Australian authorities ordered suspension of operations at Rio Tinto’s Ranger Uranium mine in the Northern Territory Tuesday after 1 million liters of slurry spilled from a leach tank burst. The episode mirrored an identical incident days earlier at another Rio Tinto-owned project in Namibia; both leaks have been stopped without serious injuries.
Tim Eckersley, general operations manager at Rio Tinto’s 68% owned subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia Ltd., said “containment systems stopped the flow, and this has meant there is no impact to the surrounding environment,” as the company “is focusing on cleanup and recovery.”
On December 3 at Rossing, Rio Tinto’s other uranium mine in the Namib Desert, one of 12 leach tanks experienced a “catastrophic structural failure,” leaking a large quantity of slurry, said general manager Ben De Vries.
Several employees received first aid though none were seriously injured; the asset is operated by Rio Tinto unit Rossing Uranium Ltd.
Rio Tinto representatives said “each company has commissioned a full investigation into these incidents to determine the cause and contributing factors,” according to a statement quoted by Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald.
Energy Resources of Australia officials have said ongoing water testing at their site, also known as the Deeps 3, shows no environmental damage to the U.N. World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, which surrounds the mine.
Rio Tinto’s Southwest African mine is expected to restart once the failed tank is fully isolated from production, though other areas of the mine were unaffected and company officials said there have been no environmental impacts; the Rossing complex, built in 1976, produces 4% of global uranium.