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Assessment of the Jabiluka Project : report of the Supervising Scientist to the World Heritage Committee



Assessment of the Jabiluka Project : report of the Supervising Scientist to the World Heritage Committee


Johnston, A.; Prendergast, J. B.; Bridgewater, Peter


E-Publications; E-Books; PublicationNT; Supervising Scientist Report; 138




Alligator Rivers Region

Table of contents

Main report--Appendix 2 of the Main Report. Submission to the Mission of the World Heritage Committee by some Australian Scientists ... --Attachment A. Johnston A. and Needham S. 1999. Protection of the environment near the Ranger uranium mine--Attachment B. Bureau of Meteorology 1999. Hydrometeorological analysis relevant to Jabiluka--Attachment C. Jones, R.N., Hennessy, K.J. and Abbs, D.J. 1999. Climate change analysis relevant to Jabiluka--Attachment D. Chiew, F and Wang, Q.J. 1999. Hydrological anaysis relevant to surface water storage at Jabiluka--Attachment E. Kalf, F. and Dudgeon, C. 1999. Analysis of long term groundwater dispersal of contaminants from proposed Jabiluka mine tailings repositories--Appendix 2 of Attachment E. Simulation of leaching on non-reactive and radionuclide contaminants from proposed Jabiluka silo banks.




Uranium mill tailings - Environmental aspects - Northern Territory - Alligator Rivers Region; Environmental impact analysis - Northern Territory - Jabiluka; Uranium mines and mining - Environmental aspects - Northern Territory - Jabiluka; Jabiluka - Environmental aspects

Publisher name

Environment Australia

Place of publication

Canberra (A.C.T.)


Supervising Scientist Report; 138


1 volume (various pagings) : illustrations, maps

File type






Copyright owner

Environment Australia



Parent handle


Citation address


Related items

https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462403; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462400; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462405; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462406; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462408; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462409; https://hdl.handle.net/10070/462411

Page content

99 resolved by the proponent in consultation with officials of the Northern Territory and the Supervising Scientist at the detailed design stage but the conclusion had been reached that there were no insurmountable obstacles that would prevent a design being achieved that would ensure the highest level of environmental protection in Kakadu National Park. This detailed review has demonstrated that there were a number of weaknesses in the hydrological modelling presented by ERA in the EIS and the PER. Accordingly, a number of recommendations have been made which should be implemented by ERA in completing the detailed design of the Jabiluka project. On the other hand, the review has demonstrated quite clearly that, if the design of the water management system proposed by ERA in the PER had been implemented, the risk to the wetlands of Kakadu National Park, and the risk of radiation exposure to people of the region would have been extremely low. This conclusion is valid even in extreme circumstances leading to the complete failure of the structure of the water retention pond at Jabiluka. The lay reader will, no doubt, find this conclusion surprising. Its origin, however, lies in the fact that uranium is not a particularly toxic substance for aquatic animals. It has been well established that the toxicity of uranium is much lower than that of many many more common substances such as copper, cadmium and lead. It is the perception of the public that uranium is a very dangerous substance, and the failure of the scientific community to persuade the public otherwise, that has led to adoption of extreme measures to ensure that no amount of uranium should leave the site of a uranium mine. Similarly, uranium in its natural state does not pose a particularly severe radiation threat. Exposure to uranium and its radioactive progeny needs to be controlled but the inherent radioactivity of uranium and its progeny is sufficiently low that ensuring that people do not receive exposures that would be harmful is relatively straightforward. It is only when uranium is used as fuel in a reactor that fission reactions result in a large number of radioactive products which produce high levels of ionising radiation. Thus, on scientific grounds, there is no reason why water collected at Jabiluka could not be discharged into the surface waters of the Magela floodplain under a suitably designed control regime that would protect both people and ecosystems. The proposal by ERA that these waters should be totally contained at the mine site was made in response to social concerns and perceptions, not scientific evidence. The long-term threats to the wetlands of Kakadu arising from the storage of uranium mill tailings at Jabiluka have also been assessed. Because the tailings will be stored at a significant depth below the surface of the land, physical dispersion of the tailings will not be possible for millions of years. The whole land mass would need to be eroded away and by that time the wetlands of Kakadu would no longer exist. Even then, the threat to future generations is insignificant because the residual uranium and its radioactive progeny would be present at low concentrations and would be mixed, when dispersed, with the inert material surrounding the current orebody. Dispersion of radionuclides and other constituents of the tailings in groundwater has been shown to present no threat to the wetlands of Kakadu or the people who live there in either the short-term or the long-term. The conclusion of this review, therefore, is that, contrary to the views expressed by the Mission, the natural values of Kakadu National Park are not threatened by the development of the Jabiluka uranium mine and the degree of scientific certainty that applies to this assessment is very high. There would appear, therefore, to be no justification for a decision by the World Heritage Committee that the natural World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park are in danger as a result of the proposal to mine uranium at Jabiluka.