JABILUKA MILL ALTERNATIVE
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
 

    Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has made his recommendation to Resources and Energy Minister Warwick Parer on the Jabiluka Mill Alternative (JMA) proposed by ERA.

    The assessment process for the Jabiluka proposal has been exhaustive. ERA has now conducted two environmental assessments in relation to the proposed mine. In addition, the Commonwealth commissioned an Independent Review of tailings management by scientists at the University of New South Wales. The assessment process was extended to accommodate this independent review.

    ERA's preferred option for the Jabiluka Mill Alternative involves the mixing of tailings with a cement paste and the disposal of 50% of the tailings in purpose built pits.

    Senator Hill has advised that there is, at this stage, insufficient scientific information to make a decision on whether ERA's preferred option is environmentally acceptable. Further environmental assessment work would need to be done before any decision on this option could be made.

    Another option identified in the environmental assessment process involves returning all tailings deep underground, back into the mine void.

    Environment Australia has advised that the option of returning all tailings back into the mine void would avoid the uncertainties associated with ERA's preferred option.

    The advice indicates that the milling of uranium ore at Jabiluka would be environmentally acceptable if 100% of the tailings are returned to the mine void.

    Senator Hill has advised that this option could proceed subject to ERA revising its proposal to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist and the Supervising Authority to ensure that 100% of the tailings are placed back underground in the mine void.

    ERA would also be required to comply with an additional 15 recommendations covering issues such as protection of world heritage values, communication with Aboriginal people, rehabilitation of the site, and environmental management.

    Compliance with these recommendations should be secured through legally binding arrangements.

    Based on the advice provided, compliance with these recommendations would allow the milling of uranium at Jabiluka to proceed with no significant threat to the environment and the world heritage values of Kakadu National Park.

Media contact: Matt Brown on 02 6277 7640 or 0419 693 515

August 26, 1998 (100/98)

Senator the Hon Robert Hill

Leader of the Government in the Senate

Minister for the Environment

Senator the Hon Warwick Parer

Minister for Resources and Energy

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Minister

    I refer to the environment impact assessment under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 (EPIP Act) of the proposal by Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) to mill uranium ore at Jabiluka.

    I note that the proposal to mine uranium at Jabiluka was considered in an EIS completed in 1997 ('the 1997 EIS'). ERA's preferred option at that time was to mill ore at Ranger. The Jabiluka mine and the Ranger Mill option were comprehensively assessed in the 1997 EIS. As you are aware, after analysis of the 1997 EIS, the Commonwealth provided environmental clearance, subject to compliance with over 70 stringent conditions, for the Jabiluka mine and the milling of ore at Ranger.

    ERA is now considering an alternative milling operation at Jabiluka (the Jabiluka Mill Alternative or JMA). A Public Environment Report (PER) on the JMA was prepared by ERA and was available for public comment from 9 June 1998 to 6 July 1998. On the basis of the PER and the public comments on the PER, my Department submitted an Assessment Report in late July 1998.

    ERA's preferred option for the JMA proposal involves the mixing of tailings with a cement paste and the disposal of 50% of the tailings in purpose built pits. However, there remains scientific uncertainty associated with this option. The focus of this uncertainty is the hydrogeology associated with the pits and the effectiveness of the proposed cement paste. Accordingly, as you are aware, I recently sought additional independent advice from scientists at the University of New South Wales on the relevant tailings management issues. A copy of that report (the Independent Review) is attached. You will note that it suggests that the proposed location of Pit No. 1 is unsuitable and it identifies additional assessment and design work that needs to be carried out.

    ERA has also provided additional information, subsequent to the completion of the Assessment Report, on the proposal to mill ore at Jabiluka. In this additional information, a copy of which is attached, ERA identify an option which would involve returning all tailings back underground to the mine void. My department has advised that this option would avoid the uncertainties associated with ERA's preferred option.

    In accordance with paragraph 9.3.1 of the Administrative Procedures under the EPIP Act, I now provide the following recommendations in relation to the JMA and the taking of Commonwealth actions (including export approval decisions) in relation to the JMA. I am advised that, provided these recommendations are complied with, the proposal to mill uranium ore at Jabiluka could proceed with no significant threat to the environment and world heritage values of Kakadu National Park Recommendations

    1. The milling of uranium ore at Jabiluka will be environmentally acceptable if 100% of the tailings are placed back underground in the mine void and the recommendations in Attachment A are complied with.

    2. Accordingly, there is no environmental issue which would prevent the milling of uranium ore at Jabiluka, and the granting of relevant export licences, subject to:

        a) ERA preparing an amended proposal, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist and the Supervising Authority, under which 100% of the tailings are placed back underground in the mine void; and

        b) compliance with the recommendations in Attachment A.

