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Assessment & regulation of mines


WHERE IS URANIUM MINING ALLOWED?

In Australia, uranium mining is currently allowed only in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland with exploration allowed in New South Wales. Each state government decides whether or not to allow uranium mining. The Northern Territory is required to give effect to the advice of the commonwealth government before approving mines.

HOW DO COMPANIES GET PERMISSION FROM GOVERNMENT TO MINE?

The Australian uranium industry is governed under the regulatory framework that applies to mining generally, including environmental regulations. Additional laws are in place to manage radiation protection and establish export controls.

Uranium mining is a prescribed nuclear action under Commonwealth law (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act). Before any uranium mine can be developed in Australia, it must be assessed and approved by the federal and state or territory governments. Usually, this is done under a bi-lateral agreement between the commonwealth and the states/territories, although the commonwealth reserves to itself the final decision.

A typical assessment and approval process takes at least three years from referral to ministerial approval.

LOOKING AFTER THE ENVIRONMENT
Environmental impact

All mining activity, including uranium mining, has an environmental impact which is moderated through environment assessment and approval processes, mining conditions and performance monitoring and reporting.

The environmental performance of the uranium industry is scrutinised comprehensively with detailed reporting requirements.

On the basis of that scrutiny and reporting, the evidence is that the uranium industry has few environmental incidents; regulatory authorities recognise that good performance.

Environmental scrutiny in the Northern Territory

In accordance with the requirements of the Northern Territory Mining Management Act, the Ranger mine operates under a detailed authorisation that requires a range of reporting including water management, radiation protection and environment.

The environmental performance of the Ranger mine is also scrutinised by a Commonwealth agency, the Supervising Scientist, a division of the Commonwealth environment department.

In its 2012-2013 annual report, the Supervising Scientist reported that:

During the year there were no reported incidents that resulted in any environmental impact to the surrounding environment. The extensive monitoring and research programs of the Supervising Scientist Division (SSD) confirm that the environment has remained protected through the period. Monitoring programs by ERA, the Northern Territory Department of Resources and SSD continue to indicate that there is no evidence of seepage from the base of the Ranger tailings storage facility impacting on Kakadu National Park.”

The Supervising Scientist has reported on Ranger’s performance in these terms for much of the past 30 years.

Environmental scrutiny in South Australia

Companies are required to report on a variety of bases to regulatory authorities in South Australia.

Environmental reporting is a normal requirement of all mines for all minerals and the uranium industry largely reports under those requirements.

Uranium mine operators are required to report ‘reportable incidents’ that encompass a wide range of reporting criteria. A summary of incidents reported in accordance with these criteria is as follows:

  • Olympic Dam, 32 incidents in the period 2003 to 2013
  • Beverley, 26 incidents 2003 to 2013
  • Honeymoon, 5 incidents since the commencement of operations in 2011.

In no case have the companies had to report that there was serious environmental harm or abnormal radiation exposure to workers or the public.