby drilling. A confidential document obtained by the National Times revealed that Minatome had been aware of these Aboriginal sites since 1978 and was advised in an archaeological impact statement that they should be protected.
  • Early the next year, Minatome flew out 36 tonnes of uranium ore from Ben Lomond to Noumea in New Caledonia, then on to France. The flight was organised to evade union bans at Townsville, as well as adverse publicity.
  • A few months later, the World Bike Ride − antinuclear activists who had set out from Melbourne in March − set up an “Atom-Free” embassy at the mine site itself.
  • Then, in mid-1983, the federal Australian government banned all uranium exports to France, in retaliation for France’s continued nuclear testing in the Pacific. In response, the company reportedly filled in the tailings dam and development work came to a halt.
  • At the end of the year, the company finally published the environmental impact statement − a few days after the ALP government announced a ban on all new uranium mines, apart from Olympic Dam.
  • Early in 1986 it was reported in the Australian Senate that the uranium ore stockpiled at Ben Lomond had been virtually abandoned, with a minimum of security precautions.

More information:

[This webpage last updated May 2012.]

Wetherill Park food irradiation plant

Wetherill Park is home to one of Australia’s food irradiation plants. In Australia all irradiation plants use cobalt-60, a nuclear material that emits gamma rays. Herbal teas, spices and some tropical fruits are permitted for irradiation in Australia.

Irradiation changes food in ways that have not been adequately tested for safety. Irradiation depletes food and vitamins and causes the formation of radiolytic products whose effect on human health is not known.

In 2009 the irradiation of cat food was banned in Australia after nearly one hundred cats became ill and many died. This has prompted many pet food companies to review their policies regarding irradiation, recognising pet health concerns. The Australian government has yet to recognise that similar risks exist for human health.

Under Australian law, pet food, animal feed, therapeutic goods and complementary medicines are not classified as “food”.  These products can, therefore be irradiated with no labelling requirements. Many of these products are packaged and sold in a similar manner and on the same retailer shelves as products that are classified as “food”. Consumers have no way to discern that the products fall under different regulatory bodies and therefore have differing labelling requirements.

More information:

Below: short video about the problems with irradiation:

[This webpage last updated March 2012]

Parkeston uranium transfer hub (proposed)

The West Australian State Government has been holding meetings with the Kalgoorlie Shire Council to plan a transfer station for uranium in Kalgoorlie. Parkeston is a suburb of Kalgoorlie which is only a few hundred metres from the Ninga Mia Aboriginal Community.

All of the four uranium mining proposals currently under assessment in WA appear to reply upon a proposal to establish a transfer facility in Parkeston, which would be built for the purpose of storing, handling and transferring uranium concentrate. Uranium would be transferred from truck to rail on route to ports in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

A uranium transfer facility at Parkeston represents a serious public interest issue, due to the radioactive nature of the material being transported and stored, and the close proximity to permanent housing. The West Australian government has been vocal about keeping uranium away from towns like Geraldton and Kalgoorlie but is ignoring the community at Ninga Mia.

While there has been public acknowledgement of this proposal from the WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum, there is no public documentation indicating who the proponent for the facility is, the status of this facility, or any other details. It appears that the Government is proposing to use ‘Royalties for Regions’ money to fund the project.

 [This webpage last updated September 2012.]

Mulga Rocks uranium deposit

The Mulga Rocks uranium deposits are located west of Leonora in the WA goldfields on Wongutha country. Mineralisation consists principally of uranium, scandium, nickel and cobalt in lignite within a sedimentary basin.

The deposits were discovered by the Japanese Government-owned corporation, PNC Exploration Australia Pty Ltd, in 1979.

In January 2009 Energy & Minerals Australia (EAMA) announced a JORC-compliant inferred resource of 24,520 tonnes U3O8 averaging 0.055% at 200 ppm cut-off grade. The three main Mulga Rock deposits are hosted in lignite, though there is sandstone-hosted mineralisation beneath and near Ambassador.

EAMA won a court battle over ownership of the deposit and plans to accelerate exploration activities.

In 2010 EAMA said it was developing the Mulga Rock deposits. A scoping study was undertaken, centred on the Ambassador deposit, with production envisaged both from open-cut lignite and in-situ leach mining of sandstones beneath.

In July 2012 EAMA said production was several years away as the company needed to complete studies and receive environmental approvals.

The local community of Coonana have a long experience with the nuclear industry − many migrated to Cundalee and then Coonana from SA during and after the Maralinga nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s.

More information:

Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.

[This webpage last updated July 2012]

Kintyre uranium deposit

The Kintyre deposit is located near Jigalong and Punmu, Pilbara − 1200 kms north-east of Perth.

The deposit was discovered by Rio Tinto Exploration in 1985. From 1985-88, exploration by Rio Tinto identified eight deposits at Kintyre. In 1988 the project was put into care and maintenance due to low uranium prices.

In April 1994 the WA government excised 15,100 hectares from the Karlamilyi (formerly Rudall River) National Park, including the Kintyre project area. In 1996 the uranium outlook led to metallurgical testing of bulk samples, but in 1998 the project was returned to care and maintenance due to low uranium prices, and in 2002 continued low prices led to the dismantling of the camp and some site rehabilitation.

In July 2008, Cameco (70%) and Mitsubishi (30%) bought Kintyre for US$495 million, conditional upon state government approval for the sale and agreement with the Martu Traditional Owners. An exploration program to confirm ore reserves commenced in 2009, with a feasibility study envisaged to begin by the end of 2010. In 2010 Cameco said that it envisaged starting mine construction in 2013 and operation in 2015. In March 2011 indicated resources were updated to 25,600 tonnes U3O8 at 0.49%, and inferred resources of 2400 t at 0.47%.

Cameco has submitted a Uranium Project Environmental Scoping Document to the WA EPA which has been approved, but is behind schedule with its Environmental Review Management Plan (ERMP). Cameco states that it hopes to submit a draft ERMP in 2012, and to complete an agreement with Martu Traditional Owners.

In July 2012 Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel said: “With the pounds we have, the economics are where they’re at, so we’re going to have to see some increase to resources there to make it go forward or reduced costs, though we’re not crossing our fingers on that too much because we see Western Australia being charged for some time with all the big projects going on. … We’re looking at it, but given what we have today … we need more pounds, more price or both.”

According to Mining News, the prefeasibility study found that to break even, the project would need an average realised uranium price of $US67 per pound or 62 Mlb of production over its life, as opposed to 40 Mlb currently.

Nevertheless Cameco is undertaking further exploration at Kintyre and is reportedly moving to an 18-month feasibility study, but the project is unlikely to start construction in 2013 as previously envisaged and the CEO’s comments suggest the project may be deferred indefinitely as it was in 1988 and again in 1998.

Several other uranium mining companies are buying up tenements close to Kintyre in the hope of finding uranium seams of the main Kintyre deposit − including Mega Uranium and Encounter Resources / Barrick Gold.


Cameco pulls back further at Kintyre

Kristie Batten, 2 November 2012,

URANIUM giant Cameco now says it will not move to a feasibility study at its Kintyre project in Western Australia as part of an adjustment of its overall growth strategy. While a prefeasibility study earlier this year found the project to be uneconomic in its current form, the company vowed to push ahead with an 18-month FS. However, the Canadian company said yesterday it would complete the value engineering and the environmental permitting at Kintyre, in order to maintain the ability to proceed with the project. …

The PFS was based on a seven-year open pit mine to produce about six million pounds of uranium oxide per annum, using the measured and indicated resources of 55Mlb at 0.58% uranium oxide. The study found that to break even, the project would need an average realised uranium price of $US67 per pound or 62Mlb of production over its life, as opposed to 40Mlb currently.

Cameco chief executive Tim Gitzel said with uranium spot prices at about $41/lb yesterday, a number of other producers and developers had already cancelled or deferred projects. … Cameco said its strategy to achieve production of 40Mlb per annum by 2018 would now be scaled back to 36Mlbpa by 2018. … Meanwhile, its $430 million purchase of the Yeelirrie project in WA from BHP Billiton was yet to close, with Foreign Investment Review Board approval still pending. …

More information:

Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.

[This webpage last updated August 2012.]

Lake Maitland uranium deposit

The Lake Maitland uranium deposit, estimated at around 11,000 tonnes, is located 60 kms from Wiluna in the WA Goldfields.

Mega Uranium’s scoping document has been approved by the WA EPA and it is preparing an Environmental Review Management Plan.

There is opposition to this project from the community in Wiluna 30 kms away − the community is concerned about background levels of radiation and water consumption.

Mega Uranium has other uranium interests in WA, including Kintyre Rocks, Kintyre East and Coolbro Creek.

