History of mining in the Alligator Rivers Region

The Alligator Rivers Region of northern Australia is a geologically unique and highly prospective area for minerals. There are records of gold mining at Mundongie Hill and Temelba as early as the 1920s as well as lead, silver, zinc and copper mining at Zamu Creek in the mid 1940s. Uranium exploration in Australia commenced in 1944 at the request of the United States and United Kingdom Governments.

The uranium deposits of the South Alligator Valley were first discovered in 1953 when the Coronation Hill site was identified. In the seven years following, more than 20 potential uranium deposits were found, of which thirteen were exploited between 1959 and 1965. The total production for this field was approximately 840 tonnes of U308. There were no formal environmental regulations throughout this period and mining legislation was essentially concerned with the tenure of the leases and some aspects of mine safety. In addition, there was no requirement for complete rehabilitation of any of these sites and they were generally just abandoned, including a small mill and solvent extraction plant, contaminated process ponds, roads and tracks as well as open cut mines and mineshafts.

Modern operations

The 1960s brought a renewed demand for uranium for nuclear generated electricity and exploration activity rose sharply. Uranium exploration recommenced in the Alligator Rivers Region in the mid 1960s and four major deposits were identified. These were Ranger in 1969, Nabarlek and Koongarra in 1970, Jabiluka orebody 1 in 1971 and Jabiluka orebody 2 in 1973. Whilst work to develop all four sites began soon after their discovery, only Ranger and Nabarlek have become operational to date. Initial development at Jabiluka ceased in September 1999 when the site was placed in an environmental management and standby mode, and negotiations over the Koongarra project are ongoing.