Uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region

Ranger uranium mine

Photo of Tailings Storage Facility at Ranger uranium mine

Tailings Storage Facility at Ranger uranium mine

(Photo: Ewa Madon)

The Ranger uranium deposits were discovered in 1969 by geologists who were investigating radiometric anomalies detected by airborne surveys. Drilling over the next two years defined several orebodies and a proposal to mine two of these, Ranger no. 1 and Ranger no. 3 ore bodies, was jointly developed by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and Ranger Uranium Mines Pty Ltd. In October 1976, the First Report of the RUEI Inquiry was completed. This report dealt with generic issues associated with uranium mining. The First Report found that:

The hazards of mining and milling uranium, if those activities are properly regulated and controlled, are not such as to justify a decision not to develop Australian uranium mines.

The Second Report of the Inquiry in May 1977 contained the detailed recommendations specific to the Ranger proposal and recommendations on the environmental supervision of uranium mining anywhere in the Alligator Rivers Region. In August 1977, following its consideration of these detailed recommendations of the RUEI, the Australian Government announced its decision to authorise the mining and export of uranium under very strict environmental requirements. Construction of the mine facilities commenced at Ranger in 1979 and mining of the Ranger no. 1 orebody, by conventional open pit methods, began in August 1980.

The operation of a uranium mine and mill in a region which is World Heritage listed, subject to seasonal extremes in rainfall typical of monsoonal climates and which represents at least forty thousand years of habitation by the Aboriginal people, provides many environmental challenges. The key recommendations of the Inquiry adopted by the Australian Government were:

  • the proclamation of Kakadu National Park;
  • the application of strict Environmental Requirements for the Ranger project;
  • the establishment of the position of Supervising Scientist to assist in the development of measures for the protection of the environment and to oversee their implementation, and;
  • the establishment of eriss, (Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist) to conduct research on the environmental effects of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region.
Photo of Mill and pit at Ranger uranium mine

Mill and pit at Ranger uranium mine

(Photo: Ewa Madon)

Energy Resoucres of Australia Ltd (ERA) operates the Ranger mine. It is an open cut mine and commerical production of uranium concentrate (U3O8) has been under way since 1981. Orebody No 1 was exhausted in late 1994 and excavation of Orebody No 3 began in 1997 and continues. Current ERA planning is for mining at Ranger to cease in 2012 with processing of stockpiled ore to continue until 2020.

See also