REAL AUSTRALIA

Australia has a nuclear past, we just like to forget it

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NUCLEAR SCAR: Before we get over excited about nuclear, take a look at this environmental horror in the Northern Territory. Pictures: NT Government.

NUCLEAR SCAR: Before we get over excited about nuclear, take a look at this environmental horror in the Northern Territory. Pictures: NT Government.

No sooner did Australia announce it was going to buy a nuclear submarine fleet, there was talk of nuclear power plants as well.

Am I the only one who fears they unknowingly contracted COVID-19 or some other nasty and it has somehow warped their mind?

Nuclear this and nuclear that - everyone needs to have a nice lie down.

Australia has a poor record when it comes to nuclear power.

I'll explain why in a bit.

Even though I'm not spooked by a Chinese invasion, I'm also no military expert so perhaps the nuclear subs deal is not such a bad thing.

But when the net zero carbon emissions debate was entertaining all from Canberra, up came the nuclear energy thought bubble.

Goodness, this country has spent generations trying to figure out where to house a few pieces of radioactive medical waste.

I've seen first-hand a couple of nuclear power stations in the US and they seem quite unremarkable and efficient.

But the Yanks and many other countries have had years of experience, many years, and we have none.

One of the biggest fans of nuclear power in this country is a Senator from the Northern Territory, a veterinarian in her former life, Sam McMahon.

As someone from the Territory, she should know better.

FLOODED TODAY: Caps placed over radioactive waste and uranium oxide have already failed and the site needs expensive attention again.

FLOODED TODAY: Caps placed over radioactive waste and uranium oxide have already failed and the site needs expensive attention again.

There are quite a few thumping great holes in the ground in her patch which need mending first.

It's one of our dark secrets and remains one of the biggest environmental disasters in Australian history.

You see to get nuclear fission, you first need uranium.

Australia has heaps of that, a third of all the world's known deposits.

Australia's first large scale uranium mine was dug at Rum Jungle on behalf of our "Allies" in the UK and USA to fuel their nuclear weapon programs in the 1950s.

Where is weirdly-named Rum Jungle you might ask?

Conveniently it's in the Territory, where you can still dig a big hole and not fill it in properly.

Supposedly it got its name from an incident where a thief stole a heap of gold from miners after getting them drunk with rum.

During the Cold War, Australia was scrambling for protection under a nuclear umbrella and were pleased to find the mineral our friends lusted for.

Sound a little familiar?

The Rum Jungle mine is about 100 kilometres by road from Darwin, but less than 10km from the town of Batchelor which was built to house mine workers.

Batchelor has about 500 residents today.

The NT Government has recently lodged plans for another go at the rehabilitation of the old mine which is today filled with water.

If it goes ahead, this will be the second go.

The mine was the first large industrial enterprise undertaken in the NT.

DANGER: Attempts to place a cap on the radioactive tailings, supposed to last a century, have failed.

DANGER: Attempts to place a cap on the radioactive tailings, supposed to last a century, have failed.

Local farmer and prospector John (Jack) White found the deposit on lease land in 1949 and was paid about 25,000 pounds for the find.

They abandoned plans to mine the Rum Jungle deposit using conventional underground techniques and went with the open pit, well four open pits actually.

At Rum Jungle, a total of 863,000 tonnes of uranium ore was mined in a project under the ownership of the Commonwealth Government through the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

The 200 hectare site closed in 1971 and was abandoned.

About $20 million was later spent trying to clean up the NT site, but the pollution continues and may continue for thousands of years.

Large volumes of radioactive mine waste (tailings) are still on the site.

In 2003, an investigation of the tailings piles found that capping which was supposed to help contain this radioactive waste for at least 100 years, had failed in less than 20 years.

The latest rehabilitation efforts at Rum Jungle from 1983 to 1986 cost $18.6 million.

HEALTH AND SAFETY: Drilling on the floor of the uranium pit in the '50's, with the mine workers not wearing any shoes, or protection at all.

HEALTH AND SAFETY: Drilling on the floor of the uranium pit in the '50's, with the mine workers not wearing any shoes, or protection at all.

Although at the time of the 1980s works the objectives were deemed to have been achieved, more recent studies have documented the gradual deterioration of the original rehabilitation works.

The NT and Federal Government agree there needs to be an improved rehabilitation strategy for the site.

These latest plans say the clean up would take at least five years.

No estimate was given for how much it would cost or who is going to pay for it.

The soil is contaminated, as is the groundwater and there is still waste rock needing disposal on the site.

In short, it's a mess.

The primary objective is to create a safe and stable environment onsite, and reduce environmental impacts downstream.

NOT ALONE: The Ranger uranium mine inside the NT's iconic Kakadu National Park is now closed and being rehabilitated.

NOT ALONE: The Ranger uranium mine inside the NT's iconic Kakadu National Park is now closed and being rehabilitated.

But wait there's more.

There's Ranger.

There is still no logical explanation as to how a big uranium mine could be allowed in the middle of perhaps Australia's most famous national park, Kakadu, but it was.

Ranger has recently been closed and the site is somehow to be rehabilitated after more than 130,000 tonnes of uranium oxide was pulled from the place over the past three decades.

Energy Resources Australia, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, says it has spent more than $642 million in the past eight years on rehabilitation of the mountains of tailings complicated by a lake created from a vast flooded pit.

Their work is only a few years from being finished.

Only time will tell if that scar ever heals.

Australia has a nuclear past, it would do well to remember this is a high stakes game for grown-ups.

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This story Australia has a nuclear past, we just like to forget it first appeared on Farm Online.

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