Supervising Scientist Division

Supervising Scientist Annual Report 2003 - 2004: Environmental assessments of uranium mines

Supervising Scientist, Darwin, 2004
ISBN 0 642 24391 3
ISSN 0 158-4030

2 - Environmental assessments of uranium mines

2.1 Supervision processes

The processes used by the Supervising Scientist to supervise uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers Region may be broadly categorised as: participating in Northern Territory regulatory processes, and audit and inspection. The outcomes of these activities are considered by the Supervising Scientist together with environmental monitoring data and other information to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness of environmental management at uranium mining sites.

2.1.1 Minesite Technical Committees

Minesite Technical Committees (MTCs) have been established for Ranger, Jabiluka and Nabarlek. MTCs provide an effective forum for stakeholders, including the Supervising Scientist, to discuss technical environmental management issues, especially in connection with the assessment of applications and reports submitted by mining companies for approval under Northern Territory legislation. Each MTC is made up of representatives from the Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD), which provides the Chair for the MTC, the Supervising Scientist, the Northern Land Council and the relevant mining company. Other organisations or experts may be co-opted from time to time as required to assist MTC members. The summary record of each MTC meeting held in 2003-04 was provided to the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory for information.

2.1.2 Audits and inspections

The Supervising Scientist, in consultation with the applicable MTCs, has developed and implemented a programme of monthly inspections and bi-annual environmental audits at Ranger and Jabiluka.

Nabarlek is currently treated separately with an annual Environmental Performance Review (EPR). This involves a site inspection in the early dry season to appraise site condition and assess any possible remediation works that might be required. The follow-up site inspection in November is accompanied by a formal interview using a questionnaire. After July 2003 the programme at Nabarlek changed. Nabarlek now has a Mining Management Plan (MMP) in place to comply with the Northern Territory Mining Management Act 2001 and, in future, compliance against the MMP will be audited. This first occurred in November 2003.

The Routine Periodic Inspection (RPI) programme is intended to provide a snapshot of environmental management for that month as well as an opportunity for the inspection team to discuss environmental management issues with ERA staff on site. These discussions include any unplanned events or reportable incidents and any associated follow-up actions. The inspection team consists of representation from oss, DBIRD and NLC.

Environmental Audits are carried out at Ranger and Jabiluka by a team of qualified audit staff from oss, DBIRD and the NLC. The audits are undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the ISO 14001 and ISO 19011 standards. The programme of audits is designed to cover all major aspects of environmental management at ERA facilities over a three year cycle. The Annual Environmental Audit occurs in April or May to assess each site under end-of-wet season conditions as well as allowing enough time for the audit report to be completed and tabled at the mid-year meeting of the Alligator Rivers Region Advisory Committee (ARRAC).

A follow-up review of the audit is undertaken in November each year, and the outcomes reported to the December meeting of ARRAC.

The audit outcomes are described later in this Annual report.

2.1.3 Assessment of reports, plans and applications

The General Authorisations for the Ranger mine and the Jabiluka project are issued under the Northern Territory Mining Management Act 2001 and are essentially the same as those operating under the previous Uranium Mining (Environmental Control) Act 1979. The Act provides for alterations to the Authorisation to be issued by the Northern Territory Government. The Authorisation requires that ERA seek approval for certain activities from the Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development (DBIRD). Depending upon the nature of the application, approvals may only be issued after referral to oss and the NLC for comment. This is the primary mechanism whereby the Supervising Scientist participates in the regulatory processes of the Northern Territory Government regulators.

The main reports and plans that were assessed by the Supervising Scientist during 2003-04 included: