Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Contaminated groundwater, pollution at 1000s of sites in South Australia

July 23, 2014

polluted-waterToxic sites in Adelaide’s suburbs number in their thousands BRAD CROUCH THE ADVERTISER JULY 22, 2014  THE Opposition has demanded a statewide audit of contaminated sites, as it emerges the dangers of trichloroethene entering groundwater was suspected as far back as the 1940s.

The call for an audit comes after Environmental Protection Authority chief executive Tony Circelli confirmed that “thousands” of sites were contaminated with various chemicals and the EPA received about 100 new notifications each year.

The State Government and Environment Minister Ian Hunter are under increasing pressure over the contamination scandal in Clovelly Park , where dozens of people have been forced to leave their homes because of health risks from the vapours of trichloroethene (TCE) rising up through the soil from industrially poisoned groundwater.

Mr Circelli, was responding to a claim by UniSA Professor Ravi Naidu, the managing director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation, that there are about 4000 contaminated sites in SA.

Mr Circelli said that claim was incorrect, but conceded the number “is in the thousands”.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said an audit was needed to clarify the exact number of contaminated sites and their locations. “The purpose of conducting a statewide audit would be to establish a hierarchy of sites based on potential public health risks,” he said.

“As well as playing an important community awareness role, the audit could also provide a benchmark for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of contaminated sites for the EPA and assist with any future contamination investigations………

Queensland’s financial, environmental, and safety danger in allowing uranium mining

July 2, 2014

Queensland lifts its uranium ban, but is the price worth the cost? The Conversation Maxine Newlands Lecturer in Journalism, Researcher in Environmental Politics at James Cook University Liz Tynan Senior Lecturer and Co-ordinator Research Student Academic Support at James Cook University 1 July 14, 

As of today, Queensland has lifted a 32-year ban on uranium mining. That decision was taken within months of the 2012 state election, despite Premier Campbell Newman’s pre-election promise not to restart mining the radioactive mineral.

Miners are being invited to apply to restart the industry under the Queensland’s government’s uranium action plan, which will mean Canadian company Mega Uranium can reopen the Ben Lomond and other mines in north Queensland.

Queensland’s resumption of uranium mining comes only days after Australia’s newest uranium mine, Four Mile in South Australia, officially opened on 25 June.

Yet the price of uranium has fallen from a high in 2007 of US$70 a pound to $US28, due to factors including oversupplyand what the Wall Street Journal has described as a “post-Fukushima funk”.

Given the prices are so low that The Australian has reportedthat Four Mile is already losing money, while the Beverley mine has been mothballed since January, why are Australian states looking to open more mines?………….

Battles ahead over Queensland exports

The highest concentration of Queensland’s uranium mines sit in the northern tropics, an area prone to Category 5 cyclones.

A 2013 Swiss study found uranium was far more mobile than originally thought. Uranium once extracted, becomes soluble in water, increasing the chances of contamination or radioactive dust carried in high winds and heavy rainfall.

If Ben Lomond is reopened, the quickest way to export its uranium would be through the city of Townsville, home to 190,000 people, which is only 50km from the mine.

The Port of Townsville has said it has the capability to “facilitate the transportation and export of yellowcake”. The Queensland’s government’s uranium action plan recommends that:

Queensland’s efforts should be [put] on facilitating the use of existing ports and shipping lanes by industry for the export of uranium.

However, the Port of Townsville sits within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and close to sensitive environments including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, dugong protected areas, seagrass beds, fringing coral reefs and mangrove forests.

Last year, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt told the ABC that:

I think shipping of any toxic cargo would be of concern. But really we would have to see a proposal and we would have to consider that.

So this is set to be a contentious issue: while economic development of the north has bipartisan support at a federal, state and local government level, a number of locals and environmental groups have said they will challenge any plans to reopen uranium mines and exports from Queensland.

