Rum Jungle, NT

An Ongoing Environmental Calamity

Operating Project1950 to 1971
Ore Processed863,000 tonnes
Average Grade U3O80.28 to 0.41%
U3O8 Produced3,530 tonnes
Uranium DepositsWhite's (U-Cu-Pb), Dyson's (U), Rum Jungle Creek South (U), Mt Burton (U-Cu), Mt Fitch (U-Cu), Area 55 (U-Cu-Pb)
Other DepositsBrown's (Pb-Cu), Intermediate (Cu)
Photographic LibraryClick here!
SEA-US LinksPlunder! Extract - Gulliver File on CRA and RTZ

The Old Tailings Dam at Rum Jungle, June 1983 - Before Rehabilitation (19).

The first Rum Jungle find was actually recorded in 1869, by Goyder in his original surveying attempt for the new town of Darwin - although he recognised the green-coloured mineral was not copper, he could not identify it and so the find remained an historical obscurity (11). The Rum Jungle uranium deposit was "re-discovered" in 1949 by a local prospector and farmer, John Michael White - or "Jack" to some, while killing kangaroos. The name Rum Jungle is derived from an accident that occurred in 1871. A bullock-wagon load of rum, destined for the construction gangs, was said to have been bogged near a patch of jungle on the crocodile infested East Finniss River - the bullockies untethered the oxen and set about drinking the rum, having one of histories most glorious binges. Thereafter the area was known as Rum Jungle (11). It is about 64 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, among the headwaters of the East Finniss River. The uranium deposit, first identified in 1949, was quickly established as Australia's first large scale uranium mine with sales to the UK for their atomics weapons program.

Location of the Rum Jungle mining complex (9)..
rumj-clim.gif - 18.28 K
Climate of the Rum Jungle/Darwin region (9).

Mine Pre-History
Based on Rum Jungle from "The Uranium Hunters" (11).

Photo of the unpolluted South Branch of the Finniss River.
Notice the dense fringing growths of Pandanus palms
with some paperbarks along the shores. (22)

RJFinnissClean.jpg - 26647 Bytes The first resemblance of uranium near Rum Jungle was recorded in 1869, by G W Goyder in his original surveying attempt for the new town of Darwin. It was during surveying for an area south of Darwin that Goyder and his team of 154 men discovered mineral deposits, one containing traces of a green mineral that looked like copper, but could not be positively identified. It was found near a huge quarts reef on an earthquake fault in the "Hundred of Goyder" (as surveyed plots of land by Goyder were known). The surveyors named the reef Giant's Reef, only a mile or two from Rum Jungle, and it is still known as that today. Goyder's reports simply became filed in the Australian Archives and so the find remained an historical obscurity.

The name Rum Jungle is derived from an accident that occurred in 1871. A bullock-wagon load of rum, destined for the construction gangs, was said to have been bogged near a patch of jungle on the crocodile infested East Finniss River - the bullockies untethered the oxen and set about drinking the rum, having one of histories most glorious binges and nearly drinking themselves into the grave. Thereafter the locals enviously named the area as Rum Jungle.

A railway line was eventually pushed south from Darwin to Pine Creek, site of the big 1873 gold rush, in 1886. The line passed through the small station named Batchelor, six miles from Rum Jungle. Copper was worked near Rum Jungle prior to 1907, but without economic success. The few small pits became known as the Rum Jungle copper mines.

A government experimental farm was established at Batchelor shortly before the first World War, in an attempt to settle some of Goyder's surveyed "hundreds", but the scheme failed to attract permanent settlers. In 1915 the Northern Territory administration tested the copper lodes with two diamond drill holes on behalf of a Western Australian mining company, but the results were discouraging and the prospect abandoned.

In 1942, Batchelor awoke with a start from it's long slumber. With the threat of Japanese invasion, bulldozers roared through the bush clearing a big defense airbase. Camps sprang up overnight, and once again the bush rang with the sound of men, and of aircraft landing and taking off.

At the war's end, Batchelor was again deserted. The defence camps broke up, and men went home. The area was left to the wallabies and crows - and one man who changed history.

He was John Michael White, "Jack" to everybody who knew him - an itinerant prospector, bushman and farmer. After the war he moved out to the Batchelor area, set up camp in an old Air Force hut, and took out mining leases over the old copper lodes at Rum Jungle. The mine had not been worked since 1915.

In his exploration of the old shafts, Jack picked up some rocks that puzzled him. Thye were shot with iridescent green that looked a little like some copper ores, but wasn't quite like anything he had seen before. Jack kept some samples in his shack; but none of his prospector colleagues could tell him what the stuff was.

One day, a light plane landed at the disused Batchelor airstrip with a team of geologists aboard. They were men of Consolidated Zinc Corporation, on an oil and mineral survey of the North. They had made an air tour of the Kimberleys, Bathurst Island and Port Keats, looking over country for Paleozoic rocks as pointers to possible oil mineralisation. Among them were Dr Frank Reeves, consultant geologist to Standard Vacuum Oil, and Bob Mathison, a geologist of Conzinc. They wanted to have a look at Jack White's copper leases.

