It’s not worth wiping out a species for the Yeelirrie uranium mine


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The Western Australian outback may look bare at first glance, but it’s teeming with wildlife, often beneath the surface.
Shutterstock

Gavin Mudd, RMIT University

One day before calling the election, the government approved the controversial Yeelirrie uranium mine in the remote wilderness of Western Australia, about 500km north of Kalgoorlie.

The Tjiwarl Traditional Owners have fought any uranium mining on their land for the last 40 years, and the decision by the government wasn’t made public until the day before Anzac Day.

This region is home to several of Australia’s deposits of uranium and not only holds cultural significance as part of the Seven Sisters Dreaming Songline, but also environmental significance.




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If the mine goes ahead, groundwater levels would drop by 50cm and wouldn’t fully recover for 200 years. And 2,422 hectares of native vegetation would be cleared.

I visited the site 16 years ago and, like the rest of the Western Australian outback, there’s a wonderful paradox where the land appears barren, but is, in fact, rich with biodiversity.

The former pilot open cut at Yeelirrie, February 2003 – unrehabilitated from the early 1980s.
Photo G M Mudd

Native animals living in underground water, called stygofauna, are one such example of remarkable Australian fauna that aren’t obvious at first glance. These animals are under threat of extinction if the Yeelirrie uranium mine goes ahead.

Stygofauna are ecologically fragile

Most stygofauna are very tiny invertebrates, making up species of crustaceans, worms, snails and diving beetles. Some species are well adapted to underground life – they are typically blind, pale white and with long appendages to help them find their way in total darkness.

Yeelirrie stygofauna.
Photograph by Giulia Perina, Subterranean Ecology Pty Ltd

In 2016, the Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised against building the Yeelirrie uranium mine because it would threaten the stygofauna species there, despite the proposed management strategies of Cameco Australia, the mine owner.

Stygofauna are extremely local, having evolved in the site they’re found in. This means individual species aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

EPA chairman Tom Hatton said:

Despite the proponent’s well-considered management strategies, based on current scientific understanding, the EPA concluded that there was too great a chance of a loss of species that are restricted to the impact area.

Yeelirrie has a rich stygofauna habitat, with 73 difference species recorded.

A species of stygofauna in Yeelirrie.
Photograph by Giulia Perina, Subterranean Ecology Pty Ltd

And to get to the uranium deposit, the miners need to dig through the groundwater, a little like pulling the plug in the middle of the bathtub. Stygofauna have adapted to living at different levels of the water, so pulling out the plug could dry out important parts of their habitat.

Stygofauna are also susceptible to any changes in the chemistry of the groundwater. We simply do not know with confidence what mining will do to the groundwater chemistry at Yeelirrie in the long term. Various wastes will be backfilled into former pits, causing uncertainty for the welfare of surrounding stygofauna.




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The approval conditions suggest that the mine should not be allowed to cause extinction – but if this does happen, nothing can be done to reverse it. And there would be no penalty to Cameco either – which has said it can’t guarantee such a condition can be met.

So are the economic benefits worth wiping out a species?

Short answer: no. But let’s, for a moment, ignore these subterranean animals and look at whether the mine would be beneficial.

Yeelirrie is one of Australia’s largest uranium deposits – and yet it has a low grade of 0.15% (as uranium oxide). This refers to the amount of uranium found in rock. For comparison, the average grade of uranium mines globally is normally 0.1 to 0.4% of uranium oxide (with some higher and others lower).

And Cameco’s Cigar Lake and McArthur River mines in Canada have typically been 15-20% of uranium oxide. Despite such rich ore, McArthur River was uneconomic and closed indefinitely in early 2018.

What’s more, the future of nuclear power is not bright. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, the number of nuclear reactors under construction around the world is at its lowest point in a decade, as renewable energy increases. The amount of nuclear electricity produced each year is flat. And nuclear’s share of global electricity is constantly falling behind renewables.




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But, in any case, we don’t yet know enough about these stygofauna to warrant their extinction. They could, for instance, have untold benefits to medical science, or perhaps have wider environmental and cultural significance.

And, ethically, what right do we have to wipe out a species? They have evolved and survived just like us. At the end of the day, there are much safer, cheaper, more ethical and cleaner ways to generate electricity to boil a kettle.The Conversation

Gavin Mudd, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Afterlife of the mine: lessons in how towns remake challenging sites



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Old mine sites suffer many fates, which range from simply being abandoned to being incorporated into towns or turned into an open-air museum in the case of Gwalia, Western Australia.
Author provided

Laura Harper, Monash University; Alysia Bennett, Monash University, and Ross Brewin, Monash University

The question of what to do with abandoned mine sites confronts both regional communities and mining companies in the wake of Australia’s recent mining boom. The companies are increasingly required to consider site remediation and reuse. Ex-mining sites do present challenges, but also hold opportunities for regional areas.