The big question for Queensland residents to consider now is whether the return of uranium mining to the state will be worth the wait for the uranium price to recover, given the risks attached to transporting the mineral through populated and environmentally-sensitive areas.

Return of the beautiful giant cuttlefish – with no desalination plant it might survive

May 21, 2014

Here is some good news.   Note that if BHP Billiton’s plans had gone ahead – for the world’s biggest man made hole at Olympic Dam uranium mine– well, this news might not have been possible.  BHP’s grandiose plan involving building a desalination plant at Mount Lowly. That would have altered the delicate balance of salinity and fresh water in upper Spencer Gulf  – a balance that is essential for the embryo cuttlefish to survive.

Australia would have lost a unique and beautiful  animal – one as special as the koala, kangaroo, platypus –  –  a gain for the uranium industry, a loss for the tourist industry, and for Australia’s ecology.


Giant Australian cuttlefish swarm back to SA Spencer Gulf breeding site ABC News, 21 May 14, Hundreds of giant Australian cuttlefish have swum into breeding grounds at the top of Spencer Gulf in South Australia, reversing a worrying decline of recent years.

The population had been dwindling and local diver Tony Bramley says he had not been expecting to see any this season, based on that trend.

He says it has been warmer-than-usual weather for the start of the breeding season and more cuttlefish might arrive as temperatures drop.

Mr Bramley says he does not know where the cuttlefish have travelled from as there has been no sign of many gathering offshore in recent weeks…….

Rio Tinto profited from Ranger uranium mine, but its radioactive pollution “not Rio’s problem”

May 9, 2014

responsibilityRio Tinto dismisses Ranger rehab funding concerns as “hypothetical” Mining Australia, 8 May, 2014  Rio Tinto has stated that concerns about the funding for rehabilitation of the Northern Territory Ranger mine site are hypothetical, and remain the concerns of the ERA board of directors.

CEO Sam Walsh once again shrugged off suggestions that Rio Tinto, as 68 per cent shareholder in ERA, is responsible as the parent company for any of ERAs financial shortcomings in regard to rehabilitation and clean-up at the Ranger uranium mine…….David Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Federation, in his question to Sam Walsh and the Rio Tinto board of executives, suggested that because ERA reports to RioTinto’s energy division, it will be “closely watched and long judged on its actions regarding ERA”……..

“I thought his response was very partial and legalistic,” Sweeney said.

“Clearly Energy Resources Australia is a separate legal entity to Rio Tinto, but Rio provides the mining instructions, they provide the management, the CEO of ERA is appointed by Rio and is always a Rio person, Rio’s energy division manages ERA.

“It is absolutely a Rio Tinto subsidiary, it is a Rio Tinto child, and it concerns us greatly now that, when it’s coming to the pointy end of what will be a costly and complex rehabilitation exercise, ERA is saying they don’t have the funding capacity and Rio Tinto is saying they don’t have the responsibility.

“Just this week, Rio bailed ERA out of a problem caused by the suspension of mineral processing, by saying that they will pool Australian and Namibian uranium through the Rio Tinto marketing authority.”……

Shareholder concerns at Rio Tinto’s AGM – uranium miners’ cancers, pollution in Kakadu National Park

May 9, 2014

Uranium mine leaks dominate Rio AGM RIO Tinto’s uranium operations are contributing nothing to its profits – but they dominated its annual general meeting. 8 May 14,  Anti-nuclear activists had plenty of ammunition after two toxic, radioactive spills in a week at its two uranium mines shortly before Christmas.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney accused the board of shirking its responsibilities by refusing to guarantee that it would fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine site.

The site is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, was shut down after December’s spill and is operated by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), which Rio owns 68 per cent of.

“I would urge you to commit to Rio Tinto addressing its full financial and other responsibilities for its subsidiary,” Mr Sweeney said at the AGM in Melbourne.”You share common uranium marketing with ERA, you direct ERA and ERA reports to Rio Tinto’s energy division.”