While they were there, Jack showed them the strange green mineral samples in his shack, but although they examined the rocks closely, even the experts were puzzled. Bob Mathison advised Jack to send the rocks to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. The visitors flew away, and Jack forgot all about his samples.

He didn't give them another thought until two years later, when the Bureau of Mineral Resources produced a booklet containing illustrations of uranium ores, with offers of a Federal Government reward of up to $50,000 for the discovery of new uranium lodes in Australia. Among the illustrations was one of the glittering green ore of torbernite, a common uranium ore in some parts of the world.

At the time, the only uranium fields of commercial potential in Australia were Radium Hill and Mount Painter, in South Australia. Both had been worked on a small scale for the production of radium since 1906, but comprehensive development didn;t begin until the South Australian government took over exploration at the request of the United Kingdom Government as a wartime project in 1944. Work continued after the war, when the world-wide search for uranium reserves prompted the Federal Government to stimulate uranium prospecting with offers of financial rewards.

Jack read one of the booklets, and realized there was a striking resemblance between his mysterious samples and torbernite. He sent some samples to Darwin, they were identified as uranium, and the Northern Territory hailed it's first uranium discovery.

The Bureau of Mineral Resources moved in first to take over the find and ascertain whether it was big enough to warrant full-scale mining. Rum Jungle awoke once more to the ring of axes, and the roar of machinery as camps were established, roads opened, old mines re-excavated. When preliminary investigations showed that the Rum Jungle deposits could be an important national asset, Rum Jungle became the property of the Federal Government. Jack White was given a $50,000 reward in exchange for his leases although some said the reward should have been much bigger.

One of the men who moved in to do the pioneer development at Rum Jungle was Bob Mathison, the geologist who had handled the mysterious green rocks in Jack White's hut. Bob became chief geologist. Toby Becker, a former Northern Territory mining engineer, became boss of Northern Drillers, the firm which sank the first test holes on White's Reef, and a Czechoslovakian geologist, the only man with previous uranium mining experience, came north to join the search - George Sleis. He came to Australia after the second World War. During the war, he had worked under German scientists trying to beat the allies to the atomic bomb, and had a good knowledge of the uranium mining industry ion Germany. After D-Day, the Russians had become his bosses, and taught him still more. George had a very good theoretical knowledge of uranium geology before he landed in Australia and joined the Bureau of Mineral Resources. He had taken to the bush with one of the early mapping teams at Rum Jungle. Toby Becker, NAUC's (12) field manager, had hired a number of his old Rum Jungle colleagues to staff the company, and george was one of the first to join - as chief geologist. George would very shortly discover a uranium deposit near the South Alligator valley - named the "Sleisbeck" deposit, and played the pivotal role in establishing that area as prospective for uranium exploration and later mining.

Two years of development work at Rum Jungle proved that there was sufficient ore there to warrant a uranium recovery project. The Government asked Conzinc to tackle the job, and a new company, Territory Enterprises Pty Ltd (TEP) was formed as a subsidiary of Conzinc to take over Rum Jungle, mine the uranium, and build a treatment plant to refine the ore. A dynamic, hard-driving mining executive was sent in to do the job by the name of Syd Christie. The project, however, was not regulated under expected mining legislation, rather it was controlled by the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act (9).

The $4 million project launched was the biggest shot in the arm for Darwin since the wartime construction teams built the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. Scores of Darwin citizens got jobs at Batchelor, the old township which was revived to serve Rum Jungle, and dozens more were employed in the mine itself. The project got top Government priority and there was plenty of money to spend on almost unlimited overtime. Workers from the south began to pour in, and the word uranium began to have almost magical properties in Darwin.

By the early 1950's, it was well it's way to establishing itself as a major national endeavour. When journalists were allowed to visit the site, they saw numerous bulldozers tearing great trenches in the ground to remove the overburden in areas on which background radiation count had been found to vary above normal - however, only a few places had proven fruitful. At Dyson's Hole, for instance, bulldozers and muck trucks had scooped out a huge open-cut mine thirty feet deep and several hundred yards across. Scores of great ditches, eight feet wide, and ten feet deep, had been bulldozed through miles of country to probe surface anomalies picked up by geiger counters.

Batchelor had become a booming township - with a power station, acres of suburban homes, a hotel, a community, centre, and a population of 500. Building contractors were working round the clock. At the mine site, six miles away, the bush had been levelled and replaced by a sprawling complex of ore dumps, workshops, roads, and mines, both underground and open cut. One shaft went down through 480 feet of rock into the heart of the uranium lode, which contained copper and silver-lead as well as the radioactive ores of torbenite, autunite, and even pitchblende in small quantities. Two new strikes had also been made - at Mount Fitch, eight miles north-west of White's Reef, and at Dyson's Hole, two miles from Rum Jungle. Ten thousand tonnes of ore were stockpiled, awaiting treatment at a plant already well under construction.

