Spill Disrupts Ranger Mine amid Closure Threats

The Age

By Lindsay Murdoch

Darwin, September 6, 2004

Operations at the controversial Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park have been disrupted again by a spill only days after the Federal Government threatened to close the mine.

A spokeswoman for Energy Resources Australia, the company that operates Ranger, said yesterday that 20 litres of chemicals containing a small quantity of uranium spilled out of a walled-off area of the mine's ore-processing plant into a stormwater pipe on Saturday.

She said the spill was contained and mopped up as the mine's processing plant was about to start up after a temporary shutdown last week so that Government-demanded improvements could be made at the mine.

The spill caused no health, safety or environmental risks, the spokeswoman said. But it comes amid calls for the mine to close after more than 120 mishaps, some of them serious, since it opened in 1981.

The Age reported on Saturday how two children, aged five and eight, played for 44 days in mud from the mine that was contaminated with uranium, receiving exposure to "unacceptable" doses of radiation.

Their mechanic father, Devon Baker, 40, who was also exposed to the mud while working on a Bobcat excavator from the mine, said neither he nor the children had been given medical tests since they were exposed over successive days late last year and in January.

He fears the children will have long-term health problems despite an assessment by the Commonwealth-employed supervising scientist, Arthur Johnston, that, while unacceptable, their exposure was unlikely to cause significant health problems.

ERA chief executive officer Harry Kenyon-Slaney said last night that his company apologised to Mr Baker, who had lost his job and has been unwell since he and his children were exposed to the radiation.

Mr Kenyon-Slaney said ERA would talk with Mr Baker's former employer and Dr Johnston to "see if he wishes to participate in any programs we have".

Mr Kenyon-Slaney denied that ERA told Mr Baker not to talk publicly about the incident, a claim Mr Baker made in Saturday's report.

"I cannot vouch for every single person at the mine but what I am saying is that it's categorically not company policy to say anything like that," he said.

contact: Bruce A. Peterson

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