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Regulating the Ranger Uranium Mine

Ranger is a uranium mine about 260 kilometres east of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT). Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) operated the mine from 1980 until January 2021. The mine produced around 1,800 tons of uranium oxide each year.

ERA has been progressively rehabilitating Ranger for many years. Actual rehabilitation works in some areas is well advanced. All activities are being done in consultation with the Australian and NT governments, traditional owners and other stakeholders.

Ranger operates in an environmentally significant area. It is on Aboriginal land, surrounded by Kakadu National Park. The Mirarr people are the traditional owners.

Regulatory framework

The Australian and NT governments regulate Ranger. The NT Government regulates day-to-day activities.

Commonwealth legislation

NT legislation

The NT Mining Management Act 2001 applies to all mining activities in the NT. The Act requires ERA to have an Authorisation and Mining Management Plan in place which details the activities they can undertake.

Commonwealth agreements

As the Ranger mine is on Aboriginal land, the  Australian Government has an agreement with the Northern Land Council which facilitates ERA’s access to the area. This is consistent with the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth).

The government also holds a security for the rehabilitation of the Ranger mine under a separate agreement with ERA.

Rehabilitation and closure

ERA is required to rehabilitate Ranger to a standard similar to the adjacent area of Kakadu National Park. This condition was imposed on the mine’s operator when Ranger was approved.

 ERA ceased mining and processing uranium at Ranger on 8 January 2021. While rehabilitation activities are underway, a number of stand-alone applications for several major rehabilitation activities are still required. These applications are expected to be made over the coming years.

Mine closure plan

ERA must submit a Mine Closure Plan (MCP) for the NT and Commonwealth resources ministers to approve each year. The MCP is the rehabilitation plan referenced in the Environmental Requirements.

It describes ERA’s broad rehabilitation and closure strategy for Ranger and reflects current knowledge and understanding of rehabilitation activities.  

ERA has submitted a MCP every year since 2018. The Supervising Scientist, Northern Land Council and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation also assess the MCP and provide advice to the ministers. The ministers must consider this advice when deciding whether to approve the MCP.

Anyone can provide feedback on the MCP to ERA, the Supervising Scientist, and the NT or Australian governments.

The MCP, including the rehabilitation strategy, becomes binding and enforceable when it is approved by ministers.

The ministers can approve the plan, wholly or in part, and with conditions. If the Commonwealth minister does not approve the MCP, ERA can submit an amended plan.

Closure criteria

ERA is also working with governments, the Northern Land Council and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation to develop closure criteria. These are quantifiable measures or outcomes used to test if ERA has achieved the Environmental Requirements. The Commonwealth and NT ministers must approve closure criteria.

Closure criteria is being developed across six themes:

  • landform
  • radiation
  • water and sediment
  • ecosystem
  • soils
  • cultural.

When ERA can demonstrate it has met all Environmental Requirements, the Ranger project area will receive a close-out certificate. Final close-out is the point at which ERA is no longer subject to any rehabilitation obligations.

History

Ranger was Australia’s longest running uranium mine. The Ranger uranium deposit was discovered in 1969 before the NT become self-governing. Unlike most onshore mines, the Australian Government directly approved its development.

In 1975, the government commissioned the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry into the mine’s proposed development. As a result of the Inquiry, the government approved the Ranger mine. Mining operations began in 1980.

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Last updated: 1 July 2022

Content ID: 46481