Mine History

In March 1952 the Commonwealth Government provided funds for setting up a mine and treatment plant to provide uranium oxide concentrate to the UK-US Combined Development Agency (CDA) under a contract which ran from 1953 to 1962. The funds were derived from ten years worth of capital provided by the UK and US governments under the CDA contract.

The CDA was the agency responsbile for obtaining uranium for both the rapidly expanding British and American nuclear weapons programs. (2)

Entrance gate to Rum Jungle - "heavy security" for the day.
(click for larger image)

Rum Jungle was then the largest industrial undertaking in the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth, through the Australian Atomic Energy Authority (AAEA; later the AAEC), took control and responsibility for the mine, though management of operations was on a contract basis (cost plus) by Territory Enterprises Pty Limited, a subsidiary of Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd (3) set up for that purpose. A new town was built at Batchelor, a major wartime air base some 8 kilometres south of the mine.

Site map of the Rum Jungle mining complex. (click for larger image) (9)

The White's orebody was initially developed underground, from 1950 to 1953. Seven other deposits were also drilled, including the Mount Fitch orebody which was never actually bought into uranium production. Construction for the White mine was carried out by the British firm of George Wimpey & Co Pty Ltd and, was even visited by that well-known wildlife enthusiast, the Duke of Edinburgh!

Map of the Rum Jungle deposits (click for large version)(17).

Production from White's open cut started in 1953 and the treatment plant commenced in 1954. White's was mined out to a depth of over 100 metres in November 1958 and Dyson's open cut was mined in 1957-58. A little ore was mined in 1958 from Mt Burton open cut, 4 kilometres west of the plant. Ore from these open cuts were stockpiled and progressively treated, and was more than sufficient to complete the CDA contract.

The Rum Jungle Creek South orebody some 7 kilometres south of the plant site and 3 kilometres west of Batchelor was discovered in 1960 by Territory Enterprises, but there was no sales contract for its uranium. However, in 1961 the Commonwealth Government decided to proceed with developing it. It was mined 1961-63 to depth of 67 metres, with the relatively high-grade (0.37% U) ore being stockpiled for treatment beyond the January 1963 expiry of the CDA contract. The product from this was to be offered on the open market or stockpiled at AAEC in Sydney until the market improved in the 1970s. In the event, about 2,000 tonnes of yellowcake was thus stockpiled by the time the mine closed in 1971. In 1994, 239 tonnes on Rum Jungle uranium oxide was sold to a US utility, leaving 1814 tonnes still stockpiled.

Up to mid 1962, when the offer expired, the AAEC also purchased some high grade uranium ore from other deposits for treatment at Rum Jungle. From 1954 to 1957 the Australian Uranium Corporation NL sold ore from its Adelaide River mine to AAEC, and in 1962 South Alligator Uranium NL sold some high grade ore from the Eva deposit near the Queensland border, 900 kilometres away, which yielded 6 tonnes of uranium oxide.

Rare photo of the Rum Jungle Process Plant (21).

RumJProcPlant.jpg - 25925 Bytes The uranium treatment plant used an acid leach and ion exchange process until 1962 when the latter section was replaced with solvent extraction and magnesia precipitation to treat the Rum Jungle Creek South ore. Tailings were released into a poorly engineered shallow dam initially and after 1958 were put into White's pit.

As well as uranium, mineralisation at Rum Jungle included copper and lead. Some ore from White's was treated to recover copper, and in addition the Intermediate orebody was mined to a depth of 68 metres in 1964-5 solely for copper by Australian Mining and Smelting Company Limited (5), a subsidiary of Consolidated Zinc (later Conzinc Riotinto of Australia or CRA, now Rio Tinto, also involved in uranium mining in Namibia in Africa and at Kintyre/Rudall River in Western Australia). This necessitated the diversion of the East Finniss River. About 360,000 tonnes of mill grade ore at 2% or more copper was recovered with another 370,000 tonnes of leaching grade ore (0.7-2.0% Cu). The latter (6) was treated in heap leach from 1965.

Rum Jungle treated 863,000 tonnes of 0.28-0.41% U3O8 ore to produce 3,530 tonnes of U3O8, according to the most authoritative accounts, (along with 20,000 tonnes of copper concentrate from other ore). Others represent production of uranium oxide and copper concentrate as follows:

(tonnes)Ore U3O8GradeCopperGradeWaste
Rock (t)
White's #270,000 8910.33%9,1803.4%7,100,000
Rum Jungle
Creek South
Mt Burton6,00012.60.21%62.41.04%254,000
# - About 279,000 tonnes of copper-cobalt ore were mined and treated, grading
2.8% Cu, to produce a further 7,812 tonnes of copper. Some lead ore was also mined
- about 76,000 tonnes of 5.4% Pb, but not treated.
Source - Uranium Information Centre; Spratt, 1965 (18) and Lowson 1975 (23).

