Another attempt is going to be made to clean up one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of the Northern Territory.
A legacy of the Cold War, 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.
In those post-war years of world unrest, Australia was scrambling for protection under the same nuclear umbrella and was pleased to find the mineral the whole world was looking for in the 'outback wilderness'.
The Rum Jungle mine is about 100km by road from Darwin, but less than 10km from the town of Batchelor which was established to house workers for the mine.
Batchelor has about 500 residents today.
This week the NT Government lodged plans for another go at the rehabilitation of the Rum Jungle uranium and copper mine.
The public has until March 6 to comment on those draft plans.
If it goes ahead, it will be the second major attempt to clean up Australia's first large scale uranium mine which produced material for the US and UK nuclear weapons programs in the 1950s.
The mine was the first large industrial enterprise undertaken in the NT.
Local farmer and prospector John (Jack) White found the deposit on lease land in 1949 and was paid about 25,000 pounds for his discovery.
Australia was under great pressure from its Cold War allies to supply the raw materials for their weapons programs and apparently environmental safeguards in what was seen as a "wasteland" were not top of mind.
The UK came to Maralinga in outback South Australia to explode a number of nuclear bombs at the same time.
The initial plan was to mine Rum Jungle using conventional underground techniques but they were abandoned as being too difficult and all Rum Jungle deposits were mined via open pit methods.
There were four pits on the site.
This second rehabilitation plan comes at a time when Energy Resources of Australia today is winding down operations at its Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu and planning how to remove its own large mineral footprint.
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.
Some of the uranium oxide was stockpiled by the Commonwealth and stored at Lucas Heights near Sydney before being sold in the 1990s to fuel nuclear power stations in the US.
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 NT has a poor reputation for cleaning up after mining and last year the NT Government estimated the liability associated with legacy mines in the NT was $1 billion.
The latest rehabilitation efforts at Rum Jungle from 1983 to 1986 cost $18.6 million.
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.
This week's draft Environmental Impact Statement estimates the work to clean up the site 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.
The primary objective is to create a safe and stable environment onsite, and reduce environmental impacts downstream. This includes supporting and improving terrestrial and aquatic environmental values downstream of the site within the East Branch of the Finniss River.
The proposal is being assessed by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy under the Environmental Assessment Act 1982 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Comments by the public on the draft EIS are welcome and can be viewed at the NT EPA website
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