Many decades to cleanup Ranger uranium mine. Taxpayers to cop these costs?

as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

Ranger-pitERA faces closure after uranium miner’s expansion plans shelved by Rio Tinto, ABC News, 30 June 15  By business reporter Stephen Letts Sorry history, uncertain environmental legacy Apart from the discharge of a million litres of radioactive slurry in 2013, Ranger has a sorry history of accidents with more than 200 environmental incidents being reported to government agencies since 1979.

Just how much Ranger’s clean-up will cost is open to question. Under existing legislation, once the lease expires early in 2021, ERA has five years to complete the rehabilitation program.

Gavin Mudd, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University with a long standing interest in Ranger, argues there are problems calculating the final cost as it depends on a number of choices, including how long is an adequate period of monitoring radioactivity levels.

The level of radioactivity around the site is unlikely to be safe any time soon given the half-life of uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. The half-lives of other principal radioactive components of mill tailings, thorium-230 and radium-226, are shorter at about 75,000 years and 1,600 years respectively, but it’s a rather academic distinction.

Currently there is not a stipulated period for monitoring levels of radiation at the site once the rehabilitation is completed. However, Dr Mudd said a monitoring program should be run over decades rather than years.

“Fifty years would be a good start,” he said.

“The $500 million is the basic truck and shovel number, just the earthworks part of the rehabilitation.

“Sufficient money needs to be put in a fund that will pay for on-going monitoring and I haven’t seen that done yet.”

That leaves a big question mark over what will happen if ERA runs out of cash according to Dr Mudd.

“If ERA ran out of money before the rehab was finished and went bankrupt, who picks ups the tab?” he asked. Dr Mudd argues that the existing rehabilitation fund has always been a small fraction of the total cost, because ERA maintained it was a profitable company and could cover the costs.

The mounting losses and depressed prices bring that argument into question.

Dr Mudd said, as Ranger was authorised by the Commonwealth Government under 1953 Atomic Energy Act which primarily allowed the uranium to be used for military purposes, the Commonwealth and, ultimately the taxpayers, could be liable for the clean up if ERA was bankrupted.

“A lot of the day-to-day regulatory stuff is handled by the

Northern Territory Government, so it’s difficult to say where the liability lies (if ERA was bankrupt),” Dr Mudd noted.

“I’d much rather have cash in a trust to cover it, rather than have taxpayers potentially foot the bill,” he said.

If there has been one constant at Ranger, Dr Mudd said it has been that ERA has failed to invest in good processes as decisions were constantly delayed “waiting for the next big thing”.

“A new water treatment plant would have only cost $10 to 15 million back in 2002,” Dr Mudd said.

“The cost of mine closures, clean-ups and retrofitting other technology since then is probably more than a billion dollars.”

“Mining stopped in Pit 1 back in 1994, but has only now been finally closed, about two decades later.”

Traditional owners demand ‘comprehensive clean up plan’

The traditional owners – the Mirrar people – are reluctant to discuss Ranger’s closure, apart from issuing a statement welcoming the decision.

“As things stand today we will not support any extended term of mining at Ranger beyond 2021,” the statement said.

“We take this position because of our experience of 30 years of environmental and cultural impacts at Ranger.

“We need to see a concrete and comprehensive commitment and plan for the clean up of Kakadu; that commitment and planning needs to start today.”……..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-30/era-faces-closure-after-expansion-plans-shelved/6584040

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