Tailings (Mis)Management
Based on "The Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project" (9).

The tailings were discharged as 55 % (by weight) solids slurry to the various disposal areas. The liquid effluents were discharged at about 1,000,000 litres per day (1 Ml), with a pH of about 1.5 (corresponding to a sulphuric acid concentration of 0.032 N H2SO4). No continuous records were kept of plant effluent and tailings management, although research work during the rehabilitation project outlined the following chronology.

From the start of processing operations in 1954, the discharge of tailings was unconstrained and and the solids settled out, while the acidic supernatant liquors drained into "Old Tailings Creek" and thence to the East Branch of the Finniss River, 0.8 km to the west. Barren liquors from copper launders constructed between the plant site and the Old Tailings Dam also flowed into the East Branch via Old Tailings Creek.

The tailings proved to be highly erodible. Attempts were made to constrain the tailings with a system of culverts and walls (constructed from gravel-covered tailings), while allowing the supernatant to continue to drain to Old Tailings Creek. These measures were largely ineffective, and erosion continued up until the time of rehabilitation in 1984 with surface lowering of the tailings estimated at 1 cm per year. This resulted in an average annual sediment load to the Finniss Rover system of about 3,000 tonnes per year. Based on incubation testing of the tailings material, it has been estimated that the annual release of pollutants to the East Finniss from weathering of the tailings was about 4.7 tonnes of copper, 3.5 tonnes of manganese and 320 tonnes of sulphate.

The tailings were redirected to Dyson's Open Cut in 1961, the copper launders were relocated from the Old Tailings Dam area to a site adjacent to Dyson's Open Cut, and a system of controlled discharges was introduced. Under this system, spent process liquors were collected during the Dry Season, in two dams fitted with sluices that were constructed across the East Branch of the Finniss River. With the onset of the Wet Season, fresh water entered both these dams and a relatively unpolluted tributary which was also dammed (called the Sweet Water Dam). When the river flooded, all dams were breached, releasing water to the East Branch through the diversion channel and White's Open Cut. At that time, it was considered that this procedure would provide sufficient dilution to allow safe discharge of water. More recent calculations have shown that the policy of "safe dilution" could not have worked.

The practice was abandonded between 1965 and 1968 when tailings were directed to White's Open Cut, the walls in the riverbed were breached, spent process liquor (called raffinate) was directed either to the copper heap leach site or directly to White's Open Cut, and partial recycling of raffinate commenced in the treatment plant. This method of effluent disposal continued until operations ceased in 1971.

The Rum Jungle "Hell Hole"
Based on Wet Season Blues from "The Uranium Hunters" (11).

A freelance journalist wrote a pivotal story on Rum Jungle, published with the title "Rum Jungle - Hell" by a Melbourne newspaper. This was none other than Ross Annabell - author of "The Uranium Hunters" (11). He visited the Rum Jungle site in late 1954, and found tempers were festering in a swamp that the management called the single men's camp, and the single men called "Belsen Junior". The Northern Australian Workers' Union was looking for a journalist to report publicly on the political discontent at Rum Jungle, and Ross Annabell was employed to do the job. There had been strikes down there, and rumours abounded of seething discontent, but little had been published. Territory Enterprises Ltd (TEP) was doing it's best to keep it out of the newspapers, and most local journalists were reluctant to "cross" the company as they had to rely on TEP for their regular news on Rum Jungle.

Union executives smuggled Annabell down to Batchelor for a special meeting of the Company employees to discuss their grievances. Then they took me on a tour of inspection of the camp - with full "union authority" to take photographs. Nearly 200 men, many of them New Australians, were living in tents or two-man huts surrounded by a sea of mud in a depressed suburb of the boom town of Batchelor, hailed as "Australia's most modern township" (quote added). The wet season had been in progress for a month, and the living conditions were disgraceful in the tropic humidity. Those in the huts weren't so badly off, because at least their beds were dry. But eighty tent dwellers lived two to a primitive shack with wooden sides a canvas roof stretched over tarpaper ceilings. The canvas was rotten and leaking, the tarpaper tattered and torn. It wasn't much better than the sort of accommodation Australia for Aborigines of the time.

Outside, the line between the tents and huts was a morass up to eighteen inches deep. From their sub-standard accommodation, the men looked out on the modern, brightly-painted dwellings of the staff and married men. They pointed out the luxurious homes of manager Syd Christie and other top staff, with their gardens, lawns and flowers, only a few hundred yards from the camp. The men were really bitter. Some said that they had worked for years in mining settlements in other parts of Australia and never struck conditions so bad.

There were fifty-four New Australians in the camp and they were at first afriad to talk. They said that they had been that if they complained they could be sent back to their homelands, some under Communist rule. A number had escaped from Communism, running the gauntlet of machine guns and mined frontiers, and they were afraid. They knew that if they they went back they would be shot. Australian unionists told them : "You are in Australia now. You are in a union. This is a democratic country, and workers can strike if they need to. They can complain about their conditions and no one can touch them."