Rio’s chief executive Sam Walsh told the AGM ERA was a public company controlled by an independent board that would decide how to rehabilitate the area.

As the major shareholder, Rio would play its part and he insisted there had been no overflows of leaked material into rivers.

The company was also presented with a letter from a community group representing people connected to Rio’s Rossing uranium mine in Namibia. It stated that higher than normal rates of cancers had been detected in past and present workers there going back to the 1970s and called for an epidemiological study.

Mr Walsh said he took the claims seriously and would order an independent review, but that there was no medical evidence of any issues.

Unions and workers from Rio’s Hunter Valley coal mines in NSW also accused the company of shoddy industrial practices and safety standards. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union vice president Wayne McAndrew said Rio was the worst industry offender for relying on casuals and contractors, which led to slipping safety standards. Mr Walsh said he cared deeply that three people were killed at Rio’s operations last year.

Uranium mining an ill advised investment for Queensland

May 2, 2014

bull-uncertain-uraniumUranium debate heats up in Mount Isa  Queensland labour senator Jan McLucas says the state’s uranium deposits are too small to warrant developing the industry ABC Rural  By Virginia Tapp, 1 May 14

 “These mines at Valhalla and Westmoreland are not huge deposits, they will not employ large numbers of people like Mount Isa, Cloncurry and Century have done.

“These are small mines and I don’t think they are the answer to the question of employment in the Mount Isa region.”…….Senator McLucas also claims there is not enough information about managing uranium mines in areas that experience intermittent periods of very high rain fall and flooding.

She says parts of the abandoned Mary Kathleen uranium mine, situation between Mount Isa and Cloncurry, are still radioactive.


“The residents of Mount Isa are still living with the results of that mine and the inadequate capping of the spoil and the contamination of the land that even graziers today won’t go near.”…….

[Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection joint statement] ……”We are still assessing the condition of the Mary Kathleen site and looking at whether it could be mined again in the future.

“Contamination issues at the site may not have been properly addressed in the past.”…..

Polluting, premature, and under investigation – Western Australia’s Toro uranium mining projects

April 15, 2014

Toro uranium expansion plan: premature and polluting    | April 7, 2014 Western Australia’s peak environmental group has condemned a move by uranium mining hopeful Toro Energy to expand their unrealised Wiluna mine plan into a much larger uranium mining precinct spanning 100km and two ecologically sensitive lake systems in the East Murchison region.

The state EPA has released details of the expansion plan while the company is under investigation by the Australian Securities Exchange for a second time over claims they have released misleading information to shareholders and the market. (See background below).

“Toro have never successfully mined anything before and have a long way to go to get their original single-mine project approved – let alone any new expansion,” said CCWA Nuclear Free campaigner, Mia Pepper.

“Contrary to their statements to shareholders, the company needs to complete additional environmental management , mine closure, tailings management and transport plans for assessment before any mining can commence at the Wiluna site.”

The company has struggled to find investors and currently needs $300 million in start-up costs and a further $300 million in upfront bonds.

“This new plan to attract investors is likely to draw further scrutiny from both regulators and the wider community who will be looking at the cumulative impacts of a regional uranium precinct covering 100km and two arid zone Lake Systems.”

“Toro plans to double its water consumption and store radioactive mine waste from several mine sites in a Lake bed. This idea lacks credibility and the company lacks capacity, experience and financial backing.”

Toro’s new plan involves four deposits over one hundred kilometres – Lake Way, Centipede, Millipede and Lake Maitland, with the company’s long term plans including mining an additional three deposits Nowthanna, Dawson Hinkler and Firestrike – covering a hundred kilometres in the other direction.

Also in the region is WA’s largest uranium deposit – Yeelirrie, which is now owned by Cameco. Traditional Owners have consistently opposed this project for forty years.

CCWA is partnering with a range of public health, union and faith groups to call for a public inquiry into the Toro mine plan.

