The Guardian 20 April, 2005

Action against polluting uranium mine

An environmental organisation is taking action against the operators of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park because of the company's cover-up of dangerous practices, including the poisoning of workers at the mine and the destruction of the environment. "ERA has repeatedly shown its inability to comply with environmental legislation and now it is also showing contempt for its obligations under the Corporations Act", said Australian Conservation Foundation anti-nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney

The ACF has filed a formal complaint with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) over false and misleading statements in the 2004 Annual Report of Kakadu uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia (ERA).

The complaint outlines ERA's failure to comply with disclosure obligations under the Corporations Act regarding breaches of environmental laws. It asks ASIC to require ERA to publish a correction and to seek civil and criminal penalties against the company.

ERA's annual report states that the company operates in accordance with applicable environmental legislation. However the directors' report fails to mention a number of severe uranium contamination events that occurred last year at ERA's Ranger mine.

One notorious incident in March 2004 resulted in 28 workers falling ill after drinking water contaminated with uranium levels 400 times greater than the maximum Australian safety standard. ERA is facing criminal charges in May over this and another incident.

False assertion

On page one of the ERA Annual Report the directors state: "ERA operates in accordance with relevant Federal and Territory environmental legislation " This statement is demonstrably false as it fails to refer to serious breaches of environmental legislation both during the reporting period and repeatedly over the life of the uranium mine.

In fact, ERA currently facing two charges in relation to the contaminated water event in March last year. In addition ERA is facing a further charge under the Mining Management Act relating to contaminated vehicles leaving the mine site in breach of de-contamination and clearance procedures which caused preventable radiation exposure to a local mechanic and his children.

The sole reference to the pending prosecution of ERA says only: "Improving the management of radiation at Ranger was a focus in 2004 following a number of highly publicised breaches of ERA procedures resulting in the company's prosecution under the Mining Management Act."

There is no description whatsoever of the underlying incidents leading the prosecutions. Furthermore, the reference itself is misleading. ERA is not being prosecuted for breaches of "ERA procedures", but for serious breaches of applicable law.

"It is deceptive and misleading for a company with such a poor track record to claim to its investors and analysts that it operates in accordance with environmental laws", said Mr Sweeney.

This is not the first time ERA has failed to disclose material environmental events. After the March contamination incident, the company didn't make any disclosure to the Australian Stock Exchange until six days after the event.

"Failing to act against this corporate recidivist would send a very bad message to the business community generally about their disclosure obligations", Mr Sweeney said. "ERA has far more success controlling the flow of information to its investors than it does controlling the flow of radioactive water on its own mine site."

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