The New Australians held a discussion among themselves, and appointed a spokesman. He told me that the meals were good, but the quarters "bad". "Our sleeping quarters are the worst we have ever seen, even in Communist countries", he said.

The New Australians came from Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Romania. One said he had sailed out to sea in a canoe and gone two days without water before he was rescued by an Italian fighter. Another said he had been shot at as he slipped over the Bulgarian frontier.

Now they were coming off nightshift in the mine, and wading through deep mud to rain-sodden beds, through unlit lanes between the tents. There were bitter oaths in varied languages as they slipped and fell in the mud. That's why the camp was known as "Belsen Junior" or "HELL" (emphasis added).

The meeting decided to ask for more showers and lavatories, better accommodation and construction of concrete paths in the single men's camp. They told me that nearly 200 men were using five showers and lavatories. Even the men of the big private contractor, Wimpeys, were living in modern barracks. They too had been in tents at first, until they went on strike.

The union encouraged Annabell to write freely, "so long as it was the truth". They also criticized the elaborate secutiry screen around the uranium project. They described it as a bogus front, set up only to hoodwink the public. They questioned why they had to present passes to get in and out of the plant through security guards, while back roads led into the mining complex without a single guard posted. They questioned why the uranium treatment plant should be guarded as though it was a number one Russian spy target, while a number of workers from former Communist countries were employed on the project.

"If security is really important, why employ so many former Communists ?" they said.

One union told me the security was an utter farce. He said it would be a simple matter for an outsider to drive into the plant through a back road and smuggle uranium out of the treatment plant. He even offered to get me a sample of uranium oxide there and then, to prove his claim.

Within half an hour he was back with a sealed envelope of uranium oxide powder, which I stuffed in my pocket, and took back to Darwin. Annabell was going to write an article on how easy it was to beat the security screen, until I learnt that it was an offence to pinch uranium oxide, and got cold feet.

Annabell confined his criticism to the conditions in camp, and reported at length to the Melbourne newspaper, Argus. The story drew a bold banner headline : "Rum Jungle - Hell", across the front page of the Argus Weekender, along with photographs of the tents, the mud, and the men. Nobody denied it's truth.

Reports were heard that the Federal Security Police were "investigating" Annabell's past to see if at any time he had been a "Commo". However, Annabell received a most acceptable cheque from the Argus, and the Rum Jungle miners got nice new huts.

The Atrocious Environmental Disaster
Based on Uranium Mining in Australia from "Ground For Concern".

The royal seal of approval from the Duke of Edinburgh did little to compensate farmers' land loss (claims were being settled as late as 1962), deplorable working conditions in its early days ("Hell Hole" was one Melbourne newspaper's appellation, after a protest strike was called in 1956), and Aboriginal claims in the region. The Finniss River Claim, made by the Northern Land Council (NLC) in 1980, has been called "the most complicated yet heard in Australia".

"Tailings Creek" at Rum Jungle, August 1984 - Before Rehabilitation (19).

In November 1960 an officer of the Northern Territory Administration reported that 'trees along the banks of one stream are dying and water holes [are] devoid of fish'. In March 1962 a senior engineer reported to the Administration that severe pollution existed for eight to sixteen kilometres down the East Finniss River from the uranium mill. In January 1963 it was reported that 'there have been heavy concentrations of large numbers of fresh water shrimp......and small fish resembling herring have been floating or lying on the banks.'

In June the Report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution contained the following statement :

One of the major pollution problems in the Northern Territory is that caused by copper and uranium mining at Rum Jungle. The strongly acidic effluent from the treatment plant flows via the East Finniss River into the Finniss River, making the water unsuitable for either stock or human consumption for a distance of 20 river miles. Vegetation on the river banks has been destroyed and it will be many years before this area can sustain growth.

On May 13, 1971 a Northern Territory Administration team visited the area and reported that 'no significant rehabilitation has been carried out'.

The main cause of the pollution was badly designed tailings dams. The dams, which were meant to prevent acidic materials and heavy metals used in the milling process from reaching rivers and streams, frequently overflowed during the wet season. As a water resources technical officer reported to his superiors in April 1965, 'the worst period of pollution of the river has usually been immediately after the breaching of the wall holding back the effluent at the treatment plant.'

In fact, in the early period of operation, there was not even a dam wall to contain the tailings, which were simply discharged onto a flat plain and allowed to drain into the river. Successive walls were then built and washed away by floods until, in 1961, the tailings were discharged into disused (but presumably quite porous) open-cuts rather than onto the flat plain.

In 1970 and 1971 the degree of pollution at Rum Jungle was causing great concern among officers of the Northern Territory Administration and Opposition members of Parliament. The Senate Committee report referred to above presumably caused considerable embarassment to the AAEC and generally helped to highlight the problem.

