Traditional owners say no to Ranger extension

15 October 2015

Traditional owners of the land covered by the Ranger uranium project have informed Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) that they do not support any extension of the authority to mine in the project area. Under the existing authority, mining and processing activities must cease in January 2021.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), acting on behalf of the Mirrar Traditional Owners, informed ERA of the traditional landowners' decision which follows ERA's announcement earlier this year that its Ranger 3 Deeps extension project would not proceed to a final feasibility study.

ERA had been investigating a potential underground mining operation at Ranger 3 Deeps, an extension of the Ranger 3 orebody estimated to contain 34,761 t U3O8 (29,477 tU). Work began on a 2.2 km exploration decline in May 2012, to facilitate an AUD57 million ($44 million) pre-feasibility study. The company had been looking to start production by the end of 2015, subject to a favourable outcome from the study and securing the necessary approvals.

ERA announced in June that it would not proceed to a final feasibility study for the project, citing uncertainties in the uranium market but also citing project economics which would require operations beyond the 2021 expiry of the current authority. At the same time, ERA's major shareholder Rio Tinto announced that it would not support any further study on future development at Ranger 3 Deeps. The GAC said that it was in "full agreement with the direction that Rio Tinto wanted ERA to take."

An extension to the Ranger authority would have enabled ERA to review the project's economics over a longer timescale. The GAC said that its involvement in talks with ERA since January 2015 on the possible extension had been based on the understanding that Rio Tinto supported the Ranger 3 Deeps project. However, the GAC said that since June, the traditional owners had become "increasingly concerned" that the difference of view between ERA and Rio Tinto "remained unresolved."

In response to the GAC's announcement, ERA said that it respected the views of the traditional landowners and would undertake a review of its business in the light of that decision. Open-pit mining of the Ranger 3 orebody was completed in December 2012, and the company said it will continue to process ore from existing stockpiles, which is covered under the existing authority. The existing authority also allows ERA access to the land for rehabilitation activities until 2026 and the company said that it would continue with ongoing rehabilitation work.

The GAC said that the Mirrar now require certainty that ERA has access to the necessary funds to complete the necessary rehabilitation work at Ranger, and called on ERA to secure funding from Rio Tinto for the full cost of that work. Ranger, in Australia's Northern Territory, is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and the GAC said that the Ranger project area must be rehabilitated in such a way that it can be incorporated into the park.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News