The Guardian June 14, 2000


Uranium spill cover-up

The public has been left exposed to uranium in Kakadu national park for 
two years while a report detailing a uranium spill has been kept 
secret.

The spent Uranium tailings have been found on a dirt road leading to a 
popular tourist camping area at Gumlon, and are known to have been washed 
into nearby South Alligator river. The road was left open to the public and 
no warnings were issued.

The Jawoyn people, traditional owners of the land who utilise the road and 
the river were also not advised. They already consider this area "sickness 
country".

The tailings are from a former uranium mine at Rockhole, which is in the 
same area as other mines such as Coronation Hill and El  Sherana.

Tens of thousands of tonnes of uranium were mined there in the 1950s and 
'60s with few environmental and safety controls in place. Some 
rehabilitation work was carried out in 1991, but the work was ceased due to 
lack of funds from the then Labor Government.

Parks Australia North, the body which manages Kakadu for the Federal 
Government, has now sought permission from the Jawoyn people to close the 
road while plans are drawn up for the elimination of the contamination.

Park workers using the road are warned to drive with their car windows up, 
while grader drivers have been told to avoid the area completely. A major 
excavation will be needed to clean up the area but is not expected to be 
undertaken this year.

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