In March and September 1971 two interdepartmental meetings took place which revealed the Commission's obstructionist tactics. The first of these was held at Electricity House in Sydney on March 24, 1971, and was attended by representatives of the AAEC, the Departments of Supply, Treasury, National Development, the Interior and the Northern Territory Administration. The minutes of the meeting show clearly a marked difference of opinion between the AAEC and the Department of the Interior on the extent and seriousness of pollution.

The AAEC's Dr R. Warner referred to it as a 'minor local pollution problem'. 'The East Finniss River is not a dead, highly polluted river stream......' he said emphatically. Warner further illustrated the AAEC's lack of genuine concern by stating that 'the AAEC is still looking at ways to further improve.....[this] minor.....problem and a few more measures may be taken in the short time remaining' (before the Commission left the area).

A senior member of the Department of the Interior, Mr Petit, took Dr Warner to task. He said that in general he saw the pollution 'as a significant, substantial problem'. Moreover, he argued for the public release of a study carried out by the AAEC on water pollution in the area.

At this time a major point of contention was the conditions under which the AAEC should be allowed divest itself of responsibility for Rum Jungle and to hand over the role of caretaker to the Northern Territory Administration. Various government departments were clearly concerned that the AAEC intended to leave the area with a major pollution problem which, by it's own carelessness, it had created.

The AAEC representatives at the meeting advised Mr Petit that the AAEC would take all necessary measures for pollution control before it left the area, only if this did not require AAEC officers to be stationed at Rum Jungle. This seemed to clarify the AAEC's priorities.

The minutes of a top-level meeting held on September 24, 1971, in Darwin are even more revealing. The meeting was chaired by Mr. I. S. Watson, the Acting Director of the Water Resources Branch of the Northern Territory Administration, and was attended by Dr Warner of the AAEC, the Deputy Administrator of the Northern Territory Administration, and eight other scientific specialists (in various fields) employed by the Administration.

The meeting was notable for the obvious frustration and anger felt by the Northern Territory representatives at the failure of the AAEC to cooperate in discovering the causes and remedies (if any) for the pollution. Throughout the meeting Dr Warner evaded questions and made assertions that were immediately contradicted by one or more of the others present. He also made it quite clear that the AAEC was not seriously interested in further attempts to revegetate the denuded landscape. Perhaps most revealing was his refusal to make available to these public service colleagues a report on water pollution at Rum Jungle.

During the 1969/70 wet season, the NTA supplied detailed data, in the form of water samples, to the AAEC. The AAEC, which had requested the data, appointed an industrial chemist (Dr Lowson) to analyse the data and write a report. The departmental representatives wanted to see the results of their samples for two important reasons. One was that it would assist them in formulating standards for future mining in the region. The other was that they were responsible for monitoring contaminants in the food chain. Because heavy metals and radioactive materials can concentrate up to one million times as they move up the chain, such pollution poses a grave danger to health. The report by Dr Lowson would have contained information on this subject. The report, though completed, has never been made public. The AAEC has even refused to show it to other government departments.

The whole unfortunate episode, which has environmental effects that will continue for a long time also reveals a certain degree of complicity between government and companies. In June 1971, Mr R. E. Felgenner, First Assistant Secretary, Northern Territory Economic Affairs, presented to his Minister a submission in which he sought approval to investigate the situation at Rum Jungle. In the submission he said :

Early in 1962 the Minister for Territories informed the Minister for National Development that, while the source of pollution has been established beyond doubt and constituted an offence against the provisions of the Control of Waters Ordinance, he was reluctant to proceed against the companies for reasons of their association with the Commonwealth in the venture.

The Minister for National Development replied that the AAEC would minimize the possibility of pollution, but unfortunately any attempt to overcome the pollution hazard would involve quite unreasonable operating costs.

An assessment of the current situation was given in a paper written and published by the AAEC in September 1975. Although the source is questionable, it is the best we have. The report noted that both the East Finniss and the main Finniss rivers were affected. The East Finniss is devoid of fish and plant life; only sparse vegetation lines its banks. At the end of the dry season, concentrations of heavy metals are 'very high' as is the acidity of the water. Great doubt exists about both the ultimate fate and the impact of the large quantities of heavy metals (including radium) that have flowed down the two rivers. It is known that about 2,300 tonnes of manganese, 1,300 tonnes of copper, 200 tonnes of zinc, and 450 curies of radium have been released from the mine and the mill.

Radium is a highly toxic substance. When studies were carried out on the radium watch-dial painters in the 1920s, it was found that 0.4 mCi (microcuries or four millionths of a curie) in the human body was sufficient to cause cancer. On such a basis, the radium produced by the Rum Jungle mine and mill therefore contained around 1,000 million human cancer doses. (7) About one quarter of this radium found its way into the Finniss River and probably to the sea.

