Honeymoon Mine Fails Test

December 6, 2001

Friends of the Earth has today called for a hold on approval of the Honeymoon Uranium Project approval following revelations of an acid leak at the mine (The Advertiser p.1 Thursday 6th Dec.). Both company and government statements have claimed re-injection of radioactive waste to groundwater in the region is safe. Friends of the Earth has asked for full disclosure and review of the project, concerned that at commercial operating rates such leakage will continue to occur.

"The company has claimed contamination of groundwater could not happen - it already has" said nuclear campaigner Bruce Thompson.

Background

The Honeymoon project, in north-east South Australia, uses the controversial insitu leach (ISL) method of mining to extract uranium from groundwater (aquifer) systems. In this situation uranium is naturally bound to sand formations below the surface. A pressurised sulphuric acid solution is used to dissolve the stabilised uranium into the groundwater. The groundwater is then pumped to the surface to be processed with radioactive wastes and heavy metals pumped back into groundwater.

Misconceptions

"Groundwater is already radioactive"

While there are some levels of radioactivity in the aquifer to be mined, the introduction of acid and pressure significantly increase the availability of uranium. Surrounding groundwater is used for stock and filtrated for drinking water at the mine site.

"The groundwater is a closed system"
The Honeymoon system is not closed, company technical reports clearly identify that the aquifer being mined is open horizontally. In addition the mine leak reported was vertical contaminating a groundwater system above that being mined.

"Groundwater will return to original state"
The introduction of acid into groundwater significantly changes the chemistry of the system. The acid solution increases the mobility of heavy metals in addition to uranium. The company has made assumptions merely on the basis of computer modelling.

Assessment Failure

The assessment process has failed on several levels:

Technical Methodology Assessment
has relied on a series of assumptions and computer modelling to justify no risk to groundwater. Key aspects were based on the work of a PhD student.

Failure to Disclose Information

The company, Southern Cross, has actively blocked environment group access to trial mine information during the assessment period.

"Key information was either not assessed or kept from the public the approval must be put on hold," concluded Mr Thompson.

Friends of the Earth will release an independent technical assessment of the project next week.

For more information contact:

Bruce Thompson
Nuclear Campaigner
Mob: 0417 318 368

Dr Gavin Mudd
Hydrogeologist
Mob: 0419 117 494