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Uranium mining controversy in Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park, located in the Northern Territory of Australia, possesses within its boundaries a number of large uranium deposits. The uranium is legally owned by the Australian Government, and is sold internationally. This mining, and the presence of uranium in Kakadu have come under controversy, due to the widespread publicity regarding the potential danger of nuclear power and uranium mining.

Kakadu can be found on the World Heritage List, both for its cultural and natural value, a unique feat because few sites are featured for both reasons.


History of uranium mining in Kakadu

Uranium ore was found in Kakadu in 1969, and in 1980 the Ranger Uranium Mine was completed. From the very start it was shrouded in controversy, with local Aboriginal groups protesting.[citation needed] A number of studies and reports were produced through the 1970s. Agreement to mine was reached between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Northern Land Council which represented the traditional Aboriginal land owners. The land used by the Ranger mine is owned by the Kakadu Land Trust. Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) pays 4.25% of its gross sales revenue plus an annual rental of $200 000 for the use of the land. Ranger has paid over $200 million in royalties since 1980. The money is paid to the Commonwealth Government and ultimately distributed to Northern Territory-based Aboriginal groups, including the Traditional Owners, under the terms of the Commonwealth¹s Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976.[1]

The site of the Ranger mine and the adjacent Jabiluka area are not part of the national park, but are completely surrounded by it, as they were specifically excluded when the park was established from 1981.

Following a lengthy and exhausting negotiation process, Indigenous leaders agreed in 1981 to terms with Pancontinental Mining to allow the construction of an underground Uranium mine at Jabiluka. Scepticism remains to this day over the fairness of this agreement. Some suggest that indigenous leaders were worn down by the negotiation process and compromised in order for it to be finished.[2] Jabiluka was bought by Energy Resources of Australia (owners of the nearby Ranger mine) in 1991.[3]

In 1998, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee announced that they proposed to list the park as "in danger" because of Uranium mining[2], but this tag was not applied after a subsequent analysis by the World Heritage Committee when the Environment Minister, Robert Hill observed that many world heritage areas have mining and other extractive industries in or adjacent to them. Both the Ranger mine and the Jabiluka mining lease predate the national park and world heritage area.[3]

In 1999, the UNESCO's World Heritage Committee held their third extraordinary session "to decide whether to immediately inscribe Kakadu National Park [Australia] on the List of World Heritage in Danger."[4] The proposal was turned down by the large majority of the Committee who saw that the threat was not urgent enough, therefore the sovereignty of Australia must be respected. The Committee could only "expresses its deep regret" that the voluntary suspension of construction of the mine decline at Jabiluka has not taken place, and was "gravely concerned" about the serious impacts to the living cultural values of the park.[5]

Potential danger and controversy regarding uranium mining

Uranium has the potential to be a highly dangerous substance when not treated in the proper manner, remaining radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Uranium mining in Kakadu could permanently damage the environment in Kakadu, as well as the sacred Aboriginal sites which have been part of the local culture for tens of thousands of years.[citation needed]

Nuclear power and the extraction of raw uranium ore has always had hazardous waste issues. Concern at Kakadu is that waste may poison Aboriginal water and food supplies, with fatal consequences for local indigenous groups.[citation needed]

In 2004, a number of mining workers in Kakadu became ill after potable water at the mine site became contaminated with process water.[6]

Benefits of Uranium mining

The benefits to Australia of uranium mining in Kakadu are mainly economic. Australia possesses 24% of the world's Uranium deposits, [7] and the sale of this uranium has potential to be a huge boost for the Australian economy.

From 2000-2005 nearly 50,000 tons of Uranium oxide were exported from Australia to eleven different countries. This brought over A$2,1 Billion dollars to the Australian economy.[7]

Opponents of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers region claim that these benefits have not reached local communities of traditional land owners, who remain poorly resourced, under-employed, and economically disadvantaged.[8]

Sale of Uranium and related issues

With the sale of uranium comes the threat that the uranium could be used to build nuclear weapons - so as of 2006, Australian uranium is only sold to countries which are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although this is likely to change in regard to the sale of uranium to India.[citation needed]

See also

  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Anti-nuclear movement in Australia


  1. ^ Ranger. Australia's Uranium Mines. Uranium Information Centre (October 2006). Retrieved on 2007-01-15.
  2. ^ a b Shame 2000: Uranium mining in Kakadu. Shame 2000 (2004-11-11). Retrieved on 2006-11-11.
  3. ^ a b Jabiluka Background. Uranium Information Centre (November 2005). Retrieved on 2007-01-15.
  4. ^ In case of urgent need, the World Heritage Committee has the authority to make a new entry in the List of World Heritage in Danger at any time, without the consent of the State Party concerned, according to Article 11 (4) of the Convention.
  5. ^ UNESCO (1999-7-12). Third Extraordinary Session of the Committee. [WHC-99/CONF.205/5Rev.] Retrieved on 2007-5-29
  6. ^ Anne Barker. "Ranger Uranium Mine resumes production despite contaminated water incidents", PM, ABC, 2004-04-13. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
  7. ^ a b Australia's Uranium and Who Buys It. Uranium & Nuclear Power Information Centre (2004-11-11). Retrieved on 2006-11-11.
  8. ^ Peter Thompson (3 April 2005). Wisdom Interviews - Jacqui Katona. Retrieved on 2007-01-17.

Further reading

  • Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Submission to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on world heritage properties in Australia and Kakadu [electronic resource].[Canberra] : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, 2000.
  • Grey, Anthony J. (1994) Jabiluka: the battle to mine Australia's uranium Melbourne: Text Publishing. ISBN 1863720405
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Uranium_mining_controversy_in_Kakadu_National_Park". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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