Last update:
2019-12-09

Uranium mining in Kakadu National Park, Australia

The injustice of uranium mining in Kakadu National Park is not the only one in Australia against aboriginal communities. By 2019, the Ranger uranium mine is facing enormous rehabilitation costs.



Description:

There are three operating uranium mines in Australia -Ranger in Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory; Olympic Dam in South Australia; and Beverley with Four Mile in South Australia.  Ranger is situated within the perimeter of the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park (Kakadu).  Kakadu has two other rich uranium deposits yet to be developed - Jabiluka and Koongarra.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Uranium mining in Kakadu National Park, Australia
Country:Australia
State or province:Northern Territory
Location of conflict:Kakadu National Park
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Uranium extraction
Specific commodities:Uranium
Pine
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Australia's uranium reserves are the world's largest, with 23% of the total. Production and exports average about 10,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (8500 tU) per year. Of these, the Kakadu deposit at Ranger's reserves was estimated at 110,000 tonnes of 0.3% uranium oxide (‘yellowcake’). 45,000 tonnes contracted production 1982–1996 (32,500 tonnes to Germany and Japan) = open cut mining 3000 tonnes pa (MAUM 1084, p.5). The mine of 83km2 near Arnham Land Aboriginal Reserve, Magela Creek and stunning sandstone escarpment Mt Brockman along with Aboriginal sacred sites. Natural erosion of Mt Brockman was already being hastened by acid fumes and radioactive dust by mid 1980s (MAUM 1984, p.5). Monsoonal rains always tested containment of the tailings. Mid-1982 breaches of sulphur dioxide emissions. August 1984 two workers fell under a yellowcake spill exposure heightened as respirators lost. September 1983 workers went on strike complaining that the company didn’t care about their health, failing to provide safe working conditions, that drinking water being contaminated by tailings effluent and working in high levels of radioactive dust. (MAUM 1984, p.5).

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Project area:15,200
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3,000 (Dept of the Senate, 1997)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills, Air pollution, Soil erosion
Potential: Global warming, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsOver 200 spills, leaks and breaches of licence conditions have occurred in the four decades of the mine's existence.
In 2013, a major accident at Ranger resulted in the spilling of over one million litres of radioactive liquid. The mine of 83km2 near Arnham Land Aboriginal Reserve, Magela Creek and stunning sandstone escarpment Mt Brockman along with Aboriginal sacred sites. Natural erosion of Mt Brockman was already being hastened by acid fumes and radioactive dust by mid 1980s (MAUM 1984, p.5). Monsoonal rains always tested containment of the tailing. Mid-1982 breaches of sulphur dioxide emissions.
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Accidents
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Malnutrition
Other Health impactsAugust 1984 two workers fell under a yellowcake spill, exposure heightened as respirators lost. September 1983 workers went on strike complaining that the company didn’t care about their health, failing to provide safe working conditions, that drinking water being contaminated by tailing effluent and working in high levels of radioactive dust. (MAUM 1984, p.5). Possible long-term health impact from exposure to hazards from the mine - eg low-level radiation exposure from the spread of contaminants from spills, leaks and accidents.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women
Other socio-economic impactsNo recognition of the spiritual connection of Indigenous community to their land and natural environment
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Migration/displacement
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Project temporarily suspended
The lower price for uranium post the Fukushima disaster has helped stalled the projects and makes it difficult to proceed to the rehabilitation.
Proposal and development of alternatives:Keep Kakadu National Park intact and free from uranium mining. Kakadu is a sacred ground for Mirrar people and a popular World Heritage Site for visitors that bring in income for local communities and the Northern Territory. Keeping a World Heritage site intact and healthy put Australia in a positive light, unlike the controversial uranium mining activity.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Ranger
All mining and processing at Ranger must conclude by January 2021. Rio Tinto and ERA then have a five year period in which they are required to rehabilitate the site to a standard such that it could be incorporated into the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. It is of the very highest priority for the Mirarr that rehabilitation is undertaken comprehensively and in a way that ensures the Mirarr and the Kakadu region are not left with the toxic legacy that Toby Gangale predicted when he said no to Ranger over four decades ago.
Jabiluka
To date the Jabiluka uranium deposit has not been mined. Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has rehabilitated the site in consultation with the Mirarr.
In 2005 the Mirarr and ERA (now owned by Rio Tinto) entered into an agreement that quarantined the Jabiluka dispute by stating that mining may only proceed with the written consent of the Mirarr Traditional Owners. In doing so, Rio Tinto has given meaningful effect to policies of corporate social responsibility especially with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Koongarra
In February 2013 Koongarra was finally included into the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. The area is now permanently protected from uranium mining and included within the National Park, due to the determination and dedication of Jeffrey Lee, the senior Traditional Owner of the Djok clan, who fought for decades to keep Koongarra away from uranium mining.
Sources & Materials

Journey of Jeffrey Lee, Elder of the Djok Clan in getting the Koongarra uranium deposit permanently listed as a part of the protected area of the Kakadu National Park.
[click to view]

Australian Uranium Association, the advocacy body that represents the uranium industry exclusively
[click to view]

Geoscience Australia webpage on uranium deposits and outlook
[click to view]

World Uranium Association - Industry organisation linked to Australian Uranium Association
[click to view]

(1) Overview of the status and issues related to the three uranium deposits in Kakadu National Park in the eyes of the FIrst Nation Mirrar Traditional Owners of the land.
[click to view]

(2) MAY 7, 2019. The uranium mine in the heart of Kakadu needs a better cleanup plan, by Rebecca Lawrence, The Conversation
[click to view]

(2)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The struggle of the First Nation people of Kakadu National Park against uranium mining. It shows how the Australian Federal Government overrode the human rights of Kakadu's Traditional Owners in order to impose a toxic industry in a World Heritage Area.
[click to view]

Wisdom of an elder, Jeffrey Lee and his determination that has triumphed against uranium mining of the Koongarra deposit in the Kakadu National Park
[click to view]

Dirt Cheap 30 years on - on the struggle of Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Toby Gangale - who opposed plans for uranium exploration and mining on his country in the 1970s and the ongoing uranium mining conflicts in Kakadu
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Lee Tan, Australian Environmental justice (AEJ) project
Last update09/12/2019
Conflict ID:4027
Comments
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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