More information:

Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.

[This webpage last updated July 2012.]

Yeelirrie uranium deposit

The Yeelirrie uranium deposit is located 80 kms south-west of Wiluna in the WA Goldfields on Wongutha country.

The deposit extends over 9 kms, is up to 1.5 kms wide, up to 7 metres thick and with an average depth of about 7 metres of overburden.  A historic estimate of the mineral content of Yeelirrie was prepared for BHP Billiton in June 2012 by an international mining consulting firm. The historic estimate indicates that Yeelirrie hosts measured and indicated mineral resources of approximately 139 million pounds (63,000 tonnes) of U3O8 with an average grade of approximately 0.13%.

Western Mining Corporation (WMC) discovered the uranium deposit in 1972. In the 1980s, WMC dug a series of trial mines at the Yeelirrie site. This was the first large scale calcrete ore-body found in the world, and thus no exploration techniques were known in order to accurately determine ore reserves. Trial mining involved several pits, extracting a total of more than 130,000 tonnes of ore. The pilot processing plant was in Kalgoorlie, although the tailings were dumped back at the mine site, in several dams. The exact production of uranium is unknown, although given the amount of ore mined, it was probably around 195 tonnes U3O8. It was most likely shipped to the Olympic Dam uranium mine in the late 1980s and then sold.

An Environmental Impact Statement was produced in 1978 and resulted in environmental approval from both state and Commonwealth governments. In the 12 years to 1983 WMC and its partners (then including Esso) spent a total of $35 million preparing to develop Yeelirrie as an open-cut mine, including building and operating the pilot metallurgical plant at Kalgoorlie. A $320 million project was envisaged and sales contracts were being planned. However, the 1983 federal election and implementation of the ALP ‘three mines policy’ meant that permission to negotiate sales contracts was withdrawn in March 1983. Plans were then abandoned.

In its 1996 Environment Progress Report, released in July 1997, WMC admitted leaving a contaminated trial uranium mine exposed to the public, with inadequate fencing and warning signs, for more than 10 years. A spokesperson for WMC said a 1995 inspection revealed the problems and also admitted that the company could have known about the problems as early as 1992.

WMC said there was inadequate signage warning against swimming in a dam at the site, which was found to be about 30 times above World Health Organisation radiation safety standards and admitted that people used the dam for “recreational” purposes including swimming, but did not drink the salty water.

WMC said it had “no record of whether uranium ore or contaminated products inside the exposed drums were removed”. However, a further 1996 inspection revealed that “uranium ore from the site was also found to have been used to repair nearby roads”.

In 2005, BHP Billiton acquired the Yeelirrie deposit. In 2008, with both state and federal governments permitting new uranium mines, BHP Billiton listed Yeelirrie as an “outstanding long-term opportunity”. Mine construction beginning in late 2010 was envisaged.

BHP Billiton concluded one stage of exploration mining. A Scoping Document was approved by the WA EPA in early 2010 but BHP Billiton did not prepare an Environmental Review and Management Programme for EPA approval. The World Nuclear Organisation states: “In 2011 the project was wound down and the ERMP was deferred.” Staff and senior management from the Yeelirrie project were relocated to other areas of BHP Billiton.

The Wongutha Traditional Owners directed the Central Desert Native Title Service to no longer negotiate or discuss uranium mining with BHP Billiton in an act of opposition and dissent to any plans to mine uranium.

In August 2012, BHP Billiton sold the deposit to Cameco for US$430 million subject to approval from the State Government and the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board. Resource analyst Gavin Wendt said: “When the project was at the forefront of the company’s thinking a few years ago when uranium prices were very high, prior to Fukushima, I think BHP was very, very concerned to develop the project. But, in the post-Fukushima world, I think BHP’s near term thinking is that they really aren’t as keen on uranium as they were four or five years ago.”

More information:

Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.


Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.

Above and below – trial mining at Yeelirrie.

Above: Action in Perth in 2011, before BHP Billiton sold the Yeelirrie deposit to Cameco.

[This webpage last updated August 2012]

Oobagooma uranium deposit

The Oobagooma uranium deposit is 75 kms north east of Derby in the west Kimberleys, on a military training site − Yampi. Paladin has signed a memorandum of understanding with the WA and federal governments to explore for uranium at the Yampi Sound Training Area. It is unclear from the MOU whether the project will undergo normal state and federal assessment processes.

The Oobagooma deposit contains an estimated 9,000 tonnes of U308. The deposit was held owned by Afmeco Mining and Exploration (AFMEX), a subsidiary of Cogema Australia, but was sold to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paladin Resources in 1998 for A$0.9 million plus 1% royalty. The inferred resource calculated by AFMEX is 9950 tonnes of uranium oxide at 0.12% U3O8, with cut off of 0.03%, though this does not conform to JORC criteria. In situ leaching appears to be the most likely method of extraction and some pump test work has been done.


Paladin looks to save $US60m

Nick Sas, The West Australian, 8 November 2012

As shares in Perth-based Paladin Energy hit seven-year lows yesterday, managing director John Borshoff hit the brakes on its expansion strategy, saying the miner’s current uranium sale price would have to almost double before new developments could come online. … Paladin has two early-stage projects in WA – the Manyingee project, 85km east of Onslow and the Oobagooma project 75km north-east of Derby, and Mr Borshoff flagged a slowing in its exploration programs. He said that the company had enough cash to meet spending requirements on its Valhalla deposit in Queensland, following the Newman Government’s decision to lift its uranium mining ban last month, which opened the door for its early-stage Mt Isa project.

More information:

Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.

[This webpage last updated April 2012]

Manyingee uranium deposit

Manyingee is 80 kms from the town of Onslow on the central west coast of WA. Discovered in 1974, the deposit is located in an old dry bed of the Ashburton River.

This deposit is thought to contain about 8000 tonnes of uranium (7.9Mt @ 0.102%). An in-situ leach mine is proposed. Paladin Resources is currently negotiating exploration rights with Traditional Owners.

Trial mining took place in the 1980s. Anti-uranium activists who visited the mine photographed reported large piles of waste with virtually no protection for the public and wildlife. Technical problems with the pilot plant forced Total Mining Australia to abandon development of the site in 1985. The World Nuclear Organisation puts a different view: “Two pumping tests and one five-spot in situ leaching test have been run to evaluate whether the ore is amenable to in situ leaching and whether the leach solutions can be confined. Subsequent monitoring confirmed that there was no environmental contamination from these tests. Development was suspended due to federal Labor Government policy on uranium. ”

NGOs were asking in 1986 where the one and a half tonnes of uranium produced at Manyingee had been sent (probably Ranger) and where the groundwater monitoring records were to be found (if indeed they were kept at all).

According to investigators at Manyingee in 1986, assay workers for Minatome in 1980/81 had been issued with wire brushes and instructed to erase any Aboriginal paintings in the area.


Paladin looks to save $US60m

Nick Sas, The West Australian, 8 November 2012

As shares in Perth-based Paladin Energy hit seven-year lows yesterday, managing director John Borshoff hit the brakes on its expansion strategy, saying the miner’s current uranium sale price would have to almost double before new developments could come online. … Paladin has two early-stage projects in WA – the Manyingee project, 85km east of Onslow and the Oobagooma project 75km north-east of Derby, and Mr Borshoff flagged a slowing in its exploration programs. He said that the company had enough cash to meet spending requirements on its Valhalla deposit in Queensland, following the Newman Government’s decision to lift its uranium mining ban last month, which opened the door for its early-stage Mt Isa project.

More information:


Map: for a map of uranium exploration tenements in WA click here.


Wiluna & Wiluna Extension (includes Lake Way, Centipede and Milipede, and Lake Maitland)

The Wiluna uranium deposits are located 45 kms from Wiluna in the WA Goldfields on Martu country. The deposits were discovered in 1972.

Toro Energy is a small, inexperienced company which hopes to open Western Australia’s first uranium mine. As of November 2016, the project has little hope of proceeding unless there is a sustained increase in the uranium price.

The proposal is to mine four uranium deposits ‒ Centipede, Millipede and Lake Way on the Lake Way playa system south-east of Wiluna, and the Lake Maitland deposits on the Lake Maitland playa system.

The project has been cut up and assessed as two projects ‒ allowing the company to avoid full assessment of the cumulative impacts from what is essentially an industrial uranium precinct incorporating at least four small uranium mines across two lake systems in a fragile desert ecosystem. The company has plans to incorporate more regional deposits ‒ extending the impact and risk regionally.

The original proposal, including the Lake Way and Centipede deposits, got conditional environmental approval– state and federal – in 2013, subject to 35 conditions which expressly prohibited commencement of mining until the issues identified were resolved.

