Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Biggest nuclear disaster in Australia ever - except it wasn't!

Don't believe what the media reports every time there is a 'nuclear incident' involving the mining of uranium in Australia.

On December 7, 2013, a tank storing processing liquid burst at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Some 1300 cubic metres or 1.3 million litres of liquid flowed out of the leach tank and, according to various media reports:
* Mirarr Traditional Owners ..... have described it as the biggest “nuclear disaster in Australia ever.”
*  according to ......Kevin Buzzacott, ....president of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance ..."Kakadu should send shivers up the spines of all Australians but I do not understand why it has not made the television news. What has occurred in Kakadu is scary.”
*  Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the local Mirrar people.... told the Sunday Territorian that people in communities like Mudginberri, which is about 7km downstream of the Ranger mine, no longer felt safe.
* according to the Green Left Weekly:  “The time for mining a problematic and polluting mineral in a World Heritage area is over."
* " This is up to a million litres of radiological material in the form of an acid exploding from a drum, bending a crane, twisting metal all around it, pouring down into stormwater drains, with 20 or so people ordered to evacuate,'' said Mr O'Brien.
*  Photos of the site taken by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and supplied to the ABC suggest material did spill onto grassy ground at the site.

But what the findings of the independent federal Supervising Scientist show is that these expressions of fear and implied severe environmental impacts were wrong. The report into the incident states:

It is the conclusion of the Supervising Scientist that the leach tank failure has not resulted in
any adverse impacts to human health or the surrounding environment, including Kakadu
National Park.
Dose to workers involved in the cleanup activities was low and of no consequence to human
health. No increase in airborne radionuclide concentrations as a result of the incident was
detected at the Supervising Scientist monitoring stations in Jabiru town or at Jabiru East,
indicating no impact to residents in the surrounding area.
Chemical and biological monitoring by the Supervising Scientist in Magela Creek did not
detect any effects related to the incident. Limited groundwater data available in the area of the
spill, and the six week timeframe for Energy Resources of Australia Ltd to commence the
requested groundwater monitoring program, restricted the level of groundwater analysis
which could be undertaken. Sufficient information was available, however, to conclude that
due to the generally compacted nature of soils in the plant area only a small volume of
contaminants may have entered the groundwater and this would not have any significant
impact on groundwater quality in the offsite environment.

So the claims made by various anti-nuclear, anti-uranium, political or vested interest groups are largely without basis.

Probably the only claim that has some foundation in truth is that of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation which said that people in communities like Mudginberri downstream of the Ranger mine no longer felt safe. The emotional, untruthful and exaggerated claims made by anti-nuclear protestors were designed to create and enforce in the minds of otherwise uninformed or normally disinterested people a fear of uranium mining, regardless of the accuracy and truthfulness of those claims.

The people and organisations that used the December spill as an opportunity to push their anti-development agenda and scare people should now apologise to Northern Territorians and the people of Australia for creating unjustified fear about an operation which, while not perfect, has not caused harm to the natural environment nor to the people living downstream of the mine.

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