BHP has gone cold on uranium mining at Olympic Dam

December 29, 2013

Where Olympic Dam is concerned, it’s the outlook for the main commodity—uranium—rather than potential investors that it mostly dislikes.

BHP Warms to Partnerships, But Olympic Dam Remains in the Cold WSJ 10 Dec 13BHP Billiton Ltd. wants to share the love to get its $10 billion Jansen potash project in Canada off the ground. But the world’s biggest mining company is being a determined single when it comes to another costly development: Australia’s Olympic Dam…….

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.

“We like partnerships,” Mr Mackenzie told U.S. investors. Where Olympic Dam is concerned, it’s the outlook for the main commodity—uranium—rather than potential investors that it mostly dislikes.

Two disastrous radioactive spills at Rio Tinto owned mines

December 29, 2013

Australian Greens spokesperson on Nuclear issues, Senator Scott Ludlam. 10 December 2013.

In a bizarre and troubling development, Rio Tinto’s Rossing Uranium Mine in Namibia has suffered a disastrous acid spill identical in nature to that which closed the company’s Ranger mine in Kakadu on the weekend.

Breaking reports in local media indicate that within three days of the Kakadu collapse, Rio’s Namibian operation suffered a catastrophic failure which put workers and the surrounding environment at risk.

“In addition to the toxic catastrophic at Ranger uranium mine – the latest in over 200 spills, leaks and licence breaches within the Kakadu National Park precinct – Rio is also dealing with “structural failure” of a leach tank at their processing plant in Namibia,” said Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam today.

“Rössing opened in 1976, Ranger in 1981 – both of these mines are ageing and failing.

“Rio is now on the world’s radioactive radar – both in Namibia where worker and environmental safety standards are much lower than at Ranger.

“But it’s not only engineering structural failure in leach tanks. This industry is tanking economically and it’s time to shut it down and clean up these toxic blots on the landscape before they do more damage.

“Australia is blessed with perfect conditions for renewable energy generation, particularly solar, which is clean, safe and doesn’t risk contamination of workers and the environment. The future is renewable not radioactive,” Senator Ludlam concluded.

For further information on the spill in Namibia:…

Scrutiny on Ranger uranium mine’ safety

December 29, 2013

NT uranium mine suspended after radioactive leak SMH, 10 Dec 13,The federal government has suspended operations at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory, after a major leak of acid and radioactive slurry at the weekend.

The mine’s operator, Energy Resources of Australia, insists there has been no environmental impact from the million-litre spill, but this view is contested by local indigenous people and environment groups…….

On Friday, workers detected a hole in leach tank one within the mine’s processing area, which has a capacity of about 1.5 million litres.  The next day, the tank split, pouring out a slurry of mud, water, ore and sulphuric acid…….

The NT Environment Centre said it did not believe ERA when the company said there had been no environmental impacts.

”It’s clear there’s contaminated water from the burst tank on soil,” director Stuart Blanch said.

There have been more than 200 safety breaches and incidents over the past 30 years at the site, according to the centre, which says the slurry spill overflowed levee banks designed to contain it and got into the mine’s stormwater drain system.

The regional organiser of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Bryan Wilkins, said that during the construction and installation of the leaking tank, in 1993 or 1994, the welding was not properly tested. ”I know it wasn’t – I was there,” he said.

An investigation to determine what caused the tank to give way was being commissioned, ERA chief executive Andrea Sutton said…….


Fall in ERA’s share price

December 29, 2013

Rio’s ERA Drops After Australia Uranium Mine Spill: Sydney Mover Bloomberg, By James Paton  Dec 8, 2013 Rio Tinto Group’s Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. tumbled the most in almost two years in Sydney trading after an acid and ore spill at its Ranger uranium mine near world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

ERA (ERA)68.4 percent owned by London-based Rio, dropped 13 percent to A$1.135, the most since Feb. 1, 2012, while the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 0.8 percent…….

Greens Senator raises awkward questions about Ranger uranium minE

December 29, 2013

Australian Greens spokesperson on nuclear issues, Senator Scott Ludlam. 9 December 2013. Today in senate question time, Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam asked the Environment Minister’s representative about the massive spill of 1.4 million litres of radioactive acid at the Ranger Uranium Mine.

In response to the Government’s feeble and evasive answers, Senator Ludlam has submitted a detailed log of questions to Commonwealth environmental regulators and has called for the closure of the mine.

“The Minister representing the Environment Minister played down the events over the weekend and the on-going leakage and contamination problems at the Ranger mine.

“In fact this mine has an atrocious track record with more than 150 spills, leaks and license breaches since it opened in 1981. Just a few weeks ago a contaminated vehicle was somehow allowed out of the site.  In 2004 workers drank and showered in water laced with uranium. I revealed through Senate Estimates that water with uranium concentrations 5400 times background and a cocktail of other radionuclides are seeping from beneath the tailings dam at Ranger.