The Milipede and Lake Maitland (Wiluna Extension) Public Environmental Review was lodged at the end of 2015. The EPA recommended approval for this project in September 2016. However the approval is under review by the Office of the Appeals convenor as of November 2016.

Toro proposes to truck uranium ore across the lakes to a central processing facility. Toro also proposes to store all radioactive mine waste ‒ 50 million tonnes ‒ from the four sites in two mined out pits in and on the edge of the bed of Lake Way.

The current proposal would require 10.6 million litres of water a day. Toro has only identified enough water for the first seven years of the project and has failed to do any environmental impact studies on water use for the proposed full life of the mine. Toro has failed to do important baseline studies on the interaction between ground water and surface water.

Toro plans to divert creek systems away from Centipede and Lake Way deposits during mining and re-divert them back through the sites post closure – when the mined pits will be replaced with radioactive mine waste. This poses a significant risk to the integrity of plans to contain and isolate the long lived radioactive mine wastes.

Toro has not yet submitted a mine closure plan or costings. In clear conflict with industry best practice, this part of the project has dodged public scrutiny and the application of any legally binding environmental conditions on mine closure. Such an approach increases the likelihood of WA taxpayers being left to foot a future clean-up bill.

Toro has failed to do important baseline studies on flora and fauna – an issue that the EPA and the WA Minister ignored even after the Department of Environment and Conservation formally advised that these issues should be addressed before approval.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum’s Uranium Advisory Group made several comments on how WA’s regulations fail to meet world’s best practice – despite State Government promises. These deficiencies include: lack of cumulative impact studies; lack of transparency and public engagement; operating under an outdated set of regulations on tailings management.

There is an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the Lake Way and Centipede deposits – Toro is in negotiations with the Wiluna Native Title group and the Barwidgee Aboriginal Corporation.

Walkatjurra Walkabout

Over the years several hundred people have visited the Yeelirrie and Wiluna proposed uranium mine sites with Traditional Owners. The first Walkatjurra Walkabout was held in 2011 – a three-month walk from Wiluna to Perth.

The walk was organised to demonstrate the opposition to uranium mining, and at the request of people in the Leonora community the walks have continued. Smaller walks have been held every year since 2011 from Wiluna to Leonora via the proposed uranium minea at Wiluna and Yeelirrie (click here to read an ABC story on the 2012 walk). The walks are led by the Walkatjurra rangers from Leonora and include people from across Australia and have included international visitors from the US, Taiwan, Japan, France, Lapland, Greece and England.

In 2015, a documentary on the Walkatjurra Walkabout was produced, called “Walking for Country”. The film interviews walkers and traditional owners about their personal opposition to uranium mining and why they are walking in protest. “Walking for Country” has been accepted into a number of film festivals and is a finalist for the category “Best Foreign Short Documentary” at the TMC London Film Festival.

Walking For Country Trailer from Rez Nez on Vimeo.

Early history of uranium exploration

Uranium exploration in the Wiluna region in the 1980s left a legacy of pollution and contamination. Radiation levels more than 100 times normal background readings have been recorded despite the area being ‘cleaned’ a decade ago. Even after the ‘clean up’, the site was left with rusting drums containing uranium ore, and a sign reading “Danger − low level radiation ore exposed” was found lying face down in bushes.

WA Greens parliamentarian Robin Chapple said in 2000 that: “We found corroded drums of radioactive ore, piles of uranium ore and remnants of wire netting and fence posts. We found some of the most toxic material just being left to blow in the breeze.”

In August 2000, coordinator of the Wiluna-based Marruwayura Aboriginal Corporation Steve Syred said that until about 1993, 100−150 people were living at an old mission three kilometres from the spot where high radiation levels were recorded. Mr. Syred told the Kalgoorlie Miner that the Aboriginal community had unsuccessfully resisted uranium exploration in the area in the early 1980s. Since then many people had lived in the area while the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Corporation was based near the site. Elders still hunted in the area.

Above: A radiation warning sign left after uranium exploration in the 1980s.

Below: A corroding drum left after uranium exploration in the 1980s.

Toro promotes dangerous radiation junk science

Toro has become embroiled in a controversy over its repeated promotion of scientifically-unsupported claims that low-level radiation is beneficial to health. In 2012, a joint letter signed by 45 Australian medical doctors called on Toro to stop promoting dangerous junk science; not a single doctor or radiation scientist came to Toro’s defence. Neither the WA nor federal governments (or their respective nuclear regulators) took action against Toro for promoting dangerous junk science. Toro claimed that it has promoted a range of views on the radiation/health debate but there appears to be no publicly available evidence to support the claim and Toro repeated declined requests to justify it.

Click here to read the doctors’ statement.

More information:

More information on the problems after uranium exploration in the 1980s:

[This page last updated June 2017]

Jervis Bay – proposed nuclear power reactor site 1969-71

In the 1950s and 1960s, numerous submissions to federal Cabinet argued that one of the benefits of nuclear power plants would be their capacity to produce plutonium for weapons. Australia pursued plans for a power reactor at Jervis Bay in the late 1960s and then Prime Minister John Gorton later admitted: “We were interested in this thing because it could provide electricity to everybody and it could, if you decided later on, it could make an atomic bomb.” (Pilita Clark, “PM’s Story: Very much alive… and unfazed,” The Sydney Morning Herald, January 1, 1999.)

Site work began, and tenders from overseas suppliers were received and reviewed. However Gorton’s position as leader of the Liberal Party was under pressure and he resigned in March 1971. William McMahon succeeded him. McMahon was less enthusiastic about nuclear power than his predecessor. Reasons for this included concern over the financial costs, awareness of difficulties being experienced with reactor technology in Britain and Canada, and a more cautious attitude in relations to weapons production. McMahon put the Jervis Bay project on hold and the Labor government, elected in 1972, did nothing to revive the Jervis Bay project.

More information:

The Jervis Bay story starts 5 minutes into this first video – and continues in the second video. If you want to jump straight to the Jervis Bay story, this URL will take you straight there:

Jervis Bay was chosen partly because its coastal location allowed access to sea-water for reactor cooling …

Below: Gruen Transfer ABC TV adverts promoting nuclear power:

Muckaty – defeated proposed waste dump site

Muckaty Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory defeat the Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd and Abbott Governments!

Kurlalu yarnmi Majju Majju Manu Wangku ka
Wangangka yama nyirrinjji mana Manu Wangku Kuna 

After abandoning plans for a national nuclear waste dump in SA in 2004, the former Howard federal government announced in 2005 that it would pursue three sites in the Northern Territory, passing legislation to override NT government opposition. The sites were Harts Range, Mt Everard and Fishers Ridge. Amendments made in 2006 allowed additional site nominations from Aboriginal Land Councils.

The Northern Land Council offered an area on the Muckaty Land Trust for assessment in 2007, despite opposition from many Traditional Owners. A determined community campaign led by the Traditional Owners gained support from trade unions, public health and human rights organisations around the country. Annual demonstrations in Tennant Creek pledged direct action against any attempts to build the dump.

The perception of remote Australia as an uninhabited sacrifice zone was captured by comments made by former Science Minister Brendan Nelson, who asked “Why can’t people in the middle of nowhere have a low and intermediate level waste facility” and his successor Julie Bishop, who stated the sites were “far from any form of civilisation.”

The Department of Defence sites were under consideration until 2012, but it was clear that Muckaty was the preferred site, with the government ignoring clear opposition and calling it a voluntary nomination.

In June 2014, half way through federal court proceedings launched by Traditional Owners, the federal government agreed to not further pursue the site.

Traditional Owners released the following statements after hearing their campaign had been successful:

Marlene Nungarrayi Bennett, Warlmanpa woman said, “Today will go down in the history books of Indigenous Australia on par with the Wave Hill Walk-off, Mabo and Blue Mud Bay. The Warlmanpa Nation has won an eight-year battle against the might and power of the Commonwealth Government and Northern Land Council. Justice has prevailed and this is a win for all Territorians.”

Penny Williams Namikilli said “ngulayilpa wanganya ngurru-ku partta-wurru mar-darn- jaku marjumarju kula yanjaku. kuyayi ngurru kirlka kan-jin-mi ,mayi parnta.” [Translated from Warlmanpa: We talked about our land to keep the waste away off the land, not to put it there. We want it to remain clean with bush tucker.]

Milwayi Traditional Owner Gladys Nungarrayi Brown said, “The land is important, we have to keep it clean without radioactive waste. Our ancestors walked around that land and were always looking after it- generation after generation they kept handing that knowledge on. We have to keep passing on that knowledge to future generations.”