ASX investigation

The Mineral Policy Institute and the Conservation Council of WA received formal notification that the Australian Securities Exchange is investigating Toro Energy for the second time over the release of potentially misleading information.

On Friday 21st February 2014 Toro energy released an ASX announcement about the referral of two newly acquired uranium deposits to the West Australian EPA, stating:

“Toro already has the necessary approvals from both the Western Australian and Federal Governments to establish a processing facility at Centipede and commence mining Wiluna’s Centipede and Lake Way deposits.”- Toro ASX release.

Whilst Toro would dearly love this to be the case, it simply is not. As part of the 35 conditions made on the federal environmental approval for the Wiluna uranium project Toro must submit a complete Environmental Management Plan which includes management plans for groundwater, surface water, mine closure, rehabilitation, Aboriginal heritage and more. These must be submitted to and approved by the Federal Environment Minister before any works, land clearing or construction can begin at the site.

The conditional approval granted in April, 2013 by then federal environment Minister Tony Burke   explicitly states that until these management plans are submitted, assessed and approved by the Federal Minister Toro cannot carry out any “preparatory works undertaken as part of the action including clearing of vegetation and use of heavy equipment for breaking ground for mining and infrastructure”.

This conditional federal environmental approval explicitly precludes Toro from doing any preparatory works let alone permitting it to ‘establish a processing facility’ or ‘commence mining.’

EPA review

On the 24th of February Toro Energy referred two additional deposits as an extension to the Wiluna uranium proposal. The deposits are known as Millipede and Lake Maitland.

The new proposal includes plans to mine uranium ore from Lake Maitland and Millipede and to process and store the radioactive mine waste in the Lake bed of Lake Way.

On 25th March 2014 the WA EPA made the Toro Wiluna uranium expansion project open for public review. This comment period is happening whilst the project proponent is the subject of an active ASX investigation.

Wiluna community response

The Central Desert Native Title service released a statement on the Wiluna Martu response to the uranium project. It is interesting to note some comments within the release:

“The Wiluna Martu People’s previous experience with uranium exploration in the Wiluna region has left them with serious and genuine concerns about the health effects of radiation. It also raised questions for the about the government’s capacity to properly regulate uranium exploration and mining on their traditional lands.”

“The issue of uranium mining is not something that Martu have invited. Rather under the current policy and state regulatory environment it is something they are forced to confront in order to ensure that their traditional lands and their people are sufficiently recognised and protected.”

The statement goes on to say:

“The Senior Lawmen acknowledge that there are divergent views about uranium mining within the wider Martu community and these divergent views have to be accommodated in this negotiation.”

Toro is experiencing significant and sustained financial and capacity constraints in relation to the Wiluna project and it is welcome that the company’s public representation of its project approval status is again the focus of public, market and regulatory scrutiny and attention.

Kintyre uranium project – pollution threat to Western Australia’s biggest national park

November 8, 2013

WA’s biggest national park faces uranium threat  National and state environment groups have vowed to fight plans for a uranium mine that would directly threaten Western Australia’s largest national park.   The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Conservation Council of WA will join groups across the nation to challenge plans by the Canadian multinational Cameco, which today lodged an Environmental Review Management Plan for the Kintyre uranium mine at Karlamilyi National Park (Rudall River) with the WA Environment Protection Agency.

“Kintyre is in one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the country and is directly connected to WA’s largest national park,” said ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The proposal to mine at Kintyre has been actively contested since the 1980s and will continue to be a priority issue for the environment movement given the high conservation values of the area and the unique risks of uranium mining.

“Many things have changed since the first proposal to mine Kintyre, including a severe and sustained slump in the uranium price and increased pressure on nuclear power from the growth in renewable energy and concerns fuelled by the continuing Fukushima crisis.“This is not the time – and certainly not the place – to give a green light to yellowcake.”

