August 20, 2003
Rio Tinto to Rehabilitate Uranium Mine
by Paddy Manning
Environmental activists have long been advocating for restoration of the Jabiluka uranium mine,
which is located in the Kakadu World Heritage Area in Northern Australia.
Mining giant Rio Tinto (ticker: RTP) has announced it will
rehabilitate the controversial Jabiluka uranium mine, sited in the Kakadu World Heritage Area in
Northern Australia. The move follows campaigning over more than a decade by environmental
activists and indigenous representatives opposed to the mine, which is operated by Energy Resources
Work started when the mine was approved by Australian Prime
Minister John Howard's conservative administration. Subsequently the project was investigated by
the United Nations' World Heritage Commission. The Commission was concerned that Kakadu's
conservation values were in danger.
Although the Commission ultimately did not list
Kakadu World Heritage Area as endangered, the controversial project was suspended once Rio Tinto
acquired its majority stake in ERA from North Ltd in August 2000.
On Friday August 1st,
2003 ERA announced it had obtained approval from the Northern Territory Government to restore the
mine site in line with the wishes of the traditional owners of the Jabiluka land, the Mirrar
A large hole in the ground or "decline" exists at the site. Mirrar
representatives have been calling for the restoration of the decline since at least last year,
after Rio Tinto chairman Sir Robert Wilson publicly promised the mine would not proceed without
consent of the traditional owners.
Mirrar senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula,
chairman of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation which represents the Mirrar people, issued a
statement at the time that such consent would never be given.
Now the decline will be
backfilled, with an estimated 60,000 tonnes of stockpiled uranium ore and waste rock being returned
ERA is currently working on an agreement with the Mirrar, and the Northern
Land Council, in relation to the long-term care and maintenance of Jabiluka.
executive Bob Cleary said the agreement is near finalization although Gundjehmi Aboriginal
Corporation chief executive Andy Ralph said it was "early days" and finalization was weeks away.
Ralph said the agreement would include veto rights for traditional owners and said ERA's
rehabilitation announcement "heralds a new era of cooperation" between the Mirrar and the mining
Alec Marr, campaign director of environment group the Wilderness Society issued
a statement welcoming the Jabiluka rehabilitation and thanking thousand of campaign supporters
around the world.
"We always said that if we couldn't stop a uranium mine being built
inside a World Heritage Area, against the wishes of the traditional owners and the combined
campaign efforts of the Australian environment movement, then nowhere would be safe," said Marr.
"The fact is the mine has been stopped," he said.
Marr also congratulated Rio
Tinto on its decision, saying the company had "taken a much more sensible attitude to Jabiluka than
the now defunct parent company Norths, who started construction of the mine.
made a good business decision that is also good for Kakadu and will generate some good will towards
the company," he said.
Green shareholder activist Erika Ford, who led the anti-Jabiluka
shareholder campaign against North Ltd almost five years ago, said it had been a long wait.
"It's great to see the parties have come together but we need expediency," she said. "The story
is not over yet. The land has to be reincorporated into the [Kakadu National] Park."
questioned why ERA would retain its leasehold rights at Jabiluka: "why hold onto the lease if you
have no intention to mine it? That's where the mistrust comes in."
Rio Tinto is one of
the world's largest diversified mining companies and is invested by a number of global socially
responsible share funds including funds managed by Swiss-based Sustainable Asset Management (SAM).
Copyright 2003, Ethical Investor, all rights reserved.