Kylie Sambo, a Warramungu/Warlmanpa hip hop artist who wrote the popular track “Muckaty” released a statement of solidarity when it was announced that the Wallerberdina site in SA was the only one shortlisted under the current process.

Muckaty Traditional Owners at a Senate Committee hearing in Darwin.
Muckaty Traditional Owners

Muckaty nuclear waste plan DUMPED!

Nat Wasley, June 19, 2014

Some fantastic news today ‒ the Commonwealth Government has committed not to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty!

Lawyers from Maurice Blackburn Social Justice Practice announced the exciting development in Melbourne this morning and a delegation of Muckaty Traditional Owners travelled to Alice Springs for a press conference.

The announcement comes mid-way through the Federal Court trial examining the process under which the nomination of Muckaty was made by the Northern Land Council and accepted by the Commonwealth Government in 2007.

Two weeks of the trial were completed with hearings in Melbourne, Tennant Creek and on country at Muckaty outstation. The Northern Land Council and Commonwealth Government have agreed to settle with the Applicants by committing not to act on the proposal or nomination.

This campaign has followed the successful campaign by the Kupi Piti Kungka Tjuta to stop a nuclear dump in SA and been built from the ground up in Tennant Creek with help from supporters across the NT. Over the last 7 years, the community has marched in Tennant Creek every year, hosted trade union delegations, written songs and poems, made films and toured photo exhibitions. People have travelled tirelessly around the country to build awareness and support, having conversations over cups of tea in regional areas and walking the corridors of Canberra Parliament House to lobby Ministers.

The community used the May 25 rally and media attention on the federal court proceedings to reiterate they would continue campaigning until the dump was stopped- including blocking the road if needed.

So the deadly news is now public – please tell everyone that together we dumped the Muckaty plan! Traditional Owners and the broader community in Tennant Creek are very excited and relieved and looking forward to a big celebration in the coming few weeks.

We will then set about collating photos, footage and other materials from the campaign, so stay tuned for the call out to copy and/or send these to the Arid Lands Environment Centre for archiving.

There is a lot more to say but we are still all a bit shocked and processing the news so will send more updates and reflections in the coming week.

One important point is that Traditional Owners have been absolutely clear that they will wholeheartedly challenge any attempts to nominate any other sites on the Muckaty Land Trust- an idea suggested by NT Senator Nigel Scullion today.

I was asked to finish this note with a huge thanks to everyone who has been part of this campaign and supported the Muckaty mob to be heard ‒ every action, letter, conversation, trip to Tennant, fundraising gig and movie night has helped bring about this victory!!

Muckaty will be nuclear free!


More information:

Beyond Nuclear Initiative

Friends of the Earth

Videos at Vimeo

Videos on youtube

Beyond Nuclear Initiative videos

[This webpage last updated January 2019]

Hunters Hill uranium processing site

From 1911 to 1915, a small amount of uranium ore from Radium Hill in South Australia was chemically processed at Hunter’s Hill, New South Wales, to extract the valuable radium. Radium is a radioactive decay product from uranium, and has a high radioactive intensity due to its half life of 1601 years. At the time, radium was worth some 300,000 pounds per ounce − compare to gold which was only 4 pounds per ounce. So it is easy to understand why so much effort was spent in trying to extract an element which is only found at concentrations of milligrams per tonne. Although records are incomplete, it is estimated that some 2,000 tonnes of uranium ore was transported from Radium Hill to Hunters Hill and no more than 1-2 grams of radium was produced, along with several tonnes of uranium oxide as a by-product.

After abandonment in 1915, the adjacent land was converted to a tin smelter, which operated until 1964. At this time, the area was considered for residential housing and an assessment by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC, now ANSTO) concluded this was safe with respect to radiation risks. In the late 1970s, however, with greater public knowledge of the science behind radiation exposure, major concerns were raised about radiation risks at the site − surveys showed the obvious presence of uranium tailings from the radium processing.

The NSW Government bought several houses, demolished those on 7 and 9 Nelson Parade, but failed to undertake a complete site remediation. A NSW Upper House Inquiry in 2008 covered the history and nature of the site in detail, but there was still no public plan for remediation. In late 2011, the NSW Government began a process towards remediation, but that process has been the subject of controversy and opposition, particularly around a proposed site for storage of radioactive waste from Hunters Hill. It can be expected that of the order of 2,000 tonnes of radioactive waste would be generated by any site clean-up, with a similar radioactivity to tailings at the Ranger uranium mine.

Children and adults alike have been exposed to radiation from the contaminated Hunters Hill site and many are understandably angry about the decades of deceit and obfuscation. The NSW Health Commission covered up the dangers of Hunters Hill. An internal memo in 1977 told staff to “stall and be non-committal” when responding to queries. Residents were told there was “no logical reason” to carry out radiation or health tests even though the NSW government knew that there were compelling reasons to do so. A senior public servant told officials that radiation testing should continue “provided that in so doing we do not conspicuously draw attention to ourselves and we do not discuss the matter with other persons, such as the council, until further advised”.


Uranium smelter’s legacy moves on

Ben Cubby, 16 December 2012,

THE controversial clean-up of a radioactive site in Hunters Hill is set to begin early next year, with any hazardous waste to be moved from the harbourside suburb to Lidcombe, the NSW government says. The contaminated properties in Nelson Parade – once the site of a uranium smelter – have been a thorn in the side of residents and governments for nearly a century.

After years of denials from successive governments about the extent of the contamination, the clean-up will now be extended to include suspected radioactive hot spots in neighbouring backyards and at the harbour foreshore.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, all but ruled out dumping the contaminated dirt at a Kemps Creek waste facility in western Sydney last year, in the face of protests from Penrith residents and councillors.

But the new plan involves reclassifying most of the contaminated earth as ”restricted solid waste”, allowing it to be trucked to Kemps Creek. Any material that is shown to be dangerously radioactive will be taken to a secure storage facility in Lidcombe, operated by the Office of Environment and Heritage.

More information:

Pangea – former proposed high-level nuclear waste dump

An international consortium – Pangea Resources – planned to establish a high-level nuclear waste dump in Australia from the late 1990s until 2001. Pangea’s corporate video was leaked to Friends of the Earth (UK) − until then, Australians had no idea that we were being targeted as the world’s nuclear dump.

In 2002, Pangea Resources rebranded itself as ARIUS − the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage − and it is still scheming to build an international high-level nuclear waste dump.

There is strong public opposition to an international nuclear waste dump in Australia. A 1999 survey by Insight Research Australia found that 85% of respondents wanted the federal parliament to pass legislation to ban the import of foreign nuclear waste into Australia.

Professor John Veevers from Macquarie University wrote in the Australian Geologist in August 1999: “[T]onnes of enormously dangerous radioactive waste in the northern hemisphere, 20,000 kms from its destined dump in Australia where it must remain intact for at least 10,000 years. These magnitudes – of tonnage, lethality, distance of transport, and time – entail great inherent risk.”

Perth, c.2009

Pressure to dump nuclear waste in Australia will persist − about 290,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste have been produced in power reactors, increasing by 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes annually, and there is still no repository for high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world.

The head of the World Nuclear Association, John Ritch, is one of numerous foreign corporate voices calling for Australia to accept the world’s high-level nuclear waste.

Liberal/National Coalition Senators refused to support a Senate motion opposing an international nuclear dump in May 2006. On 3 June 2007, the Federal Council of the Liberal Party unanimously endorsed a resolution supporting the establishment of a foreign nuclear waste dump in Australia. Under the Howard Coalition government, the government-led Uranium Industry Framework promoted the idea. The Howard government joined Australia to the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a scheme in which ‘supplier’ nations supply nuclear fuel and take back high-level nuclear waste from ‘user’ nations which operate reactors.

Politicians / ex-politicians supporting the development of a high-level nuclear waste dump in Australia to take waste from overseas include:

  • Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke (Labor).
  • In 2005 Martin Ferguson (Labor) responded to Bob Hawke’s call for Australia to establish a high-level waste dump by saying: “In scientific terms Bob Hawke is right. Australia internationally could be regarded as a good place to actually bury it deep in the ground.”
  • Former foreign minister Gareth Evans (Labor).
  • Former foreign minister Alexander Downer (Liberal).

Australian groups lobbying for Australia to host an international high-level nuclear waste dump include the Nuclear Fuel Leasing Group. Head of the NFLG, Dr. John White, has been promoting the group’s vision of establishing a uranium enrichment plant, a fuel fabrication plant, and an international nuclear waste dump in Australia.