    3. Compliance with the recommendations in Attachment A should be secured through legally binding arrangements - for example, by requiring ERA to enter into a Deed, by implementing the recommendations in conditions under Commonwealth or Northern Territory legislation, or through a combination of the above. The arrangements for implementation should be agreed between our two Departments and the Northern Territory.

    4. There is, at this stage, insufficient information to make a decision on whether ERA's preferred option for the JMA proposal is environmentally acceptable.

    ERA's preferred option for the JMA proposal is demonstrably superior to the original Pancontinental proposal which incorporated a tailings dam on the Jabiluka lease.

    ERA's efforts to identify and utilise best practicable technology therefore deserve positive recognition. Much of the uncertainty associated with ERA's preferred option for the JMA proposal has, in fact, arisen because of ERA's innovative approach.

    On the basis of advice from the Supervising Scientist, I believe there is every prospect that further assessment can identify design amendments which ensure tailings can be adequately managed and disposed of without the need to return all tailings underground.

    However, the scientific uncertainties that currently exist must first be resolved. Considerable additional assessment and re-design of the proposal is required, as identified in the Independent Review and the Assessment Report. The need for additional work is recognised by ERA.

    Accordingly, before any decisions are made in relation to an option other than that referred to in recommendation 2 (above), further assessment should be conducted and environmental clearance obtained in accordance with the following process:

        a) ERA must conduct an additional assessment which addresses the issues identified in the Assessment Report and the Independent Review, including the hydrogeological issues and the issues associated with the use of the cement paste technology.

        b) The terms of reference for the additional assessment are to be approved by Environment Australia and the Supervising Authority.

        c) ERA should submit the revised proposal and the assessment results to the Minister for the Environment for a decision on whether to provide environmental clearance.

    I will provide a copy of these recommendations to the Northern Territory Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment and the proponent, ERA.

Yours sincerely

Robert Hill

Jabiluka Mill Alternative Environmental Impact Assessment

Recommendations

    1. Gold must not be extracted and processed unless additional environmental impact assessment is undertaken and approval is given by the Commonwealth.

    2. ERA must ensure, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist, that there will be no significant release of contaminants to the environment (through physical or chemical means) for at least 10,000 years.

    3. ERA must prepare operational management plans, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Authority, dealing with the management of acid generation, runoff and seepage.

    4. ERA shall ensure that all runoff from stockpiles passes through sediment traps. The design, location and construction of the sediment traps must be approved by the Supervising Authority prior to construction.

    5. ERA must ensure, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist, that runoff from waste rock stockpiles does not cause any increase in the mean concentration of suspended solids in Swift Creek that is greater than the standard deviation of naturally occurring concentrations in Swift Creek.

    6. ERA must, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Authority, conduct an assessment of the chemical composition of waste rock in stockpiles and the rate of its weathering and must amend the operational management to address the results of this assessment.

    7. Before construction of the mill facilities, ERA must submit to the Supervising Authority a detailed design of the proposed sewerage system and an on site sewage monitoring program.

    8. ERA must conduct an assessment of the effects of groundwater and changes to surface-water within the Swift Creek catchment and to Swift Creek itself, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist and the Supervising Authority. ERA must comply with any requirement of the Supervising Scientist or the Supervising Authority designed to mitigate or avoid impacts identified in this assessment.

    9. ERA must ensure that operational management plans are prepared incorporating specific clean-up procedures for each reagent transported and used on the site, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Authority.

    10. ERA must, to the satisfaction of Environment Australia and the Supervising Authority, develop and implement measures to ensure the protection of the flora and fauna species listed in s.6.6.3 of the Assessment Report.

    11. ERA must devise and implement, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist, a biological monitoring program that includes Swift Creek and other suitable analogues.

     12. ERA must, to the satisfaction of the Supervising Scientist and the Supervising Authority, develop and implement a rehabilitation plan.

        * ERA must establish a rehabilitation trust fund and must contribute annually an amount determined jointly by the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory.

        * ERA must lodge with the Commonwealth a bond of $1 million, to be held in perpetuity to cover costs associated with long term environmental monitoring and maintenance of the rehabilitated site.

    13. ERA must, in consultation with the NLC and the Supervising Scientist, report to affected Aboriginal people on the impacts of the project.

    14. ERA must comply with the recommendations relating to radiation protection as set out in Recommendation 35 o

    15. ERA must ensure that its operations do not result in any adverse impacts on world heritage or national estate values.