Rio Uranium Mine Spills Radioactive Acid Near Kakadu

Rio Tinto Group’s Energy Resources Australia said a tank split at its Ranger uranium mine, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park, spilling a mixture of acid, ore, mud and water.

The 1,450-cubic-meter leaching tank developed a hole, which caused it to split and release slurry today, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Processing at the facility will be suspended while a clean up takes place, it said.

Operations at the mine must be suspended indefinitely and the company should conduct a full audit of the operations at the plant, the Australian Greens party said in an e-mail that described the spill as radioactive. ERA doesn’t dispute that the slurry is radioactive, company spokesman Dan Hall said by phone today.

“Containment systems stopped the flow, and this has meant there is no impact to the surrounding environment,” Tim Eckersley, general manager of operations at ERA, said in the company statement. “ERA is focusing on clean up and recovery.”

World heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, located in Australia’s Northern Territory, is the nation’s largest national park, and more than half of it is Aboriginal land. While Ranger mine is surrounded by Kakadu, it’s separate from the park, according to the company’s website.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the traditional owners of the land, called for an independent investigation of the spill.

Justin O’Brien, chief executive officer of GAC, said photographs and descriptions from eye witnesses showed the tank burst with such force that it bent and twisted nearby infrastructure and coated equipment in the slurry.

“What could be safely described as one of Australia’s biggest nuclear accidents has occurred,” O’Brien said. “No one has demonstrated to us that there hasn’t been contamination.”

Rio Tinto owns 68.4 percent of Energy Resources.

(Corrects spelling of Ranger in first paragraph of story published Dec. 7.)
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