eriss research summary 2006-2007

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008

Supervising Scientist Report 196
Jones DR, Humphrey C, van Dam R & Webb A (eds)
ISSN 1325-1554
ISBN-10: 978-1-921069-07-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-921069-07-9


The Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (eriss) is part of the Supervising Scientist Division (SSD) of the Australian Government's Department of Environment and Water Resources. eriss provides specialist technical advice to the Supervising Scientist, and conducts research into:

  • the impact of uranium mining on the environment and people of the Alligator Rivers Region, and
  • on the protection and management of tropical rivers and their associated wetlands.

The objective of the mining-related research is to develop best practice methodologies for the monitoring of impact, for the development of management guidelines to protect the environment during the operational phase of mine life, and for the development of closure criteria for the decommissioning and rehabilitation phase of mine life. eriss also applies its expertise to carrying out of a limited program of contract research on the impacts of mining elsewhere in the northern tropics.

A significant program of work is also conducted on northern tropical rivers, with the Tropical Rivers Inventory Assessment Project (TRIAP) being the current focus of this activity. This four-year research program started in 2004 and is funded by the Natural Heritage Trust II and Land and Water Australia. The project is managed by eriss with collaborators from the University of Western Australia and James Cook University of North Queensland.

This report documents research projects undertaken by eriss over the 2006-07 financial year. The final section contains a summary of the non-uranium mining related external projects. Commercial-in-confidence projects have been excluded from this compilation. For additional information, readers are referred to the annual publications list (Appendix 1) that details all of the material published, and conference and workshop papers presented by eriss staff in 2006-07.

The balance and strategic prioritisation of work within the uranium component of eriss's project portfolio is defined by Key Knowledge Needs (KKNs) originally developed in 2004 by consultation between the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC - see ARRTC membership and function in Appendix 2), the Supervising Scientist, Energy Resources of Australia and other stakeholders. The KKNs comprise six thematic areas based primarily on geographic provenance (Appendix 3). The content of the research programs developed for each of these areas is assessed and reviewed annually by ARRTC in consultation with stakeholder groups. eriss contributes to the addressing of the KKNs by applying its expertise in the following science fields:

  • Ecotoxicology
  • Environmental radioactivity
  • Hydrological and geomorphic processes Monitoring and ecosystem protection
  • Biophysical pathways and ecological risk assessment
  • Aquatic chemistry

Not all of the KKN research areas are able to be covered by eriss, since not all of the required disciplines are available within the Institute. To address these gaps, collaborative projects are initiated with researchers from other organisations. KKN projects related to the detailed hydrogeology or tailings management on the Ranger lease are conducted and reported separately by consultants engaged by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd.

Communication between research providers is addressed by stakeholder presentations and interactions at ARRTC meetings, as well as by conduct of formal multi-stakeholder workshops, and presentations at conferences and workshops. Communication with local Indigenous people and other regional stakeholders is an integral part of the project approvals and reporting processes. A dedicated officer for Indigenous Communications is stationed at the Jabiru field station for this purpose.

The following assumptions provided the context for the planning and design of the 2006-07 research program:

  • Mining of uranium at Ranger is expected to cease in about 2008. This will be followed by milling until about 2020 and rehabilitation is expected to be largely completed by about 2026.
  • The Nabarlek site has not reached a condition where the NT Government will agree to issue a Revegetation Certificate to the mine operator. Assessment of the success of rehabilitation at Nabarlek is ongoing and this site is being used as an analogue for future rehabilitation at Ranger.
  • Jabiluka will remain in a care and maintenance condition for some years, at least until mining ceases at Ranger.
  • SSD will provide ongoing assistance to Parks Australia on matters relating to the assessment and rehabilitation of the cluster of small abandoned historic uranium mines in the South Alligator River Valley.

A review of the KKN framework was initiated by ARRTC at its 18th meeting in October 2006, recognising that since the original set of KKNs was formulated in 2004, the operational life of the site has been extended from about 2010 to 2020. It is envisaged that this review, and approval of an updated set of KKNs, will be not be completed until the middle of the 2007-08 financial year. Until this time reporting of research project outcomes will continue to be against the KKNs listed in Appendix 3.

This report has been structured under five main headings, consistent with the KKN framework:

  1. Ranger - Current Operations
  2. Ranger - Rehabilitation
  3. Jabiluka
  4. Nabarlek
  5. General Alligators Rivers Region

Three maps (following this Preface) provide the regional context for the locations that are referenced in the research papers. Map 1 shows Kakadu National Park and the locations of the Ranger Mine, Jabiluka project area, the decommissioned Nabarlek Mine, and the South Alligator River Valley. A schematic of the Ranger mine site is provided for reference in Map 2. Map 3 shows the locations of billabongs and waterbodies used for the aquatic ecosystem monitoring and research programs for assessing impacts from the Ranger Mine.

The final section of this report contains a summary of the non-uranium mining related external projects carried out in 2006-07.

Dr DR Jones
Director, Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist