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Estimates hearings - Ranger uranium mine

STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTSSupervising Scientist Division Discussion Senator MILNE—I would just be interested to know if there have been any spills at Ranger in the last 12 months. Mr Hughes—I guess the question about spills is dependent on the definition thereof. There is always going to be dripping taps and leaking pipes in any sort of processing plant to some degree or other, but there have been no spills to the environment that have had any impact on the environment outside the immediate mine area. Senator MILNE—How do you judge ‘have not had any impact on the environment outside of the area’? Mr Hughes—We undertake a fairly extensive monitoring program ourselves, but in addition to that the regulator, which is the Northern Territory government, imposes an equally rigorous monitoring program on the mining operator. We ourselves are currently involved in a whole lot of research in order to actually upgrade and improve our own monitoring programs, and we are working our way through that at this stage. Senator MILNE—Have you done an assessment of the adequacy of the holding ponds, the effluent ponds, the tailings, the tailings dam and so on in relation to extreme weather events with changed rainfall patterns because of climate change? Mr Hughes—Not specifically looking at climate change, but we do look at extreme weather events and we look at the capacity of those ponds. As a matter of fact, ERA is currently in the process of submitting an application to raise the levels of the tailings dam further. We will be undertaking an assessment of that and referring it also to an independent geotechnical assessor. Senator MILNE—Why are they doing that? Mr Hughes—I guess they need more capacity for additional tailings, is one thing, and the other thing is the timing issue, I suppose, in terms of potential pushbacks in the current mining pit. It was intended that from this year ERA was going to be putting tailings into the current mining pit at the conclusion of mining but the life of the mine has been extended out now to 2012. So there is a point somewhere between now and 2012 where they need to have additional capacity to store tailings in the tailings dam. Senator MILNE—Just in relation to climate change and monitoring of changed patterns of rainfall, let me put it that way, are you actively looking at that in terms of the adequacy of the dams up there? Mr Hughes—The engineering factors of safety that are already built into those dams would be far beyond the level of change that you would expect over a short-term period. Senator MILNE—So you are confident we will not have spillage from those dams because of extreme weather events? Mr Hughes—Yes, our job is to make sure— Senator MILNE—That there is an adequate capacity in those dams? Mr Hughes—Our job is to make sure that there is adequate capacity. Part of the work that we do is we insist ERA provide whatever necessary contingencies to actually cover that base as well as knowing that there is adequate capacity. Senator MILNE—And that will be part of your assessment of their expanded dam? Mr Hughes—Yes, indeed. Senator MILNE—Thank you.

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