More information on plans to build an international nuclear dump in Australia:


Koongarra-jeffery-cultural land-webThe former Koongarra Project Area (KPA) lies within the traditional lands of the Djok clan and is a region of approximately 12,000 hectares. Until February 2013 Koongarra was excluded from the World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park, which completely surrounds the area. The region is unique, magnificent and important in traditional storylines that include the Rainbow Serpent and Lightning Man. It is also home to an estimated 15,000 tonnes of high grade uranium which the French nuclear and mining giant Areva has been trying to access and develop for several decades.

Jeffrey Lee, Senior Traditional Owner of the Djok clan, speaks for Koongarra. Mr Lee has long resisted Areva’s promises of wealth and remained firm in his commitment to care for the land. In 2010 Jeffrey Lee asked the Federal Government to protect Koongarra by including it within Kakadu, stating at the time: “When you dig a hole in that country you are killing me. I don’t worry about money at all.” The Government promised to honour his wishes and three years later, in February 2013, it did.

When Koongarra’s protection was announced, Jeffrey Lee acknowledged the inspiration he has drawn from the Mirarr’s struggle: “I also want to thank the Mirarr people and especially the senior traditional owner, Yvonne Margarula, and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. They have stood by me and showed me that Aboriginal people can say no.”

Protection of Koongarra is a long overdue recognition of Jeffrey Lee’s vision and tenacity and a powerful and lasting victory for both Aboriginal and environmental rights.

read more Koongarra: From uranium project to National Park (download PDF)

Below: Jeffrey Lee speaking in 2008

More information:

[This webpage last updated November 2014.]

Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office

The Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO) is the federal government’s statutory safeguards agency.

ASNO is notorious for its dishonesty and unprofessionalism. ASNO’s falsehoods include claims that nuclear power does not pose a WMD proliferation risk, that Australia only sells uranium to countries with ‘impeccable’ non-proliferation credentials, and that all of Australia’s uranium is ‘fully accounted for’.

ASNO is also notorious for its secrecy, such as its refusal to publicly release:

  • Country-by-country information on the separation and stockpiling of Australian-obligated plutonium.
  • ‘Administrative Arrangements’, which are not nearly as innocuous as the name suggests – they contain vital information about the safeguards arrangements required by Australia.
  • Information on nuclear accounting discrepancies (Material Unaccounted For) including the volumes of nuclear materials, the countries involved, and the reasons given to explain accounting discrepancies.
  • The quantities of Australian-obligated nuclear material (primarily uranium and its by-products) held in each country are confidential and ASNO acquiesces to that situation. (ASNO states: “The actual quantities of AONM held in each country, and accounted for by that country pursuant to the relevant agreement with Australia, are considered by ASNO’s counterparts to be confidential information.”)
  • At least some export agreements allow for further secrecy under the rubric of ”state secrets”.

As an example of ASNO’s activities, it misled parliament’s treaties committee in 2008 by claiming that “strict” safeguards would “ensure” peaceful use of Australian uranium in Russia and by conspicuously failing to tell the committee that there had not been a single IAEA safeguards inspection in Russia since 2001. The treaties committee made the modest recommendation that some sort of a safeguards system ought to be in place before uranium exports to Russia were approved, only to have its recommendation rejected.

 More information about ASNO:

 [This webpage last updated March 2012]

Emu Field

At the time of the two ‘Totem’ nuclear tests at Emu Field in South Australia, the area was used, as the 1983-85 Royal Commission reported, for “hunting and gathering, for temporary settlements, for caretakership and spiritual renewal.”

Operation Totem (Emu Field, South Australia)

  • Totem 1 – 15 October, 1953 – 9.1 kilotons
  • Totem 2 – 27 October, 1953 – 7.1 kilotons

Totem 1 test, 15 October 1953

A major test named Totem 1 was detonated on October 15th, 1953. The blast sent a radioactive cloud – which came to be known as the Black Mist – over 250 kms northwest to Wallatinna and down to Coober Pedy. The Totem I test is held responsible for a sudden outbreak of sickness and death experienced by Aboriginal communities, including members of the Kupa Piti Kunga Tjuta and their extended families. The Royal Commission found that the Totem 1 test was fired under wind conditions which a study had shown would produce unacceptable levels of fallout, and that the firing criteria did not take into account the existence of people at Wallatinna and Melbourne Hill down wind of the test site.

Above: Yami Lester was permanently blinded by the 15 October 1953 test at Emu Field. Photo by Jessie Boylan

In relation to the two Totem tests, the Royal Commission found that there was a failure to consider adequately the distinctive lifestyle of Aborigines and their special vulnerability to radioactive fallout, that inadequate resources were allocated to guaranteeing the safety of Aborigines during the Totem nuclear tests, and that the Native Patrol Officer had an impossible task of locating and warning Aborigines, some of whom lived in traditional lifestyles and were located over more than 100,000 square kilometres.

More information on the British nuclear tests in Australia:

Kevin Buzzacott, Lake Eyre, 2011 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

Avon Hudson – nuclear veteran 2011 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

Avon Hudson – Nuclear Veteran pt2 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

Maralinga (Rainy Land) Lyrics
Paul Kelly

This is a rainy land
this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Yami Lester
I hear I talk I touch but I am blind
my story comes from darkness
listen to my story now unwind
this is a rainy land

First we heard two big bangs
we thought it was the great snake digging holes
Then we saw the big cloud
then the big black mist began to roll
this is a rainy land

A strangeness on our skin
a soreness in our eyes like weeping fire
a pox upon our skin
a boulder on our backs all our lives
this is a rainy land

this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Millipuddy
they captured me and roughly washed me down
then my child stopped kicking
then they took away my man to town
they said do you speak English?

he said: I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so
I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so

Honeymoon uranium mine

Honeymoon is a small uranium deposit located 75 kms north-west of Broken Hill. The Honeymoon − East Kalkaroo deposit occurs in porous sand of the Yarramba palaeochannel at a depth of 100-120 metres and extending over about 150 hectares.

The deposit was discovered in 1972. Plans were developed in the late 1970s to extract the uranium oxide by in situ leaching (ISL), and $12 million was spent in preparation. Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements were produced, and both South Australian and Commonwealth environmental approval was subsequently obtained in 1981 for production to 450 t/yr. Field tests of the ISL process were carried out and a $3.5 million, 110 t/yr pilot plant was built, but the project was abandoned in 1983 because of the incoming federal Labor government’s ‘three mines’ uranium policy.

Acid leach mining was trialled again from 1998-2000. A June 2000 draft EIS covered the Honeymoon – East Kalkaroo deposits on five Mineral Claims and approval of this was granted in November 2001.

In 2005 Southern Cross Resources was taken over by Aflease to form Uranium One Inc. In 2006 Uranium One quoted indicated resources of 2900 tonnes U3O8 plus 900 tonnes (at 0.074% grade) at the adjacent East Kalkaroo deposit.

In October 2008 Uranium One announced a joint venture with Mitsui (49%) to complete development of the project, with Mitsui paying $104 million towards the eventual $138 million cost. Since 2009, 51.4% of Uranium One has been owned by Russia’s ARMZ.

Commercial in-situ leach (ISL) mining began in 2011. Nevertheless, in May 2012 Mitsui announced that it was withdrawing from the project as it “could not foresee sufficient economic return from the project.”

First production was in September 2011, with 45.4 tonnes of U3O8 produced in 2011. Just 37 tonnes of U3O8 was produced in the first quarter of 2012 although the production rate is expected to increase. In 2012 production is expected to be 275 tonnes U3O8 at $47/lb − three times the company’s average cost of production in Kazakhstan. A mine life of six years is expected. The processing plant is modular and can later be relocated if required.

ISL mining involves pumping acid into an aquifer. This dissolves the uranium ore and other heavy metals and the solution is then pumped back to the surface. The small amount of uranium is separated at the surface. The liquid radioactive waste – containing radioactive particles, heavy metals and acid – is simply dumped in groundwater.

A 2003 report of the Senate References and Legislation Committee said:

“The Committee is concerned that the ISL process, which is still in its experimental state and introduced in the face of considerable public opposition, was permitted prior to conclusive evidence being available on its safety and environmental impacts.

“The Committee recommends that, owing to the experimental nature and the level of public opposition, the ISL mining technique should not be permitted until more conclusive evidence can be presented on its safety and environmental impacts.

“Failing that, the Committee recommends that at the very least, mines utilising the ISL technique should be subject to strict regulation, including prohibition of discharge of radioactive liquid mine waste to groundwater, and ongoing, regular independent monitoring to ensure environmental impacts are minimised.”

