Australia // Northern Territory //

Kakadu’s yellow gold

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The land around Kakadu’s border with Arnhem Land contains fifteen percent of the world’s known uranium reserves, and mining and refining the ore produces millions of dollars in royalties for the park’s traditional owners. Environmentalists have long campaigned against mining in the park, arguing that it’s impossible to contain the low-level radioactive waste produced. There have been over 150 leaks and spills at the Ranger Uranium Mine near Jabiru since it opened in 1981. In 2010 Aboriginal traditional owners said they would oppose plans for a large expansion of the mine, owned by Rio Tinto, unless the company upgraded its environmental procedures. Despite this, mining continues at two sites within the park and one in Arnhem Land and exploration continues across the Territory, notably around Alice Springs. Ironically, environmental issues, specifically global warming, may see a turnaround in uranium’s image. Many see the mineral as a catalyst for carbon-neutral power generation, though the impact of recent nuclear accidents in Japan has further damaged the industry’s reputation.

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