$900m rare earths mine in Central Australia approved despite radioactive risk
A proposed $900 million rare earths mine in Central Australia is recommended for approval by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority.

Arafura Resources Sustainability manager Brian Fowler said the low level radioactive material produced in the processing of rare earth material would be stored onsite in purpose-built dams.

"There will have to be a high level of operational management control for this project over a couple of generations, and there'll have to be a high level of regulatory scrutiny, there's no two ways about that," EPA chairman Paul Vogel said.

The primary risks include the permanent storage of naturally occurring radioactive material onsite and the use of significant groundwater resources over the 35 to 55-year lifespan of the project.

Mr Vogel said he understood public concern about such issues, and the effectiveness of the EPA to effectively monitor them, but said the authority was better placed to provide sufficient oversight.

It is estimated the project will use 2.7 gigalitres of groundwater a year, and the EPA has recommended aquifer levels and water usage be monitored in real-time with data made available to the public.

Genesee & Wyoming’s transcontinental nuclear strategy on track
former Nationals leader Tim Fischer ... tells The Weekend Australian that the prospect of one day using the line as part of a nuclear storage industry was part of cabinet’s deliberations in 1999 when it agreed to invest in the line. “Informally, ­certainly it was there,” he says.

While the idea of waste storage has been around since the early 1980s, when Bob Hawke commissioned an inquiry, Malcolm Turnbull has strongly backed this as a future industry for Australia.

Asked if GWA could play a role in this industry, Pauline limited his comments to the current issue of setting up a storage facility for Australia’s own low-level waste. He said: “There is little doubt that one of the safest modes of transport to move low-level radioactive materials, like used and decaying medical isotopes, is via rail. In principle, with the right processes and procedures in place, we as a global freight operator would definitely consider moving that type of material by rail.”

He believes there were some potential storage locations for radioactive material in the Territory and South Australia “that make sense”.

Should Australia ever develop a nuclear waste storage industry, there’s no guarantee that Darwin-Adelaide would play a role given the potential sites closer to the South Australian coast.

Fischer says that the enormous underground chasms deep beneath Roxby Downs could prove to be the perfect location for such an industry. “As far I was concerned, having visited the huge stable empty man made chasms underground Roxby — this was in my thinking absolutely and could still happen,” he said. Even though Darwin is closer to potential Asian and European markets, Fischer said the additional distance to reach ports in South Australia would amount to an insignificant cost.

He said the waste could be moved along the Darwin-to-Adelaide line to Pimba, a small settlement located near the junction where the Darwin line joins the east-west transcontinental line. He said this could involve building a spur line to Roxby, or a system of electric trucks.

“Darwin, Port Pirie, Whyalla, Adelaide, they all have direct centre gauge to Pimba. From there you would truck it right through to underground chasms in a glassification form. It is perfectly safe,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. There’s already uranium going out of Adelaide. There’s already infrastructure there in place. It is the next big economic injection into South Australia,” he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation’s nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said using the rail line to ship high-level waste faced formidable hurdles on a number of fronts. He said the line had suffered from “a very high level of irregularities, accidents and derailments”. Shipments of waste into any port in Australia would face action by the powerful Maritime Union of Australia, which has previously allowed only Australian-generated waste returning from reprocessing offshore to pass through domestic ports, says Sweeney. And changing various laws to allow the industry to operate would also face considerable ­hurdles, unless a future government had control of the Senate.

Energy Resources of Australia reviews its Ranger uranium mine
The operator of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory is considering the mine's future after the Mirarr traditional owners advised they do not support an extension past the 2021 lease.

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) today released its December quarter review for 2015 to the ASX.

It showed uranium production was up by 12 per cent to 669 tonnes compared with the December quarter in 2014.

Overall production for the year was up by 840 tonnes, or 72 per cent, on the previous year.

The company said it would update the market this quarter on its strategic review for the mine, which is surrounded by the Kakadu National Park.