UPDATE: Honeymoon mine to stop production, jobs in doubt

Christopher Russell, The Advertiser, November 11, 2013

THE Honeymoon uranium mine in South Australia’s far northeast is expected to be mothballed. Low uranium prices and production difficulties at the plant have put pressure on the mine. The future of about 70 employees was not immediately known but far fewer employees would be needed when the mine is put under “care and maintenance”. Honeymoon, which began producing uranium in 2011 , became wholly owned by Russian state company JSC Atomredmetzoloto in mid-October. Previously it had been 49 per cent owned-and-operated by Canada’s Uranium One. … The Honeymoon mine was written down by C$68 million in September “due to continuing difficulties in the production process, issues in attaining design capacity and high operating costs”. It was also said to be hampered by unfavourable contracts associated with a former partner, Japan’s Mitsui. Honeymoon management in South Australia could not be contacted for comment.

Pilot processing plant, 1983.

ISL wellfield at Honeymoon.

Inside the well header building.

Above and below: Friends of the Earth, Adelaide, 2006.

More information:

Video: occupation of the Honeymoon uranium mine in 1982,

[This webpage last updated July 2012.]

Beverley uranium mine

Since 2001 a fast-tracked in-situ leach (ISL) mine, the Beverley uranium mine, has been operating in the northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The mine is owned by General Atomics, a US-based company, and managed by its subsidiary, Heathgate Resources.

Heathgate sells uranium to nuclear weapons states which are in breach of their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to at least one country with a recent history of secret nuclear weapons research (South Korea), and to countries which refuse to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

ISL mining

ISL involves pumping acid into an aquifer. This dissolves the uranium ore and other heavy metals and the solution is then pumped back to the surface. The small amount of uranium is separated at the surface. The liquid radioactive waste – containing radioactive particles, heavy metals and acid – is simply dumped in groundwater. From being inert and immobile in the ore body, the radionuclides and heavy metals are now bioavailable and mobile in the aquifer.

Heathgate has no plans to clean up the aquifer as it says the pollution will ‘attenuate’ – that the aquifer will return to its pre-mining state over time. This claim has been queried by the scientific community as being highly speculative with little or no firm science behind it.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Jillian Marsh noted in her submission to 2002-03 Senate References and Legislation Committee that: “The government chose not to demand that the groundwater be rehabilitated, an unacceptable situation for the Australian public at large given our increasing reliance on groundwater and the increasing salinity of land surfaces and water systems.”

The 2003 report of the Senate Committee said:

The Committee is concerned that the ISL process, which is still in its experimental state and introduced in the face of considerable public opposition, was permitted prior to conclusive evidence being available on its safety and environmental impacts.

The Committee recommends that, owing to the experimental nature and the level of public opposition, the ISL mining technique should not be permitted until more conclusive evidence can be presented on its safety and environmental impacts.

Failing that, the Committee recommends that at the very least, mines utilising the ISL technique should be subject to strict regulation, including prohibition of discharge of radioactive liquid mine waste to groundwater, and ongoing, regular independent monitoring to ensure environmental impacts are minimised.

Another feature of ISL mining is surface contamination from spills and leaks of radioactive solutions. The SA Department of Primary Industry and Resources lists 59 spills at Beverley from 1998-2007. Examples include the spill of 62,000 litres of contaminated water in January 2002 after a pipe burst, and the spill of 15,000 litres of contaminated water in May 2002.

Heathgate’s record in Australia

Heathgate’s activities at Beverley (and Beverley Four Mile) have been extremely divisive among Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners. Some Adnyamathanha Elders have formed an Elders Group as a separate forum from the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association. Enice Marsh said: “There have been many attempts over the past 10 years to try and bring greater accountability to what’s happening in Native Title, and to stop the ongoing assault on our Yarta (country). Many of us have tried with very little resources, limited understanding of the legal system and environmental laws, and despite a mountain of bullying, lies and deceit from mining companies, lawyers, and self-inflated thugs in our own community who dare to call themselves ‘leaders’.”

Heathgate has a track record of secrecy, such as its failure to publicly acknowledge a series of leaks before the 2002 SA state election and its refusal to release key environmental reports until the South Australian Ombudsman found that its commercial-in-confidence claims were spurious.

Heathgate also has a disgraceful track record of spying on environment groups. GA / Heathgate has employed at least one private investigator to infiltrate environment groups in Australia. The infiltrator, known as Mehmet, had previously infiltrated green groups as part of an undercover police operation before he moved into the private sector to set up his own security company, Universal Axiom. He also provided personal protection to visiting GA executives. When asked about the company’s tactics, a Heathgate spokesperson said the company was privately owned and had a policy of not responding to media questions.

People who worked at Friends of the Earth at the time − around the turn of the century − say they were highly suspicious about Mehmet from the get-go. His activities might have been laughable and pathetic except that he provided exaggerated information about the likely attendance at a protest at the Beverley uranium mine in May 2000. That led to an excessive police presence at the protest and police brutality against environmentalists and local Aboriginal people including the capsicum spraying of an 11-year old Adnyamathanha girl. The following video clip details this brutality. Heathgate applauded the police action (in a 2000 media release which is no longer available online).

After a 10-year legal case, 10 people were awarded a total of $700,000 damages. Supreme Court Judge Timothy Anderson described the imprisonment of protesters in shipping crates as “degrading, humiliating and frightening” and noted that the action constituted an “affront to the civil liberties of the protestors”. He added: “The conditions were oppressive, degrading and dirty, there was a lack of air, there was the smell from capsicum spray and up to 30 persons were crammed into a very small space.”

Some General Atomics / Heathgate lowlights

The following video clip from ABC TV’s ‘Hungry Beast’ program explains some of the connections of Neal Blue, head of General Atomics. Over the years Blue has had commercial interests in oil, Predator drones, uranium mining and nuclear reactors, cocoa, bananas and real estate.

Radioactive spills and gas leaks at a uranium processing plant in Oklahoma led to the plant’s closure in 1993. The plant was owned by a GA subsidiary, Sequoyah Fuels Corporation, and processed uranium for use in reactors and for use in depleted uranium munitions. A nine-legged frog may have GA to thank for its dexterity. A government inquiry found that GA had known for years that radioactive material was leaking and that the radioactivity of water around the plant was 35,000 times higher than US laws permitted.

In 1992, a leak at the Oklahoma plant forced the evacuation of a building only two weeks after federal inspectors allowed it to resume operating. Later that year, the company announced that the plant would be closed after it had been ordered to temporarily shut down three times in the previous six years. Sequoyah Fuels Corporation President Joe Sheppard said the company could no longer afford rising costs related to regulatory demands.

The shenanigans and jiggery-pokery at the Oklahoma plant − documented by the World Information Service on Energy − include the disposal of low-level radioactive waste by spraying it on company-owned grazing land, and the company’s attempt to reduce the amount of property tax it paid on the grounds that radioactive contamination reduced the value of the land!

Fortune Magazine recounts one of the controversies surrounding GA / Heathgate’s uranium ventures in Australia. When uranium prices increased in the mid-noughties, the company was locked into long-term contracts to sell yellowcake from Beverley at earlier, lower prices. Heathgate devised plans to renegotiate its legally-binding contracts. Customers were told that production costs at Beverley were higher than expected, that production was lower than expected, and that a failure to renegotiate contracts would force Heathgate to file for bankruptcy.

However former employees said that Blue had allegedly directed Heathgate to increase its production costs. Customers were not told that bankruptcy was unlikely since GA had agreed to continue providing Heathgate with financial assistance.

Two of Heathgate’s Australian directors, Mark Chalmers and David Brunt, consulted an attorney who advised them that the plan could be considered a conspiracy to defraud. Chalmers and Brunt left the company.

Exelon, one of Heathgate’s uranium customers, sued. The lawsuit was settled for about $41 million. Because of the increased uranium price, Blue ended up well in front despite the cost of the settlement with Exelon − more than $200 million in front by some estimates. Blue was unrepentant: “It made more sense to, in essence, just pay the fine.”

Blue has even been sued by his own company. Several years ago, ConverDyn, a uranium conversion plant jointly owned by GA and Honeywell, sued Blue, Heathgate and GA in relation to allegations of a failure to meet contractual obligations to deliver certain amounts of uranium.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson declined to comment when asked about GA / Heathgate’s activities in 2009.

GA / Heathgate has repeatedly flown US politicians (and their families and aides) to Australia for high-level talks and it has paid for Labor MPs to travel to the US. The company has used the services of PR firm Hawker Britton, which includes many former Labor politicians and staffers.

Money well spent, it seems. In 2006, then SA Treasurer Kevin Foley said: “I have visited the Beverley mine and, recently, in San Diego I met Mr Neal Blue, the chairman of General Atomics – an outstanding company that is producing uranium oxide from the Beverley mine. I only hope that further deposits of uranium can be found. The sooner we can find it, dig it up and get it out of the country, the better.”