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Old mine sites can provide a foundation for unique urban patterns, functions and transformations, as they have done in the past. It is useful to look at historical gold-mining regions, such as the Victorian goldfields, to understand how these sites have shaped the organisation and character of their towns.

Research by The University of Queensland’s Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation suggests Australia has more than 50,000 abandoned mine sites. Some are in isolated places. But many others are close to or embedded within regional settlements that developed specifically to support and enable mining activity.

Abandoned mines present unique challenges for remediation:




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These characteristics exclude mining sites from reuse for activities such as residential development. The sites are often considered fundamentally problematic. At times former mining sites have been reused opportunistically, accommodating functions and uses that could co-exist with the compromised physical landscape.

How have old mines shaped our towns?

The industrial patterns established during the Victorian gold-mining boom are traceable through observing the street layout and the location of civic buildings, public functions and open spaces of former gold-mining towns.

For example, in the gold-mining town of Stawell, a pattern of informal and winding tracks was established between mining functions. These tracks later provided the basis for the town’s street organisation and land division, including the meandering Main Street, which forms the central spine of the town.

Left: Cascading dams in Stawell are remnants of the industrial crushing processes that were linked together along naturally occurring gullies. Right: Looking from Cato Lake towards Stawell Town Hall.
Harper, Laura, Author provided

Cato Lake, behind Main Street, was transformed from the tailings dam of the Victoria Crushing Mill. St Georges Crushing Mill and its associated dams became the Stawell Wetlands.

Current residential allotments in Stawell overlaid with the geographical survey of 1887. The gaps correspond to mining claims, crushing mills, tailings dams and other industrial processes associated with mining.
Harper, Laura/Map underlay from Mining Department of Melbourne, Author provided

Other mining sites were transformed into the car park for Stawell Regional Health, the track for Stawell Harness Racing Club and the ovals for the local secondary college. A survey of public open spaces in Stawell shows that over time former mining sites accommodated most of the town’s public functions.

Open space in Stawell showing the correlation of past mining sites with public function:
1. Central Park – public reserve est. 1860s.
2. Cato Park and Bowls Club – was Victoria Co. Crushing Mill
3. Stawell Regional Health – built over a mullock heap associated with the St George Co. Crushing Mill.
4. Wetland Precinct – was part of St George Co. Crushing Mill
5. Stawell Harness Racing Club – was part of Wimmera Co. Crushing Mill
6. Stawell Secondary College and grounds – was part of Wimmera Co. Crushing Mill
7. Borough of Stawell reservoir (disused) – was part of Wimmera Co. Crushing Mill
8. Federation University (Stawell Campus) – was School of Mines and prior, St George Lead (surface diggings)
9. Stawell State School – public reserve established in 1865
10. North Park Recreation Reserve – was part of Galatea Co. Mine / Grants Crushing Mill
11. Stawell Leisure Complex – was part of Galatea Co. Mine / Grants Crushing Mill
12. Oriental Co. Mine Historic Area – was Oriental Co. Mine
13. Moonlight-cum-Magdala Mine Historic Area – was Magdala Mine / Moonlight Co. Mine
14. Big Hill reserve, lookout and arboretum – site of multiple claims including Sloan and Scotchman, Cross Reef Consolidated and Federal Claim

Harper, Laura, Author provided

Many other Victorian goldfields towns developed in similar ways to Stawell. These towns have lakes or other water bodies in and around their central urban areas that were born out of mines.

Calembeen Park and St Georges Lake in Creswick and Lake Daylesford in Daylesford were all formed through the planned collapsing of multiple underground mines to create urban outdoor swimming spots.

Calembeen Park in Creswick is a swimming hole with a diving board that takes advantage of the extreme depth of the lake formed through collapsing several underground mines.
Author provided

In Bendigo, the ornamental Lake Weeroona was formed on the site of the alluvial diggings. Other sites in these towns became parks, ovals, rubbish tips and public functions that could be accommodated on the degraded land.

Abandoned mine sites outside towns have also been used for unique purposes. Deemed unsuitable for use by the farming and forestry industries, these sites have developed into havens for flora and fauna, including endangered species. A 2015 article in Wildlife Australia magazine details instances of the Eastern Bentwing-bat and the Australian Ghost Bat adopting abandoned gold mines as replacement habitat for breeding and raising their young.