"ERA has initiated a strategic review of its business following advice from the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation that the Mirarr Traditional Owners do not support an extension to the Ranger Authority," its statement to the ASX said.

"ERA expects to provide an update on the strategic review in the March 2016 quarter."

The company noted: "There was no exploration expenditure in the December 2015 quarter, in line with the September 2015 quarter."

It also said rehabilitation of the mine site continued during the quarter.

"Commissioning of the dredge and tailings transfer infrastructure began during the December 2015 quarter. Dredging of tailings from the Tailings Storage Facility to Pit 3 for final deposition has commenced," the company said.

Uranium has been mined at Ranger for three decades, making it Australia's longest continually operating uranium mine.

Australia's dangerous nuclear double standard
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wasted no time in joining the chorus of international condemnation of North Korea's latest nuclear weapon test.

"North Korea's actions fly in the face of international non-proliferation norms, and challenge the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Bishop said.

But behind Bishop's ready condemnation lies an awkward contradiction. Like North Korea, Australia believes that nuclear weapons really do make it safer.

Of course, Australia claims that it supports nuclear disarmament and is working for a world free of nuclear weapons. But our actions say something different: Australia relies on extended nuclear deterrence for its security, has no plans to change that, and has been actively opposing and resisting international steps to stigmatise and prohibit nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds.

Defying moves towards a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, Bishop stated that "the stark reality today remains that as long as nuclear weapons exist, many countries, including Australia, will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence to help prevent nuclear attack or coercion".

Aboriginal traditional owners vow to oppose Alice Springs nuke waste dump
The owner of the date farm shortlisted for the dump has said if the Egyptian pharaohs were buried for thousands of years with no ill-effects on the environment, the same should be possible with nuclear waste.

The farm south of the town is one of six locations around Australia being considered to house low and intermediate level radioactive waste.

Around 50 people turned out at a public meeting in the community of Santa Teresa, near the proposed dump, where opponents of the plan directed their anger at officials from the Commonwealth's Department of Industry.

Mark Weaver, manager for the Government's Radioactive Waste Management Project, said it was a productive discussion but there's a long way to go before any decisions are made.

"There's a lot of talk that this is a rushed process. It isn't," Mr Weaver said.

"The next decision made will not be selecting a site but will be short-listing."

Aboriginal traditional owners said they were sad and in shock following the meeting.

"[The meeting] made us really upset. We're thinking about the land and our ancestors, they are still floating around the land and [the Government] is trying to destroy it," traditional owner Sharon Alice said.

"It's going to destroy the land forever. We're thinking about our future. Dump it somewhere else, not in our backyard."

Barbara Shaw from the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance said it was bad timing for consultations.

Jimmy Cocking, director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre.
PHOTO: Jimmy Cocking, of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says Aboriginal traditional owners do not want the dump on their lands. (ABC News)
"A lot of our mob have cultural obligations and activities coming up soon, we have a lot of people going into town for health reasons and because it's Christmas, a lot of people go away for holidays," she said.

Jimmy Cocking from the Alice Springs-based Arid Lands Environment Centre said it was clear traditional owners, the people of Santa Teresa, Oak Valley and Titjikala do not want the nuclear waste site in their backyard.

Mr Cocking said if the date farm is shortlisted he will stand by traditional owners in continuing to fight against it.

"If that means demonstrations and protests, we'll be there. But in the meantime, we'll engage in this process and hope that sense comes to the Federal Minister and they realise the error of their ways."

Tim Mickel, owner of the AridGold date farm shortlisted as a location for the nuclear waste facility, said he wanted to stay involved in the process. He said he believed the effects on the environment of any dump at the site would be negligible. "I really don't think there's going to be any effect to the water table, the aquifer, even the environment, and during the process there's going to be monitoring," he said. "The pharaohs managed to bury their dead for 3,000 years and they come up intact, so why can't we do it with nuclear waste and have the same or nil effect to the environment?"