More information:

[This webpage last updated September 2012.]

Woomera – proposed nuclear dump site 1998-2004

In February 1998, the federal Coalition government announced its intention to build a national radioactive waste dump in central South Australia. The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – a senior Aboriginal women’s council – played a leading role in the campaign against the dump, as did the Kokatha and Barngala Traditional Owners. Many of the Kungkas suffered the effects of the British nuclear testing program in the 1950s.

Aboriginal people were coerced into signing clearances for test drilling of short-listed sites for the proposed dump. The federal government made it clear that if clearances for test drilling were not granted by Aboriginal groups, drilling would take place anyway.

In 2002, the federal government tried to buy off Aboriginal opposition to the dump. Three Native Title claimant groups – the Kokatha, Kuyani and Barngala – were offered $90,000 to surrender their Native Title rights, but only on the condition that all three groups agreed. The Kokatha and Barngala refused, so the government’s ploy failed.

The proposed dump generated such controversy in South Australia that the federal government secured the services of a public relations company. Correspondence between the company and the government was released under Freedom of Information laws. In one exchange, a government official asks the PR company to remove sand-dunes from a photo selected to adorn a brochure. The explanation provided by the government official was that: “Dunes are a sensitive area with respect to Aboriginal Heritage”. The sand-dunes were removed from the photo, only for the government official to ask if the horizon could be straightened up as well.

On July 7, 2003, the federal government used the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to seize land for the dump. Native Title rights and interests were annulled. This took place with no forewarning and no consultation with Aboriginal people.

In July 2004, the federal government abandoned the plan to build a radioactive dump in SA. The decision reflected the strength and persistence of the campaign against the dump. The victory was also helped by the ruling of the full bench of the Federal Court in June 2004 that the government had illegally used the urgency provision of the Land Acquisition Act.

The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta wrote in an open letter: “People said that you can’t win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up.”

More information:

[This webpage last updated February 2012]

Olympic Dam uranium/copper mine

BHP Billiton planned to supplement underground uranium mining at Olympic Dam with a massive open-cut mine. Export of uranium was expected to increase from an average of 4,000 tonnes per year to 19,000 tonnes per year and the production of copper, gold and silver was also expected to increase.

However in August 2012 the company shelved plans for an open-cut mine, saying that a smaller version of the project will be considered in coming years. The existing underground mine will continue operating.

The company has not been required to study the viability of mining copper, gold and silver without also extracting and selling uranium − an option (PDF) which would allow for ongoing, profitable mining while addressing at least some of the major problems.

The mine operates under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, which provides overrides and exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. BHP Billiton is in a legal position to determine what consultation occurs with Traditional Owners, who is consulted, and nature of any consultation. The company decides the level of protection that Aboriginal heritage sites receive and which sites are recognised. It is ironic and hypocritical that BHP Billiton supports Reconciliation Australia’s ‘good governance’ program and has provided over $2 million to Reconciliation Australia, yet will not relinquish its exemptions from the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Kokatha Traditional Owners c.2004

The Indenture Act also allows wide-ranging and indefensible exemptions from key environmental laws such as the SA Environmental Protection Act 1993, Freedom of Information Act 1991, and Natural Resources Act 2004. Those exemptions were retained when the Indenture Act was amended in 2011 in preparation for the planned expansion. The amended Indenture Act lapses in December 2012 and will need to be renegotiated if BHP Billiton revives its plan for an open-cut mine in some form or other.

In 2011, SA Liberal Party industry spokesperson Martin Hamilton-Smith said “every word of the [amended Indenture] agreement favours BHP, not South Australians.” It beggars belief that the SA Labor government would agree to such one-sided terms; and it beggars belief that Mr Hamilton-Smith and his Liberal colleagues waved it through Parliament with no amendments.

The only politician to insist on some scrutiny of the amended Indenture Act was SA Greens MLC Mark Parnell. He was accused of holding the state’s economy to ransom. The transcripts of his late-night Parliamentary questioning of the Labor government are posted here and here. Time and time again the government spokesperson said that BHP wanted such-and-such a provision in the Indenture Act, and the government simply agreed without further consideration or consultation.

Olympic Dam is a state within a state − and it has shades of a Stalinist state. When a mine worker provided the media with photos of multiple leaks in the tailings dams in 2009, BHP’s response was to threaten “disciplinary action” against any workers caught taking photos.

Mining consultants Advanced Geomechanics noted in a 2004 report that radioactive slurry was deposited “partially off” a lined area of a storage pond at Olympic Dam, contributing to greater seepage and rising ground water levels; that there is no agreed, accurate formula to determine the rate of evaporation of tailings and how much leaks into the ground; and that cells within a tailings pond covered an area more than three times greater than recommended, requiring “urgent remedial measures”.

Under the open-cut mine expansion plan, the production of radioactive tailings, stored above ground, would increase seven-fold to 68 million tonnes annually. The tailings contain a toxic, acidic soup of radionuclides and heavy metals. There have been numerous spills and leaks – e.g. in the mid-1990s it was revealed that about three billion litres had seeped from the tailings dams over two years.

Radioactive tailings, Olympic Dam. Photo by Jessie Boylan

In 2010, a mine worker was sufficiently concerned about occupational health issues at Olympic Dam that he leaked information to the media. The leaked documents show that BHP uses manipulated averages and distorted sampling to ensure its official figures of worker radiation exposure slip under the maximum exposure levels set by government. The risks will escalate with plans for a massive expansion of the mine. The BHP whistleblower said. “Assertions of safety of workers made by BHP are not credible because they rely on assumptions rather than, for example, blood sampling and, crucially, an assumption that all workers wear a respirator when exposed to highly radioactive polonium dust in the smelter.”

Uranium production at Olympic Dam was expected to increase to 19,000 tonnes per year under the open-cut expansion plan, sufficient to fuel 95 power reactors which would produce 2,850 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste per year (in the form of spent nuclear fuel). That amount of spent fuel contains 28.5 tonnes of plutonium − enough for 2,850 nuclear weapons each year.

BHP Billiton sells uranium to nuclear weapons states in breach of their NPT disarmament commitments, dictatorships, states refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, states blocking progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, states with a history of secret nuclear weapons research, and states stockpiling ‘civil’ plutonium. A new low was set in 2006 when the federal government, with BHP Billiton’s support, negotiated a uranium export agreement with the secretive, repressive, militaristic, undemocratic regime in China. The expansion of the Olympic Dam mine is heavily predicated on the export of copper-uranium concentrate to China.

For the open-cut expansion plan, BHP Billiton proposed an increase in water consumption from 35 million litres daily (from the Great Artesian Basin) to over 250 million litres daily (up to 50 million litres daily from local groundwater, up to 42 million litres daily from the Great Artesian Basin, and the remainder from a proposed desalination plant at Point Lowly, near Whyalla). That’s over 100,000 litres every minute – in the driest state in the driest continent. The water take from the Great Artesian Basin has had adverse impacts on the precious Mound Springs and the desalination plant is also controversial.

Update – December 2013 – Mine expansion still on hold

“BHP’s reluctance to seek a partner for an expanded Olympic Dam project in South Australia may surprise as it’s stuck on the back burner, squeezed by low commodity prices and high development costs estimated by analysts at around $30 billion. In August last year, BHP said it would look for a less costly design for the Olympic Dam mine, which had been expected to bring in billions in tax dollars and create thousands of jobs. Up to now, it hasn’t announced any new plans for the site. At first glance, finding a competitor to share development costs and risks with BHP makes sense. If they also bring in new technology then so much the better. The problem for BHP is that a partner might actually want to get the project moving, even at a much-reduced scale. That would test BHP’s desire to keep annual spending below $15 billion in future, down by a third from last year’s bill totaling $21.7 billion. With uranium prices continuing to hover near eight-year lows, and several countries debating nuclear power in their energy mix, BHP can avoid such tough decisions by keeping full control of the asset.” — Wall Street Journal, 10 Dec 2013.

More information:

Videos about Olympic Dam mine:

Above and below: Over 500 people attended the Lizard’s Revenge protest at Olympic Dam, July 2012, despite the risk of the sort of police brutality faced by protesters at Beverley a decade earlier.

Videos about Lizards Revenge:

[This webpage last updated December 2013.]

Lucas Heights

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) operates Australia’s one and only nuclear reactor — the  20 MW(t) ‘OPAL’ research reactor at Lucas Heights, approx. 25kms south of Sydney.

Successive governmens have claimed that the reactor is necessary for medical and scientific applications though the evidence for such claims is very weak. The desire to continue to operate a reactor is driven by questionable foreign policy objectives (see Jean McSorley’s paper).

