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) operate the mine and produce around 1,800 tons of uranium oxide each year.
Ranger operates in an environmentally sensitive area. It is on Aboriginal land, surrounded by Kakadu National Park. The Mirarr people are the traditional owners.
The Australian and Northern Territory governments regulate Ranger. The NT Government regulates day-to-day activities.
- The Atomic Energy Act 1953 provides ownership of uranium in the NT to the Commonwealth. Energy Resources of Australia conducts mining activities at Ranger under an authority granted in section 41 of the Act.
- The Ranger Environmental Requirements are environmental protection conditions attached to the section 41 authority.
- The Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 establishes the functions of the Government’s Supervising Scientist who monitors and advises governments on Ranger’s environmental effects.
- The NT Mining Management Act applies to all mining activities in the NT. Under the Act, ERA has an approved Authorisation and Mining Management Plan which detail the activities the miner can undertake.
As the Ranger mine is on Aboriginal land, the 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.
Ranger is Australia’s longest running uranium mine. The Ranger uranium deposit was discovered in 1969 before the Northern Territory 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.
Rehabilitation and closure
Under its section 41 authority, ERA must stop mining uranium at Ranger by 8 January 2021. It must also complete rehabilitation works by 8 January 2026.
ERA is required to rehabilitate Ranger to a standard similar to the adjacent areas. This condition was imposed on the mine’s operators when Ranger was approved.
While ERA is expected to continue mining uranium at Ranger until 2021, it has started planning for the mine’s rehabilitation and closure. This will be done in consultation with the governments, traditional owners and other stakeholders.
Ranger mine closure plan
Energy Resources of Australia must submit a Mine Closure Plan (MCP) for the Northern Territory 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.
ERA submitted its first Ranger MCP in June 2018. The NT and Commonwealth Ministers approved the plan in December 2018 following advice from the Supervising Scientist and other stakeholders.
ERA submitted its 2019 MPC to the ministers in October 2019. The plan:
- reflects ERA’s current knowledge and understanding of rehabilitation activities
- describes how the company proposes to achieve the Environmental Requirements
The NT and Commonwealth Ministers approved the plan in May 2020.
Submitting and approving MCPs
ERA must follow a process each year when submitting a plan for approval:
- ERA updates and submits the plan to the Commonwealth and NT resources ministers by 1 October.
- The Supervising Scientist, Northern Land Council and Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation assess the plan and provide advice to the ministers. The ministers must consider this advice when deciding whether to approve the plan.
- The public can provide feedback on the plan to ERA, the Supervising Scientist and NT or Australian governments.
- The NT minister advises the Commonwealth minister about their decision to approve all or part of the plan.
- The Commonwealth minister notifies ERA and the NT minister about their decision.
- The plan, including ERA’s rehabilitation strategy, becomes binding and enforceable when it is approved by ministers.
- If the Commonwealth minister does not approve the plan, ERA can submit an amended plan.
- Ministers can approve the plan with conditions.
Closure criteria and close-out
ERA is working with governments to develop closure criteria. These are quantifiable measures or outcomes used to test if the mine has achieved the Environmental Requirements. The Commonwealth and NT ministers must approve the criteria. These will be finalised in the next two years as Ranger nears the end of uranium production.
When ERA can demonstrate it has met all Environmental Requirements, the Ranger project area will receive a close-out certificate.
Last updated: 12 November 2020
Content ID: 46481