Supervising Scientist Division
Supervising Scientist Division
The Supervising Scientist is a statutory office under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, and is assisted by the department’s Supervising Scientist Division in carrying out responsibilities for supervising uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region (which includes Kakadu National Park). The Supervising Scientist works closely with the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and the Northern Territory Department of Resources.
The Supervising Scientist
The department has specific roles and responsibilities under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 to protect the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region from the potential impacts of uranium mining. The roles and responsibilities include environmental monitoring, supervision and research on the impact of uranium mining.
The Alligator Rivers Region, some 220 kilometres east of Darwin, contains a number of former, current and potential uranium mines, including:
- Ranger, which is currently in operation
- Nabarlek, where mining has ceased and rehabilitation is underway
- Jabiluka, which has been in long-term care and maintenance since December 2003
- The Koongarra Project Area, which was incorporated into the surrounding Kakadu National Park World Heritage Area by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in June 2011.
These four sites are not part of Kakadu National Park, although Koongarra is in the process of being incorporated. However, a number of small former uranium deposits that were mined during the 1950s and 1960s are located in what is now the southern portion of Kakadu National Park.
To achieve its objectives, the Supervising Scientist Division:
- plays a key role in supervising the environmental aspects of regulatory arrangements applying to uranium mining within the region
- works closely with the Northern Territory Government’s regulatory body and other stakeholders to ensure that regulatory decisions are based on the best available scientific knowledge and that they accord with the environmental requirements for the Australian Government approvals for the mining activities
- regularly audits and inspects existing and former uranium mine sites within the region
- undertakes detailed, independent, scientific investigations into incidents, breaches of approval conditions and environmental requirements of uranium mining operations
- oversees the regulation of uranium mining in the region to ensure that the government and community can be confident that regulation is meeting expected standards
- undertakes an ongoing independent, comprehensive, chemical, biological and radiological monitoring program designed to detect any potential effects of uranium mining in the region (see case study 5)
- undertakes targeted scientific research to optimise the monitoring programs and to provide early warning of any potential effects of uranium mining on the environment of the region.
Map of the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory.
During the 2010–11 wet season, the maximum total uranium concentration measured downstream from the Ranger mine was 1.01 micrograms per litre, a value consistent with the relative filterable uranium concentration results from previous years. This value is approximately 17 per cent of the local ecotoxicologically-derived limit of six micrograms per litre, and approximately five per cent of the 20 micrograms per litre guideline for drinking water.
During 2010–11 the Supervising Scientist Division continued to conduct research, monitoring, supervision and audit activities. Following trials, further research and statistical testing of the continuous monitoring program over the previous five wet seasons from 2005–06 to 2009–10, SSD successfully implemented continuous monitoring of Magela Creek as the mainstay of its monitoring program during the 2010–11 wet season. This, combined with the refinement over the last few years to the in situ biological monitoring program, has provided stakeholders with a greater level of information about potential mine site impacts on the surrounding aquatic environment. The continuous monitoring program has been particularly well received by stakeholders, and as a subsequent outcome the mining company ERA has instigated a similar program within Magela Creek.
The 2010–11 wet season was one of the wettest on record. As a result, process water storage on-site at Ranger approached maximum operating levels. The mining company ERA then halted processing to ensure that engineering freeboards were not compromised in the Tailings Storage Facility. Processing resumed in June 2011.
All findings to date indicate that the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region remains protected from the impacts of uranium mining. Detailed performance results are provided in the Supervising Scientist’s annual report on the operation of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978.Back to top