“This mine must halt operations until an independent assessment can be completed.  In addition, there should be there should be no handing over of federal powers to assess and approve uranium mining projects to state or Territory governments.

“ERA and its hapless regulators must now bring forward plans for the orderly closure of this mine, and entertain no further proposals for extending the life of this clapped out mine.”

Senator Ludlam’s Question Without Notice in Question Time today:

Senator Ludlam’s Question on Notice to the Environment Minister:

Aboriginal doubts about future of Northern Territory uranium mine

December 29, 2013

Major uranium leak endangers Kakadu – but played down Indymedia Australia, 9 Dec 13;Gerry Georgatos – courtesy of The Stringer - - A million litres of radioactive slurry has contaminated Kakadu National Park from a burst tank at Ranger uranium mine. It is a significant toxic accident but it has surprisingly generated relatively minimal news coverage. It took the local Traditional Owners to break the news to Australia.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) CEO, Justin O’Brien, said the Ranger mine and its surrounds may be closed for at least two months in order to contain the leak. The GAC represent the native title interests of the Mirarr peoples.
Mirarr Traditional Owners are disturbed by the contamination because it is the worst one yet. They have described it as the biggest “nuclear disaster in Australia ever.”
Rio Tinto owned Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) is backing another project at the site, Ranger 3 Deeps but this latest contamination breach is a setback. Energy Resources Australia had agreed to proceed only with the project if it had the consent of the Mirrar peoples. But Mr O’Brien told AAP, “Day by day, litre by litre, incident by incident, they’re losing whatever trust Traditional Owners have in them.” In light of the accident, Mr O’Brien said at this time as far as the Traditional Owners are concerned, the Ranger 3 Deeps project “is now off the table.”
The chairperson of the Aboriginal Elders led Western Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (WANFA) and co-chair of the Australian Anti-Nuclear Alliance, Kado Muir said that Australia is yet to learn from the Fukishima disaster. “The only safe place for uranium is to leave it in the ground. It has never been safe for anyone when we have mined it.”…….
This disaster just reinforces the fear in Aboriginal communities that there really is no second chance with uranium mining, and when the companies and Government fail in their duties to the environment, it is us, the Traditional Owners and the Australian people who are left holding the toxic legacy. We need a full public inquiry into the opening of new uranium mines across Australia and the people need to be assured that existing operators will clean up their act,” said Mr Muir……

According to South Australia’s Arabunna Elder, Kevin Buzzacott, the protest movement is growing and he said “we are standing in the way.” Mr Buzzacott is the president of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance and for decades he has campaigned against the uranium mining expansion at Olympic Dam on his Country. “They are drying up our Country, the water is going, it is impacting the environment, and one major disaster would render our Country useless. Kakadu should send shivers up the spines of all Australians but I do not understand why it has not made the television news. What has occurred in Kakadu is scary.”…….

Ranger mine is one of only three mines in the world to produce in excess of 110,000 tonnes of uranium oxide. Following the completion of mining in the operating Pit 3 at Ranger in 2012, ERA began the transition from open cut mining to underground exploration of the Ranger 3 Deeps mineral resource.

In 2010, millions of litres of radioactive water from the Ranger uranium mine flowed into Kakadu’s wetlands. The Traditional Owners opposed then plans for a huge expansion of the 30 year old mine by ERA. At the time, the ERA attempted to downplay a spike in contaminated water flowing from the Ranger to Kakadu’s Magela Creek between April 9 to 11. 40 Aboriginal people lived downstream from the site where a measure probe recorded up to five times the warning level of electrical conductivity – including uranium, sulphate and radium contaminants.

“As more of our people understand the death knell dangers of uranium mining we will then come together in greater numbers and we will close down Ranger and Olympic Dam,” said Mr Buzzacott.


ERA’s shares feel the pain after Ranger mine’s mishaps

December 29, 2013

t is unclear whether the [Rio Tinto]current leadership, which last month announced the closure of the loss-making Gove Alumina Refinery in the Northern Territory,  will continue to show such strong support for a struggling mine with so many environmental and indigenous issues.

ERA shares facing pressure over uranium leak, SMH, Peter Ker, December 9, 2013  Rio Tinto’s hopes of reviving its majority-owned Ranger uranium mine have been dealt another blow by the leak of toxic substances on Saturday….

… Shares in the Rio Tinto subsidiary that operates the mine – Energy Resources of Australia – are traded on the ASX and may come under pressure on Monday morning as federal and Northern Territory regulators conduct investigations.

Processing of uranium has been halted on site until the clean-up and testing can be completed and, with some fearing that halt could last weeks, the market will be keen to know if ERA will need to buy uranium on the market to ensure it can meet its supply contracts.

ERA shares have traded around $1.30 over the past five to six weeks and most of the value in the stock is attached to hopes of starting a new underground uranium mine beneath the Ranger pits, which ceased mining last year after more than three decades.

