With new environmental laws, Australia’s Northern Territory government abandons Rum Jungle mining projects

A small metal sign is the only indication that something is wrong in the scrubby bush near the outlet of Litchfield National Park’s well-known waterfalls.

Drop the plan to include the mining industry in the new environmental law

(Photo: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Rum Jungle uranium mine was once located here, 100 kilometers south of Darwin, and fueled the Cold War nuclear programs of the US and UK.

But nearly 50 years after its closure, Rum Jungle has left behind environmental damage that will take hundreds of millions of dollars to repair over the next ten years.

The Northern Territory is home to several old abandoned mines, the cleanup of which cost taxpayers millions of dollars, according to ABC News

Rum Jungle is just one such mine.

However, after the Northern Territory government abandoned efforts to tighten accountability requirements for mining companies, some fear they will not be the last of the so-called old mines.

According to Kirsty Howey, co-director of the NT Environment Center, Rum Jungle is just a harbinger of what we’re seeing in the barrel here in the territory, in terms of legacy mines.

To ensure that even if an organization liable for environmental damage became financially insolvent, someone other than the taxpayer – such as a parent company or director – would be held liable, the Government of the Northern Territories announced in 2021 that would introduce a chain of liability laws.

But the government said this year the legislation would apply to any operation that could affect the environment, including the broader mining industry, not just oil companies, as a scientific inquiry into fracking suggests. hydraulic.

However, a year later, the government’s draft law reveals that only oil companies would be subject to the proposed legislation, which excludes all mining operations.

The Northern Land Council, which argues that indigenous landowners have always borne the brunt of mining contamination, expressed dissatisfaction with the change in government policy.

Responding to concerns that taxpayers could be stuck with an estimated $100 million cleanup bill if Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery goes bankrupt, Queensland enacted its chain of custody laws in 2016.

Victoria’s laws also allow for the transfer of environmental obligations to related organisations.

Among them is the need for mining companies to give the government sureties for the expected cost of restoration.

In addition, mining companies are required to pay a 1% annual charge on their securities, with the money going into a separate fund for the management of legacy mines.

Read more: Does Bitcoin mining have a disastrous impact on the environment?

Environmental impact of the mining industry

Mining is the process of removing valuable minerals and other geological materials from their deposits on Earth, according to the World Atlas.

By causing soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil, mining damages the ecosystem.

Sinkholes can also develop as a result of mining.

The health of the community residing on or near the mine site may suffer from chemical leaks from mine sites.

To ensure that the land being mined finally returns to its original state, mining companies are sometimes required to follow environmental and rehabilitation regulations.

But these regulations are frequently violated.

Mining operations affect air quality.

When mineral resources are exposed to the surface through mining, unrefined materials are released.

These contaminants are airborne due to surrounding vehicle traffic and wind erosion.

These particles frequently contain harmful substances such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and others.

People who live near the mine site may suffer health problems from these contaminants.

Inhaling such airborne particles can cause allergies and respiratory illnesses.

In addition to metal poisoning, higher silt levels in waterways, and acid mine drainage, mining also pollutes water.

The main sources of water contamination are waste disposal sites, active or abandoned surface or transportation roads, tailings ponds, underground mines, processing industries, etc.

Siltation or smothering of stream beds is caused by sediments dumped after soil erosion.

It affects domestic water supplies, swimming, fishing, irrigation and other activities that depend on these water bodies.

Aquatic flora and fauna as well as terrestrial species that depend on them for food are threatened by high levels of harmful substances in water bodies.

Related article: War, abuse and environmental poisoning: the legacy of the Rio Tinto mine

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