Ranger clean-up ignores traditional owners

Neda Vanovac

ABORIGINAL traditional owners have been left off a taskforce convened by the government to investigate a massive leak of uranium and acid at the Ranger mine in Kakadu National Park.

At 1am on Saturday a leach tank with a capacity of about 1.5 million litres collapsed, spilling out a mixture of uranium, sulphuric acid, and mud at the mine site, which has operated for 30 years inside the boundaries of one of Australia's largest protected areas.

The federal government suspended operations at the mine and has formed a taskforce with regulators and the mine operators to respond to the incident, but traditional owners have not been invited to participate, says David Vadiveloo, acting CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which advocates on the behalf of the Mirarr people.

He told AAP the lack of an invitation to play a role "goes to the heart of our calls for the desperate need for independent oversight of that mine".

"We're calling for a change in the way the business is run - in fact, we're demanding it, because there cannot be ongoing operations in that area that ignore the rightful participation and input of the traditional owners."

He said the Mirarr people are frustrated and tired with the lack of scrutiny of the mine's operations.

There have been more than 200 incidents and breaches at Ranger since it began operating, with three in the last month alone.

"Traditional owners have done everything they possibly can to talk to the miner to improve relations, yet this is how they get treated when an accident of this magnitude occurs on their land," Mr Vadiveloo said.

Mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) allowed regulators and GAC to inspect the site on Thursday, and has released a community information sheet advising that the slurry has been completely contained on site, with no impact on the surrounding environment.

But an on-site GAC representative says radiation testing is still being carried out, with a large volume of contaminated material sitting on the ground outside the contaminated area.

Mr Vadiveloo said he was "stunned" to see ERA reassuring the community before testing was complete.

"Through good fortune - clearly not good planning - it hasn't rained here since the accident, but what would ERA have done had the skies opened up and a huge dump of rain come in?"

Traditional owners did not feel safe on their own land, he said.

"Frankly, we are not reassured by anything they're saying at the moment, and we're certainly not reassured by testing results and data feedback from their officers and the officers of government regulators."

GAC is calling for a fully independent review of the leak, along with a full audit of operations at Ranger.


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