The underground development is still being explored and will face a heavy load of approvals before it is allowed to proceed. One of the most important approvals will be in the hands of the local Mirarr indigenous group, who expressed concern on Sunday.

”Accident by accident, incident by incident, the trust is diminished,” spokesman Justin O’Brien said……

Ranger is one of the three biggest uranium producers in history, but its decline into virtual recess could not have come at a more testing time for Rio Tinto, which is cutting back spending and trying to prune underperforming assets from its global portfolio.

Rio stumped up about $250 million in 2011 to help fund a three-year exploration campaign that is testing the viability of an underground mining future at Ranger.

That decision was made under the previous leadership at Rio and it is unclear whether the current leadership, which last month announced the closure of the loss-making Gove Alumina Refinery in the Northern Territory, will continue to show such strong support for a struggling mine with so many environmental and indigenous issues.:

Ranger uranium mine’s future under a cloud

December 29, 2013

Investigation as radioactive leak leaves Ranger uranium mine under a cloud SMH, Lucy Battersby and Peter Ker December 9, 2013 The future of Australia’s oldest uranium mine is under renewed scrutiny, after a tank holding more than a million litres of radioactive slurry burst at the weekend, sparking a federal investigation.

The accident prompted traditional land owners to describe the Ranger uranium mine as a ”hillbilly operation” with too little regulation. The mine has a history of safety breaches and unions have raised concerns about maintenance standards at the 33-year-old operation……

The Rio Tinto subsidiary in charge of the mine – Energy Resources of Australia – insisted the cocktail of radioactive uranium and industrial acids had not leaked into the neighbouring Kakadu park, but Environment Minister Greg Hunt declared the incident ”unacceptable” and called for an investigation…….

The Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Centre NT called for an immediate halt and no further expansion at Ranger. A protest at ERA’s Darwin offices was planned for Monday morning.

Uranium supplies at Ranger mine have nearly been exhausted, and ERA has been counting on a new underground expansion to keep the mine going. But it must get approval from the traditional owners of the area, the Mirarr people, for the expansion. The chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr, said people no longer felt safe living near Ranger mine.

”This is  nothing but a hillbilly operation, run by a hillbilly miner with hillbilly regulators,” Justin O’Brien said. ”Based on the woefully inadequate government response to the previous incident, we have no confidence that this will be taken seriously enough.”…..

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s Northern Territory organiser, Bryan Wilkins, called for a full independent inquiry into ERA’s maintenance program at the mine site.

”Obviously there has been a failure in their maintenance program and that has put the workers at that mine site at risk,” Mr Wilkins said.

People well acquainted with Ranger said the incident did not reflect well on maintenance standards at the mine, which should have ensured that the acids in the tank were not able to cause such significant amounts of corrosion to cause a leak.

Greens call to shut down Ranger mine permanently

December 29, 2013

Greens call for end of Ranger uranium mine operations after slurry spill ABC News 8 Dec 13 The Greens are calling for a permanent end to operations at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory after a radioactive spill at the site yesterday morning.

Ranger-uranium-mineA tank containing up to a million litres of uranium ore and acid split, damaging the crane that was trying to repair it and surrounding infrastructure at the mine near Kakadu National Park…..

West Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the mine should now be shut down for good.

“The company thinks that the way to save operations at Ranger is to go underground through the 3 Deeps projects,” he said.

“As far as the Greens are concerned the company should be as good as its word and close that facility when its lease runs out.

“I think this latest disaster doesn’t improve anyone’s confidence that the mine is capable of running for another 10 or 15 years.”

Senator Ludlam says there are a number of lessons to be learned from the incident, and has called for the Federal Government to reconsider giving more approval power over uranium mines to state and territory governments.

“I think some short-term lessons include the company disclosing how many other of these leach tanks there are, and whether they’re in the same condition as the one that burst,” he said.

“But in the longer term, this is a very strong sign for Environment Minister Greg Hunt that under no circumstances should he let regulation of the uranium sector go back to the states and territories.”….

“No” to uranium transport through Queensland Port

December 29, 2013

Anti-nuclear campaigner seeks port uranium assurances    An anti-nuclear campaigner is calling on the Queensland Government to rule out that uranium will be exported through the Port of Mackay.

Last year, the Newman Government reversed a long-standing ban on uranium mining in Queensland.

The port’s operator, North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP), said it could be used to transport associated mining equipment.

Mark Bailey from Keep Queensland Nuclear Free says he has serious concerns about the possibility of the resource being shipped through the reef.”I don’t think any of us want uranium on the Great Barrier Reef and we certainly don’t want our tourism industry affected by an incident like a grounding on the reef in bad weather with a uranium ship,” he said.

“This has happened before, you know Cameco had a ship that hit bad weather in the Pacific. If that happens on the reef, the publicity will be very bad.”

He says he wants assurances Abbot Point will not be used.

A spokesman for NQBP says there are no plans to export the commodity through the Port of Mackay at this stage.


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