Back to All News

Investigation of leach tank failure at the Ranger uranium mine and 1.3 Mega-Litres of Radioactive Slurry

Senate Question No. 0304  

Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, in writing, on 19 March 2014: 

With reference to the answers to Questions on Notice Nos 29 and 31, and the taskforce announced by the Minister for Industry and the Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy on 13 December 2013 to investigate the leach tank failure at the Ranger uranium mine: 

(1) What is the composition of the taskforce. 

(2) Has the taskforce met; if so, on how many occasions. 
(3) Has the independent expert been appointed; if so, who has that role. 
(4) What is the work program of the taskforce. 
(5) What is the role of the Office of the Supervising Scientist (OSS) in relation to the taskforce. 
(6) What is the timeframe for reporting and recommendations. 
(7) In a statement to the stock exchange on 30 January 2014, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA) stated that it would allocate $1.3 million to the remaining clean up, decommissioning and investigation costs; given that the taskforce investigations are not yet complete, on what basis was this statement made. 
(8) What implications does the failure of the leach tank have for the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine. 
(9) Can the Department confirm that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process will not progress until the taskforce investigations are complete. 
(10) What clean-up work has been done to date. 
(11) On 19 December 2013, ERA stated that slurry was removed from outside the exclusion zone; how much material was removed and where has it been deposited. 
(12) What independent verification of data is taking place; is ERA supplying readings and information, or are independent measurements being taken by OSS or others. 
(13) What information has been gleaned about the cause of the spill and does this have any implications for the integrity of the other tanks. 
(14) Are there plans to decommission the other leach tanks. 
(15) Has information been shared between Ranger and Rio Tinto's Rossing mine regarding the failure of leach tanks, clean up and prevention of future such accidents; if so, what role has the OSS had in that process. 
(16) Is the Department aware of any incident in the R3D tunnel in recent weeks and of steps undertaken to verify the integrity of the tunnel. 
(17) What is the status of the investigation involving the unauthorised vehicle movement on 3 November 2013, where a potentially contaminated truck left the mine area through a hole in a fence. 
(18) Can the Department comment on media reports on 20 February 2014 concerning the movement of inadequately secured uranium drums to a laboratory in Perth, and specifically: (a) what comment does the OSS have in regard to this matter; (b) has the OSS made any independent assessment of the incident; if so, what was the outcome; if not, why not; (c) in addition to being contained in drums, was the material secured by means of ropes, restraints or tarpaulins; (d) for what reason is material transported from Ranger to Perth; (e) how often is such material transported; (f) what routes are utilised and what volumes of material are involved; and (g) are communities, local government authorities or regional emergency service agencies advised of these movements.   Senator Cormann: The Minister for the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question: 
(1) The Taskforce comprises representatives from the Australian Government Department of Industry, the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, Northern Territory WorkSafe, the Northern Land Council, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Supervising Scientist. 
(2) The Taskforce met for the 6th time on 14 March 2014. 
(3) The Australian Government Department of Industry has engaged independent experts Noetic Risk Solutions and HRL Technology to conduct a risk-based review of Ranger's processing facility and examine associated maintenance practices and governance arrangements. 
(4) The Taskforce is responsible for coordinating and overseeing the associated investigations and independent expert review initiated in response to the incident. 
(5) The Supervising Scientist provides scientific and technical advice on potential risks to the environment associated with the incident and the results of ongoing chemical, radiological and biological monitoring in the environment surrounding the mine lease. The Supervising Scientist is also undertaking its own independent investigation to confirm there has been no impact on the surrounding environment, including Kakadu National Park, as a result of the incident. 
(6) It is currently expected that the Department of Industry will provide a draft report and recommendations to Commonwealth Minister for Industry in May this year.  (7) Energy Resources of Australia Ltd is responsible for its own commercial decisions and statements to the market. 
(8) There are no implications for the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine at this stage as the leach tank failure incident and associated issues are still the subject of ongoing investigations and independent review. 
(9) Energy Resources of Australia Ltd is currently preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine. Where relevant the key findings of the current investigations and review into the leach tank failure will be considered as part of the EPBC assessment and approval process. 
(10) The spill was contained within the Ranger plant area and there was no threat at any time to the surrounding environment or human health outside of the immediate area. All of the slurry material has now been removed as part of the site cleanup activities, except for a small amount remaining in around the base of the failed tank which has only recently been dismantled. This residual amount will be removed in due course and this last area of the site given final clearance. 
(11) The total amount of slurry material involved in the spill was approximately 1.3 mega-litres. Most of this material, apart from the residual amount mentioned above, was removed and disposed of on-site in Pit#1. 
(12) The Supervising Scientist Division has undertaken its own independent on-site sampling and will also draw on data from the company and others as and when required. The Supervising Scientist is also undertaking independent chemical, radiological and biological monitoring in the surrounding environment. 
(13) The cause of the tank failure and any broader implications for other tanks on site are the subject of the current investigation and expert review. 
(14) No. 
(15) The Supervising Scientist is not aware of, and has not been involved in, any internal communications that may have occurred within Rio Tinto in relation to the incidents at the two mines. 
(16) No. 
(17) The Supervising Scientist has completed an investigation into the incident which found that the vehicle taken off site was not contaminated and posed no risk to the environment or human health. The vehicle was taken off site in deliberate contravention of company policies and procedures. 
(18) The Supervising Scientist understands the material was being transported in accordance with relevant guidelines and did not pose any risk to the environment or human health. Responsibility for regulating the transport of radioactive material in the Northern Territory lies with the Northern Territory Government. (a) See above. (b) No for the reasons outlined above. (c) See above. MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT (d) The material, consisting of low grade exploration samples and un-mineralised rock, was sent to Perth for rock hardness testing. (e) On a regular basis subject to operational requirements. (f) The material is transported via the road system. The volume of material transported varies based on operational requirements. (g) The materials, which may include exploration core samples with very low level radioactivity, are transported in accordance with the relevant guidelines and Northern Territory regulations. 

Attached Files
Back to All News