The Kintyre uranium deposit is nestled between two branches of Yanadagodge Creek which feeds springs and lake systems throughout the Karlamilyi National Park and the communities of Punmu and Parngurr.  Radioactive contamination of water sources is already an issue in the area with elevated uranium levels found in Parngurr’s (Cotton Creek) drinking water.

“We will use every available avenue to challenge this dangerous proposal,” said CCWA campaigner Mia Pepper. “Cameco’s plan for a 1km wide, 1.5km long open pit only 500 metres from the Yanadagodge Creek could have devastating impacts on this fragile desert ecosystem.”

“Uranium poses unacceptable and unnecessary risks to the environment and public health. Cameco’s plan is a long way from being economically viable or environmentally approved.”

Cameco’s plan will be open for public comment for fourteen weeks.

Contact: Dave Sweeney 0408 317 812 or Mia Pepper 0415 380 808

Nuclear/uranium and other environmental issues will stay under national government laws

October 1, 2013
Commonwealth will keep environmental power over state projects ,The Conversation, 30 September 2013,  The Commonwealth will not delegate to the states decisions under its national environmental laws in which the states have a “conflict of interest”. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirmed this significant commitment in an interview on ABC radio last Thursday.

The Coalition’s pre-election Policy for Resources and Energy promised to deliver a “one-stop-shop” for environmental approvals. The policy read like a complete handover of all Commonwealth decisions to the states.

But the Minister qualified the Coalition’s policy before the election when he was the Coalition’s environment spokesperson. He said in an interview reported in theWeekend Australian in May 2013 that: “some matters would be reserved where the Commonwealth would be the one-stop-shop but overwhelmingly it would be the states.”

In his recent radio interview, the Minister confirmed that the Commonwealth will retain control over decisions involving offshore Commonwealth waters, nuclear actions, and projects for which state governments are “likely to have a significant conflict of interest” as the proponent.

This alleviates the most significant concern about the one-stop-shop policy: where the state is the proponent they’ll have difficulty making an independent assessment…….

Complications of water trigger

The new water trigger created under the EPBC Act also complicates the one-stop-shop policy. Now-retired MP, Tony Windsor, who championed the trigger, managed to include alegislative prohibition on it being delegated to state governments.

Just how big a complication this creates is evident in Greg Hunt’s recent announcement that 47 coal seam gas and mining projects currently being assessed will need to consider the water trigger. All in all, the “one-stop-shop” policy looks like creating the patchwork regulatory regime that the Gillard Government ultimately decided not to pursue.

Mary Kathleen uranium mine- the radioactive poison lingers on

June 12, 2013

Remediation efforts continue at abandoned uranium mine  Australian Mining, 11 June, 2013 Vicky Validakis Queensland officials inspected the abandoned uranium mine at Mary Kathleen last week, as part of an ongoing assessment of the site’s remediation status.

Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps announced last year, the government would assess opportunities for mining at the site, which contains millions of tonnes of ore tailings.……. A spokesperson for the minister said the inspection was not connected to an assessment of opportunities for future mining at the site.

The Mary Kathleen mine is under a Restricted Area 232 status, meaning exploration and production are both prohibited.

“Remediation and environmental management issues are critical factors for the Queensland Government to address prior to any future consideration about whether or not to release land from Restricted Area 232,” Cripps said.

Cripps said Abandoned Mine Lands program officers from the Department and the Geological Survey of Queensland would undertake field assessments later this month, including drilling at the tailings dam.

“This work will enable the Department to gain a better understanding of the current condition of the abandoned mine,” he said.

The Greens North Queensland spokesperson Jenny Stirling, said “toxic” tailings at the mine meant that uranium mining had made the site useless for other purposes.

“They are looking to mine rare earth and, if they had the good sense that God gave them, they would know that they would have to deal with the toxic tailings of uranium mining at Mount Kathleen,” Sterling said.

“It’s just a highly problematic situation.”