A non-reactor future for ANSTO is viable based on a range of technologies, the most important being particle accelerators including cyclotrons. These options ought to be explored given the problems with research reactors, in particular their use in numerous nuclear weapons programs around the world, and the small risk of serious accidents (there have been 5-6 fatal research reactor accidents). ANSTO was heavily involved in the push to build nuclear weapons in Australia in the 1950s and ’60s.

As at September 2012, ANSTO fully supports the government’s crude, undemocratic, racist plans dump ANSTO’s nuclear waste on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. Previously, ANSTO fully supported the Howard government’s racist plan to impose a nuclear waste dump on Kokatha land in South Australia.

ANSTO is notorious for its dishonesty. For example, Tony Wood, former head of the Divisions of Reactors and Engineering at ANSTO’s reactor plant in Sydney, has criticised ANSTO for its “misleading public statements” and for “sugar-coating” its information. Mr. Wood said in evidence to the Senate Select Committee Reactor Inquiry in 2000/01: “If I had to sum up my concerns in one sentence, it would be that for the first time in my long association with the AAEC and ANSTO I do not feel comfortable with what the organisation is telling the public and its own staff.”

Mr. Wood said in verbal evidence to an ARPANSA Public Forum on 17 December 2001: “I believe that it is very important that the public be told the truth even if the truth is unpalatable. I have cringed at some of ANSTO’s public statements. Surely there is someone at ANSTO with a practical reactor background and the courage to flag when ANSTO is yet again, about to mislead the public.”

The Commonwealth regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) was established in the late-1990s after decades of public pressure for a genuine independent regulator. There was discussion about an independent board with overall responsibility for ARPANSA. The Howard Coalition government watered down that idea − instead the government appointed an all-powerful ARPANSA CEO. Incredibly, ANSTO was allowed to participate in the interview panel for the ARPANSA CEO job − ANSTO’s then Communications Manager John Mulcair acknowledged that this was indefensible.

A culture of secrecy undermines community confidence in ANSTO. This culture has been the subject of frequent criticism, for example:

  • the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor at Lucas Heights, Final Report, May 2001, said: “The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO’s approach to providing documents. Its attitude seems to stem from a culture of secrecy so embedded that it has lost sight of its responsibility to be accountable to the Parliament.”
  • The same Senate Committee also said: “The Committee is highly critical of ANSTO’s attitude which seeks to make a parliamentary committee subordinate to the whims of a government agency and prevents that committee from exercising its responsibility to scrutinise the executive. The Committee therefore appreciates the frustration experienced by the Sutherland Shire Council and members of the public who have experienced a similar attitude.”
  • Even Liberal and National Party senators on the Senate Committee said “… that ANSTO could have been more helpful in providing certain less commercially sensitive information to the Committee and could have been more willing to seek a compromise when sensitive material was involved.”
  • Ex-ANSTO scientist and later President of the Australian Nuclear Association, Dr. Clarence Hardy, complained about the “culture of secrecy” at ANSTO when giving evidence to a parliamentary Public Works Committee inquiry in 1999.
  • In 2000, the Sydney Morning Herald and Greenpeace were told that to acquire two and twenty-two pages of information respectively under Freedom of Information requests, they would be charged $7099 and $6809.

Inadequate safety practices at Lucas Heights and inadequate regulation by ARPANSA

Since 2007, a saga has been unfolding regarding contamination accidents at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), ANSTO’s handling of those incidents, ANSTO’s treatment of whistleblowers, the handling of the matter by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), and the independence or otherwise of ARPANSA.

The saga has exposed inadequate safety practices at ANSTO and an inadequate performance by the regulator ARPANSA. The problems would not have been exposed and partially rectified if not for a number of ANSTO whistleblowers.

A few snapshots of this saga are noted below and more details can be found on the Friends of the Earth website:

  • 28 August 2008 − Incident at ANSTO involving a vial of molybdenum-99. An audit found that proper processes were not followed: evacuation of the area did not occur, timely communication and event reporting, thorough investigation and follow-up did not occur. The staff member in question had not completed occupational health and safety induction training or a radiation safety course.
  • June 2009 − David Reid, an ANSTO employee and staff-elected health and safety officer, was suspended in June 2009 and sacked in June 2011. He repeatedly raised concerns about contamination incidents and some of his concerns were later vindicated. ANSTO states that his suspension and dismissal were unrelated to his statements regarding safety problems at ANSTO.
  • 5 May 2010 − An ABC Lateline report states: “ARPANSA is Australia’s nuclear industry watchdog and Lateline has obtained a copy of its report into the accident. It largely supports David Reid’s concerns and raises further questions about safety at Lucas Heights. … ARPANSA’s investigation found that radioactive vials are regularly dropped, something that’s been tolerated for years. There have been no apparent attempts to introduce improved handling systems. Supervision and training have not been effective in delivering the standard of safety required at the facility. And there’s been a lack of management awareness about difficulties and failures at the facility.”
  • 1 June 2010 – ANSTO’s CEO Dr Paterson acknowledges that investigations into contamination incidents found that “management arrangements in place at the time were deficient in a number of respects.” Dr Paterson praises Mr Reid for his “valuable”, “very useful” and “very positive” role in raising safety concerns.
  • 8 February 2011 − ABC TV Lateline reports that: “Australia’s workplace health and safety regulator, Comcare, has been called in to investigate the incidents. Lateline’s obtained a copy of its report. It goes even further, finding that ANSTO has breached health and safety laws. It says ANSTO did not take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a safe working environment. It didn’t take all reasonable steps to inform, instruct, train and supervise ANSTO Health employees. It failed to comprehensively risk assess its radiopharmaceutical production process and it failed to notify Comcare of safety incidents.”
  • 28 February 2011 − The Australian reports that at least six ANSTO employees claim they were bullied by management and, in some cases, suspended from work after expressing concern about the safety of the plant’s operations.
  • 3 March 2011 − The Australian reports that: “Two employees of Australia’s only nuclear reactor facility who were suspended after raising safety concerns will return to work in what amounts to a tacit admission by the plant’s administrators that the accusations against them were overstated.”
  • 30 March 2011 − the ABC reports: “Australia’s nuclear industry regulator, ARPANSA, is under review over its handling of safety breaches at the nation’s only nuclear reactor. … The Chief Auditor is investigating how ARPANSA handled the original allegations of safety breaches and bullying at the nuclear site. ARPANSA last year released two conflicting reports on the claims at the Lucas Heights facility.”
  • 31 May 2011 − The Australian reports that a Government-appointed panel found that ANSTO’s facilities are ageing, staff were worried that maintenance occurred only for the most urgent matters, and a more open approach to reporting health and safety problems should be adopted.
  • 7 July 2011 − Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Catherine King said in a media release that the Department of Health and Ageing will review the regulatory powers of ARPANSA. This review follows the receipt of an independent audit by the Audit and Fraud Control Branch of the Department of Health and Ageing into ARPANSA’s handing of two safety incidents at ANSTO in September 2007 and August 2008. The audit, requested by the CEO of ARPANSA, found that there was a lack of consistency in evidence and transparency in the handling of one of the incidents.
  • 19 October 2011 − ANSTO’s Dr Paterson comments on the frequency of contamination incidents at ANSTO: “In a typical month we would be talking about between three and perhaps 10, if there had been a significant number in relation to particular production activities.”
  • 16 March 2012 − The Australian reports that: “[ANSTO] used findings of an inaccurate, biased and partially fabricated in-house report as the pretext to suspend − and recommend the dismissal of − two employees who raised health and safety concerns over the mishandling of radioactive materials. The conclusion comes from an investigation by the national workplace regulator, Comcare, into events surrounding an incident in September 2010 in which a third employee was contaminated with radioactive yttrium-90 at the radioisotope production facility (ARI). … The Comcare investigation report, completed last December and obtained by The Australian, confirms long-running claims of bullying and cover-ups at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Lucas Heights facility in Sydney’s south. … Comcare found the ANSTO investigator’s report “was not impartial or reliable” [and] that the investigator included fabricated statements and “relied on hearsay and opinion from personnel … in the form of emails, conversations and handwritten notes”.”
  • 19 June 2012 − A KPMG report commissioned by ARPANSA on September 2007 contamination incidents at ANSTO states that “we find that it is possible that the version of events in Mr Reid’s allegations did occur.” The KPMG report also finds that neither the interim report nor the final report by ARPANSA “sufficiently examined Mr Reid’s allegations that a contamination incident … occurred during the morning of 3 September 2007.”

More information about ANSTO:

More information on inadequate safety practices at ANSTO and inadequate regulation:

[This webpage last updated August 2012]