According to the AAEC the variable course of the Finniss in its lower reaches makes it 'difficult to predict just where the released metals may have gone' : about a hundred square kilometres of floodplain were affected by the discharges, and average concentrations of copper, manganese and zinc are 1,500 per cent, 1,400 per cent and 33 per cent above natural levels. Whilst only a few per cent of the amount released is contained in the surface soil of the area, the whereabouts of the remainder is not known. As the AAEC said rather vaguely, it 'has been removed elsewhere, has migrated through the soil profile or, less probably, has yet to reach the plain'.

Though the location of the radium is uncertain, concentrations in the sampled area are known. At the time of sampling, the radium levels in food, soil and water were slightly above the level recommended as a maximum by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. As part of this was comprised of natural levels, it must be compared with the level in nearby areas (given that natural levels in the sampled area are not known). As the natural level in the area of the Ranger mine is only slightly lower, there is probably little cause for alarm at present. But, because of doubts about the location of the radium released, the future could hold unfortunate surprises.

Due to the presence of bacteria in the soils, the sulphides in the tailings and soils contained in the area will be oxidised and continue to produce acid mine drainage, thereby mobilising further heavy metals into the East Finniss River. The monsoonal climate and 1,500 mm rainfall coupled with the pyritic mineralisation in the area created ideal conditions for such processes (which of course were harnessed, without commercial success, in the copper leaching operation). The AAEC has admitted that heavy metals will continue to be released from the tailings for up to a hundred years, although given the concentration of heavy metals up the food chain, the AAEC's reputation for excessive secrecy and highly biased presentation of information on nuclear matters, one must exercise skepticism indeed.

About 100 square kilometres of the Finnis River flood plain have been affected by contaminants (heavy metals, uranium, radium and sulphur). In the ten kilometres of the Finniss River downstream from the mine, fish and other aquatic fauna have been almost eliminated, with the effect reducing over the next 15 kilometres downstream. Pandanus palms, water lillies and other aquatic plants had been "eliminated" (8).

CRA and RTZ have consistently refused to contribute any funds towards rehabilitation of the Rum Jungle site. An initial attempt to clean up Rum Jungle was made in 1977, which led to the setting up of a working group to examine more comprehensive rehabilitation. A $16.2 million Commonwealth-funded program got under way in 1983 to remove heavy metals and neutralise the tailings. A supplementary $1.8 million program to improve Rum Jungle Creek South waste dumps was undertaken in 1990. Taxpayers dollars have had to be spent on attempts to reduce the pollution, not remove it or isolate it from the environment.

Rehabilitation of White's Overburden Dump (19)
White's Dump - 1983 White's Dump - 1986
View from the south-west prior to rehabilitation - June 1983 View from the south-east after rehabilitation - 1986

The operators of Rum Jungle, now Rio Tinto (formerly RTZ-CRA), still maintain an active global uranium division based in Melbourne. It currently includes the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia (Africa) and the proposal for the Kintyre/Rudall River mine in Western Australia. Despite assurances that the Namibian mine is operated with minimal risk and environmental impact, recent health studies (Zaire et al., 1995 (10)) showed the worker's at the mine site to have higher incidences of cancer when compared to local populations distant from the mine.

That Southern Radiation.......
Based on Kvasnicka, 1986 (16).

One of the principal problems associated with rehabilitating the Rum Jungle Creek South (RJCS) open cut was that the area was converted to a lake after mining ceased, and as the only crocodile free water body in the Darwin region, the site quickly became very popular with locals and Darwin residents as a recreation reserve.

The mine area was characterised by high external gamma levels, alpha-radioactive dust and significant levels of radon daughters in prevailing air. It is known that the rates of radioactivity in the area were much higher after mining than before. Based on these post-mining radiation levels, it had been estimated that annual doses of some individuals were about 5 mSv, the Australian limit for public exposure up until the late 1980's. As the new limit was about to be dropped further to 1 mSv per year, rehabilitation was required.

Kvasnicka, 1986, proposed four different rehabilitation regimes for the RJCS site, basing his analysis simply on the economics of reducing radiation exposure to the public, otherwise known as the ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), he concludes that the most cost-effective rehabilitation scheme should reduce public radiation exposure at RJCS to about 0.5 mSv per year.

The Obvious Questions
Although a supplementary $1.8 million program to improve the Rum Jungle Creek South waste dumps was undertaken in 1990-91, it begs the question of why such a site was allowed to remain unrehabilitated and used by the public for so long ? If members of the public can demonstrate that they have developed cancer as a result of their exposure to 5 mSv per year of radiation due to use of the RJCS site, will the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments support compensation ? Will ANSTO and Rio Tinto meet their community obligations and support compensation ? Finally, when will proper and extensive rehabilitation take place ?

They Just Never Learn.......

