Territory Stories

Parliamentary record : Part I debates (19 August 1981)



Parliamentary record : Part I debates (19 August 1981)


Debates for 3rd Assembly 1980 - 1983; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 3rd Assembly 1980 - 1983




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 19 August 1981 Mr Speaker, I started to wonder just what was going on at Nabarlek to provoke this ridiculous paranoia that exists there in comparison, as I say, to the very professional attitude exhibited by the Ranger management. I started making inquiries and, 10 and behold, purely by picking up scuttle-butt - and that is all it was until question time this morning - I found by dribs and drabs and by asking various people, that an incident had occurred at Nabarlek which the company failed to report. As a result of their non-reporting and, as the minister told the Assembly this morning, their deliberate deceit, the federal minister did not know anything about it and neither did the Northern Territory minister. The reason I bring it to the attention of the Assembly is so that I can obtain a response from the honourable minister as to whether the allegations that I have been given are correct. The situation is this. To the east of the mill at Nabarlek is a holding pond and a down slope between the mill and Cooper's Creek. It is designed to collect toxic wastes that might run off from the mill and prevent them from entering the environment and going into Cooper's Creek. Last year, the physical level of the liquid in that mill and the level of the radium that it contained were causing great concern to the monitoring authorities. Many questions were asked about it but nothing was done. The maximum safe level for radium is 5 pico-curies per litre by World Health Organisation standards. I am told at one stage the monitored level in this pond reached 4000 pico-curies per litre. It later dropped to 2000 pico-curiesperlitre and, at the time of this incident, had apparently dropped to several hundred pico-curies per litre. Questions were asked about the dangerous level of the liquid in the pond but nothing was done. At the time of Cyclone Max, the area received heavy rainfall. During the night, due to the heavy rainfall, the toxic material held in this pond, containing a very high amount of radiation pollution, overflowed into the environment. I am told that it is not known whether any of it reached Cooper's Creek nobody knows. It caused an absolute panic at the mine site at the time. I am told there was furious activity going on in the early hours of the morning people running around with front-end loaders and shunting stuff up - but an unknown amount of this pollution escaped into the environment and nobody knows where it went. I have been told that, for several months after the event, unfortunately no tests whatever were made in Cooper's Creek to find out if any of this radio-active material had reached the creek. I have also been informed that a technical officer, employed by the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, questioned the mine management as to the details of this incident and, as the minister advised the Assembly this morning, that officer was told by the mine management that nothing had taken place; nothing had happened. As a result, no tests were made in Cooper's Creek for some months after the incident occurred. Nobody knows where the material went in the environment or how much damage it caused. The Supervising Scientist was not informed and, because the Supervising Scientist had not been told, the federal minister responsible was not told either. Mr Speaker, the honourable Minister for Mines and Energy and the Supervising Scientist have both told me and this Assembly - in the case of the honourable minister, on several occasions - that the operations of uranium mines in the Territory, as far as he is concerned, are an open book. I take the honourable minister at his word. I believe he is genuine about that. It was a serious incident. I am not suggesting that it was catastrophic but it was definitely an incident which should have been reported to responsible authorities and it was not. It is clear, and I am sure it is clear to the Minister for Mines and Energy, that the company cannot be trusted. There are a number of questions that have 1328

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