Traditional owners and the Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt have signed off on a new exploration proposal for a uranium, gold and palladium mine in the Northern Territory.
- Ken Wyatt gave the approval after an agreement was reached with the Northern Land Council
- The NT Resources Minister must now grant approval for exploration to commence
- The area around the Devil’s Elbow prospect has been explored by companies in the past
The Eclipse Metals project still needs approval from the NT Resources Minister but the company said in an ASX announcement it was confident approval would be granted.
The site earmarked for exploration, known as Devil’s Elbow, is within Arnhem Land’s Alligator Rivers Uranium Field and lies 65 kilometres east of the Ranger Uranium Mine
The area has previously been explored and abandoned by other companies, including Cameco in 2008.
Rio Tinto withdrew from a joint venture to acquire a majority stake in Devil’s Elbow, according to Eclipse Metals’ most recent annual report. The deal had been negotiated in 2016.
In its announcement, Eclipse Metals said Mr Wyatt consented to the licence after a “long-standing” negotiation with the Northern Land Council and traditional owners resulted in an agreement.
“The terms of the agreement are quite viable in the current market economy, allowing us to develop the Devil’s Elbow’s full potential,” director Carl Popal said in the statement.
“The company looks forward to working closely with the traditional owners and the NLC in making the most of each exploration field from 2020, with bilateral benefits.”
Scientist says venture may not be worthwhile
The supervising scientist branch of the Environment Department is responsible for protecting the Alligator Rivers region from the effects of uranium mining through monitoring and research.
Gavin Mudd, an associate professor of environmental engineering at RMIT University who sits on the Alligator Rivers scientific committee, assists with this role.
Associate Professor Mudd was sceptical about the proposal, considering market conditions and the fact the region has already been heavily explored for more than 60 years.
“Sometimes you find something that other drillers and other explorers have missed, but often that’s not the case, it’s actually pretty rare,” he said.
“There’s not a long-term prospect there.
“I think when you’re looking at the uranium industry globally the future is not bright at all, that’s certainly how I read the tea leaves.”
Uranium mining at the nearby decommissioned Nabarlek site ceased in 1988 and Associate Professor Mudd said it was an example of the failure to properly rehabilitate sites in the region
“We know there’s still erosion issues, we know there’s still weed issues, there’s still infrastructure left on site that was supposed to have been removed during rehab but wasn’t,” he said.
“Then you look at Ranger, which is an extraordinary large rehabilitation legacy that’s costing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate.
“We’re going to have to monitor that for decades and probably centuries to come.”
But Associate Professor Mudd said Rio Tinto deserved some credit for committing funds to the rehabilitation of Ranger
“They haven’t just walked away, which is often what you would see a mining company do when you’ve got a mine that’s not making money anymore,” he said.