Assessment of the Jabiluka Project: Report of the Supervising Scientist to the World Heritage Committee
Supervising Scientist Report 138
Johnston A & Prendergast B
Supervising Scientist, 1999
ISBN 0 642 24341 7
- SSR138 - Assessment of the Jabiluka Project: Report of the Supervising Scientist to the World Heritage Committee (PDF - 2,270 KB)
About the report
At the twenty-second meeting of the World Heritage Committee, held in Paris from 22 to 27 June 1998, a decision was reached that the Chair of the Committee should lead a mission to Australia and Kakadu National Park to assess any ascertained or potential threats to the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park that might arise from the proposal to mine uranium at Jabiluka. The visit of the Mission took place from 26 October 1998 to 1 November 1998.
The report of the Mission was submitted to the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee at its meeting held in Kyoto, Japan, on 27-28 November 1998. Following consideration of the report, the Bureau made recommendations that were considered by the World Heritage Committee at its meeting from 30 November 1998 to 5 December 1998.
The report noted 'severe ascertained and potential dangers to the cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park posed primarily by the proposal for uranium mining and milling at Jabiluka' and recommended that the mining and milling of uranium should not proceed. In the case of threats to the natural values of the Park, the mission placed very significant weight on 'the serious concerns expressed by some of Australia's most eminent scientists as to the degree of scientific uncertainties relating to the Jabiluka mine design, tailings disposal and possible impact on catchment processes'. The concerns cited were made in a submission by Wasson, White, Mackey and Fleming (Wasson et al 1998, Appendix 2).
Because the Australian authorities had not had sufficient time to respond to the report, the World Heritage Committee made no firm decision of the future status of Kakadu at the November 1998 meeting. In its decision, the Committee requested that the Supervising Scientist conduct a full review of the areas of scientific uncertainty. The issues specified were hydrological modelling, prediction and impact of severe weather events, storage of uranium ore on the surface and the long-term storage of mine tailings.
This report is the Supervising Scientist's response to that request. In preparing this report, the Supervising Scientist has drawn on the broad range of expertise available within his own organisation. In addition, given the intense interest in the World Heritage issue and the need for absolute transparency, he has sought independent expert advice from a number of scientific institutes within Australia. Scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Melbourne, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the University of New South Wales prepared reports on specific topics at the request of the Supervising Scientist. These reports have been published as separate Supervising Scientist reports:
Bureau of Meteorology 1999. Hydrometeorological analyses relevant to Jabiluka. Supervising Scientist Report 140, Supervising Scientist, Canberra.
Jones RN, Abbs DJ & Hennessy KJ 1999. Climate change analysis relevant to Jabiluka. Supervising Scientist Report 141, Supervising Scientist, Canberra.
Chiew FHS & Wang QJ 1999. Hydrological analysis relevant to surface water storage at Jabiluka. Supervising Scientist Report 142, Supervising Scientist, Canberra.
Kalf FRP & Dudgeon CR 1999. Analysis of long-term groundwater dispersal of contaminants from proposed Jabiluka Mine tailings repositories. Supervising Scientist Report 143, Supervising Scientist, Canberra.
Included in the series is Protection of the environment near the Ranger uranium mine (Johnston & Needham 1999, Supervising Scientist Report 139), which summarises the extent to which the environment of the region has been protected throughout the period of operations at the Ranger uranium mine. This report was presented to the Mission when it visited Kakadu and subsequently to the World Heritage Committee as part of the Supervising Scientist's report.
Issues to be addressed
Following a detailed examination of the submission by Wasson et al (1998) and the Mission report, the Supervising Scientist has summarised the main issues arising under each of the topics specified by the World Heritage Committee and confirmed this interpretation with the Chair of the Committee. This summary is as follows:
This topic includes issues raised by Wasson et al (1998) in section 5 of their submission; in particular, (i) the estimate of what constitutes a 1 in 10 000 AEP annual rainfall for the purpose of designing the retention pond, (ii) evaporation in the exit air stream of the mine ventilation system and (iii) evaporation from open water.
Prediction and impact of severe weather events
This topic refers to (i) uncertainties raised by Wasson et al (1998) in section 4 of their submission arising from the work of Nott (1996) about high discharges in the Waterfall Creek region and the Katherine floods, (ii) uncertainties expressed by Wasson et al (1998) on what constitutes a Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) event and (iii) the effect of climate change on both mean annual rainfall and the intensity of storms.
Storage of uranium on the surface
Included under this topic are (i) the design of the surface facilities to ensure, taking into account issues raised in the first two topics above, that runoff from the ore stockpile will all be collected by the retention pond even under extreme weather conditions and (ii) the adequacy of parameters used in the design of the retention pond to ensure containment of water collected in it under extreme weather conditions without the need to release water to the surface water system beyond the mine site.
Long-term storage of the mine tailings
This topic includes two issues related to the long-term containment of 100% of the tailings at Jabiluka in the mine stopes and additional stopes/silos excavated near the orebody specifically to contain tailings. The two issues are (i) long-term containment of the solid tailings so that they do not represent a threat to the wetlands of Kakadu and (ii) dispersal of contaminants in groundwater from the contained tailings and their consequent potential impact on the wetlands of Kakadu.
There are a number of additional issues raised in the submission by Wasson et al (1998) that require clarification. These and other more general issues are also addressed in this report.