Mine gets provisional OK from environment regulator

2503 Nolans 4 OK

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The NT Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) says the Nolans project of Arafura Resources Ltd near Aileron, 135 km north of Alice Springs, can “be managed to avoid unacceptable environmental impacts and risks”.

 

The EPA recommended government approval for the mine, subject to several conditions. It would employ up to 500 workers during construction, an average of 375, and a peak of 300 during operations.

 

The EPA says the proposal is to mine rare earth elements,”key components in many green and sustainable products, such as wind turbines for the clean energy industry and hybrid vehicles.

 

“The proposal includes open cut mining and processing over a 55 year mine life.”

 

EPA Chairman Paul Vogel says mining wastes that include naturally occurring radioactive materials would be permanently stored onsite.

 

The proposal also includes groundwater from a new borefield and permanent diversion of an ephemeral creek.

 

Dr Vogel says the EPA had “identified potentially significant environmental impacts and risks associated with the proposal and made 16 recommendations to avoid and mitigate those impacts.

 

“Potential contaminants and the presence of naturally occurring radioactive materials in these waste streams warrant independent technical review and operational oversight to ensure the risks are minimised to the lowest extent practicable and to promote a transparent regulatory process.”

 

The EPA also considers there is “potential for impacts on groundwater hydrological processes and associated environmental values. The sustainable use and management of groundwater resources is important in an arid zone where the project is located.

 

“The NT EPA recommends further hydrological investigations including refining the groundwater model, setting site-specific groundwater level triggers and adaptive management of groundwater use.”

 

Dr Vogel says a mine closure plan should be regularly updated and there should be a security bond to ensure the costs of rehabilitation and post-closure liabilities are not borne by the NT Government and the community in the event of the operator abandoning the site or becoming insolvent.

 

The EPA notes that uncertainty remains around the potential for significant environmental impacts. Environmental commitments, safeguards and recommendations outlined in the EIS and required by the EPA must be implemented by the company “with a high level of oversight and strong compliance enforcement by the relevant regulator throughout the life of the project”.

 

Arafura’s Managing Director, Gavin Lockyer, says the EPA decision should go some way towards securing final government approval for the project.

 

The company’s flagship project is Nolans where the company “plans to mine, concentrate and chemically process rare earths and transport an intermediate product to an offshore refinery [yet to be determined] for final chemical processing into high-value rare earth products.

 

“The price of rare earths has been affected by cyclical downturns, largely impacted by Chinese dominance of the market.

 

“However, the demand for the key rare earths to be produced by Arafura at Nolans – neodymium (Nd) and praseodymium (Pr) – is rising at an estimated 7-8% a year due to their use in ultra-strong permanent magnets in the automotive industry, in clean energy applications such as wind turbine generators, and in personal electronic consumer products such as smart phones,” says Mr Lockyer.

 

“Arafura maintains its confidence that the company will become a world-leading source of magnet-feed NdPr rare earths and is well-positioned to capitalise on market changes that have led to escalating prices in 2017.”

 

The company distributed $360,000 as part of its exploration agreement with traditional owners for projects including a new laundry block at Alyuen and the Roosters Football Club in Ti Tree.

 

 

 

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2 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Maskat
    Posted January 10, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    I agree with the comment above and also would just like to add … there goes our precious water!
    Wasted on greed!

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  2. Tony Hambleton
    Posted January 7, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    The creation of near surface deposits of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material commonly called NORMS is common in some mining and oil/gas extraction processes. The concentration of NORMS as a result of the storage and containment processes is also not uncommon. These NORMS concentrates are often called TENORMS with the TE meaning technologically enhanced.

    The issues with TENORMS material include the half life of the radiation sources and their decay products.
    It is not unusual for this to be in excess of 1000 years; i.e. not just for the life of the mine.
    The NT EPA report identifies the radionuclides as being uranium and thorium.
    We normally expect very long half lives from the decay products of of these elements.
    The EPA report mentions covering the radioactive waste with 2m of rock and soil.
    That would probably be OK if we could guarantee that for the 1000 or so years that the waste is significantly radioactive there would be no erosion of cover or other forms of excavation in the area.
    I am not aware of any land use controls that could provide such a guarantee.
    The only safe way to guarantee safety of a TENORMS waste deposit is though deep burial (eg up to 1000m underground).
    Further, it would also be desirable for the TENORMS waste to be cement stabilised as a method of containment.
    The proponents of processes that create TENORMS often quote the low level of radiation expressed as Becquerels per gram and to provide comparisons with radiation from smoke detectors and the like.
    Of course, these comparisons are nonsense because the TENORMS waste sources typically involve thousands of tonnes of radiation source, not less than a gram in a typical smoke detector.
    Research into radiation hazards on TENORMS sources is still in its early days and is of necessity a very complex issue.
    Most of the standards we have are based on exposure to high levels of radiation with the assumption that we can apply the linear no threshold model to estimate the health impacts of lower level sources.
    There is little or no evidence that this is a valid process.
    Because of the uncertainty, the only reasonable approach is to apply the precautionary principal; i.e. to assume that unless we can demonstrate that something is safe, to assume that it is not.
    It follows that the proposal to store TENORMS in dams for a very long time involves risks that we should not take.

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