Despite Rum Jungle being known all over the world as one of the worst cases of environmental pollution from uranium mining and acid mine drainage, ANSTO (formerly AAEC) and many others complicit in mystifying Rum Jungle's environmental and human devastation have persistently maintained, even up to 1998, that (14)

"the principal cause of river degradation pollution was the release of copper and other base metals"
There are plenty of others who promulgate such blatant and misleading statements as science - for example, Uranium Information Centre (13), Allen (1986) (15) and Richards et al., 1996 (9) (who even have the audacity to argue that there was no radiological pollution from Rum Jungle - despite admitting that at least 10% of the uranium tailings had dispersed widely into the East Branch of the Finniss River!!!)

People who make statements of public concern over the impacts from Rum Jungle, and current and future impacts from sites like Ranger or Roxby, are often labelled unscientific, biased and emotional with no basis in fact. Any rational scientist or citizen would be able to tell that the above statements are unscientific, biased and emotional and has no basis in hard fact.

Clearly, the lessons from Rum Jungle
have not been learnt.

Information combined from the Uranium Information Centre,
Uranium Mining In Australia, by Wieslaw Lichacz and Stephen Myers, from
"Ground For Concern - Australia's Uranium And Human Survival" and The Gulliver File.
Page last updated - September 8, 1999.

1 - Source : The Gulliver File, CRA dossier, page 263.
2 - Source : The Gulliver File, CRA dossier, page 264, emphasis added.
3 - In 1962 Consolidated Zinc merged with the Australian interests of Rio Tinto Company Ltd to form Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Limited (CRA). From May 1997, the company is known as Rio Tinto.
4 - In 1994, 239 tonnes of Rum Jungle uranium oxide was sold to a U.S. utility, leaving 1,814 tonnes still stockpiled.
5 - This AM&S is not the same as a later CRA (Rio Tinto) company bearing the same name.
6 - The heap leach consisted of 260,000 tonnes sulphide ore averaging 1.7% copper and 110,000 tonnes oxide ore averaging 2.0% copper.
7 - Emphasis added.
8 - Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, Second Report, 1977.
9 - R J Richards, R J Applegate & A I M Ritchie, 1996, The Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project. In : Ed. D R Mulligan, Environmental Management in the Australian Minerals and Energy Industries - Principles and Practice, Chapter 14, Published by UNSW Press & Australian Minerals & Energy Environment Foundation (AMEEF), pp 530-553.
10 - Complete reference : Zaire, Reinhard et al., 1995, "Unexpected rates of chromosomal instabilities and hormone level alterations in Namibian uranium miners".
11 - Ross Annabell, 1977, The Uranium Hunters, Rigby Publishers Limited.
12 - NAUC - North Australian Uranium Corporation. One of the early uranium exploration companies in the Northern Territory in the 1950's, formed during the uranium fever of the day.
13 - Uranium Information Centre, 1997, Former Australian Uranium Mines, Background Paper.
14 - R T Lowson, P L Brown & M Guerin, 1998, Contaminant Transport Associated with Uranium Mine and Mill Tailings. In : B Merkel & C Helling (Eds), Proc. Uranium Mining Hydrogeology II, Freiberg, Germany, September 1998, Vol. 2, pp 18-28.
15 - C G Allen, 1986, Rum Jungle - A Perspective. In : Proceedings of North Australian Mine Rehabilitation Workshop No. 10 - Environmental Planning and Management for Mining and Energy, Darwin, NT, June 1986, pp 19-37.
16 - J Kvasnicka, 1986, Rehabilitation Proposal for the Abandoned Uranium Mine at Rum Jungle Creek South. In : Proceedings of North Australian Mine Rehabilitation Workshop No. 10 - Environmental Planning and Management for Mining and Energy, Darwin, NT, June 1986, pp 48-64.
17 - W J Fraser, 1975, The Embayment Line of Mineralization, Rum Jungle. In : Economic Geology of Australia and Papua New Guinea 1. Metals, Ed. C L Knight, Monograph Series No. 5, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), Melbourne, Australia, pp 271-277.
18 - R N Spratt, 1965, Uranium Ore Deposits of Rum Jungle. In : Geology of Australian Ore Deposits - 8th Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress, Vol. 1, Australia and New Zealand, 1965. Ed. J McAndrew, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM). pp 201-206.
19 - C G Allen & T J Verhoeven, 1986, The Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project - Final Project Report. Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, Darwin, June 1986.
20 - Dalton, L, 1983, The Nuclear Environment - A Handbook on Nuclear Power for Schools and the Community. Published by Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM) and Friends of the Earth (Fitzroy) (FoEF), 113 p.
21 - Fitzgerald, M L & Hartley, F R, 1965, Uranium. In Exploration and Mining Geology, 8th Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress, Vol. 2, Chapter 9, pp 211-227.
22 - R Jeffree & N J Williams, 1975, Biological Indications of Pollution of the Finniss River System - Especially Fish Diversity and Abundance. In "Rum Jungle Environmental Studies", AAEC/E365, Chapter 7.
23 - R T Lowson, 1975, The Geography, Geology, and Mining History of Rum Jungle. In "Rum Jungle Environmental Studies", AAEC/E365, Chapter 2.

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