The neglect of other gold-mining sites has preserved historical remnants by default. The Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park in Victoria is one example. Here, water races, puddling machines and crushing batteries are hidden amid dense bushland.

The town of Gwalia in Western Australia, abandoned after its mine closed, has been transformed into a town-sized open-air museum.

And what uses are possible in future?

Historical gold-mining sites in or near towns continue to be adapted for unusual uses. The Stawell Goldmine on Big Hill in Stawell is being converted to accommodate the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL), a research laboratory one kilometre below the surface. Cosmic waves are unable to infiltrate the abandoned mining tunnels, so the conditions are ideal for exploring the theorised existence of dark matter.

Working on the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory deep underground in an old mine tunnel.
Swinburne University



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In Bendigo it is proposed to use the extensive historical mine shafts under
the town to generate and store pumped hydroelectricity. This scheme, recently explored as a feasibility study by Bendigo Sustainability Group, would use solar panels to create power to pump underground water up through the mining shafts to be stored at the surface. When power is required the water would be released through turbines to generate electricity.

The lack of demand for remediating sites for market-led uses (such as urban development, farming or forestry) broadens their potential for uses that might otherwise seem marginal or improbable, such as new forms of public space.




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The scale and remoteness of many post-industrial mining sites in Australia – such as Western Australia’s Super Pit gold mine, which is 3.5 kilometres long and 600 metres deep – might mean that approaches to reuse different from those taken with historical goldmines are required. We don’t have to wait until a mine’s closure to think about how it might be used in the future.


The Conversation is co-publishing articles with Future West (Australian Urbanism), produced by the University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts. These articles look towards the future of urbanism, taking Perth and Western Australia as its reference point, with the latest series focusing on the regions. You can read other articles here.The Conversation

Laura Harper, Lecturer in Architecture, Monash University; Alysia Bennett, Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Architecture, Monash University, and Ross Brewin, Senior Lecturer, Department of Architecture, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Adani’s new mini version of its mega mine still faces some big hurdles


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

Indian mining multinational Adani has announced that it will self-fund a significantly smaller coal mine in the Galilee Basin, after failing to secure finance from more than 30 domestic and international banks and lenders.

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan has described Adani as a “little Aussie battler” and praised the newly scaled-down project’s purported regional economic benefits.

The scaling down of the project has been extensive. Adani Mining chief executive Lucas Dow said the mine will cost A$2 billion and initially produce up to 15 million tonnes of thermal coal per year, with plans to ramp production up to 27.5 million tonnes per year.

That is far more modest than the A$16.5 billion investment in digging up 60 million tonnes of coal a year which the company first announced in 2010. The original plan was to transport the coal along a new 388km rail line to a specially built terminal at Adani’s Abbot Point coal port, for export to India. Under the scaled-down version of the project, Adani will need to secure access to existing rail infrastructure.




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But there is still no guarantee that the mine will necessarily go ahead. Opening a new coal mine – even one with a relatively modest A$2 billion price tag – is socially and environmentally irresponsible, given the urgency with which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we need to reduce global greenhouse emissions, the fact that Australia is not currently on track to meet its own emissions targets, and of course the fact that 2018 is on course to become the fourth-hottest year on record.

The economics barely stack up either. A recent IEEFA report indicated that coal is facing a terminal decline as Asian markets make the transition to cheaper and more efficient renewable alternatives. Existing thermal coal power in India costs US$60-80 per megawatt-hour, roughly double the cost of new renewable generation. The Mundra coal plant, where much of the Adani coal was destined, is already operating under capacity and has been closed for significant periods.

Adani has decided not to proceed with its initially planned 388km rail link, and will instead aim to use the existing Aurizon rail infrastructure. However, there is a 200km gap in this link which will cost a significant amount to bridge – albeit almost certainly much less than the A$2.3 billion cost of the originally planned railway. Aurizon Network is legally obliged to consider Adani’s access application, but has not yet assessed and approved it.

Environmental and Indigenous issues

Then there are the existing and significant concerns regarding Adani’s environmental management of issues such as water contamination in the Caley Valley Wetlands near the Abbot Point terminal. These will not disappear just because the project has been revised.




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Gaining the consent of Traditional Owners will also be crucial, yet the 12-member native title representation group is split down the middle. Adani’s existing Indigenous Land Use Agreement has been appealed in the High Court by the Wangan and Jagalingou people, on the basis that the group has not genuinely consented to the agreement, and that overriding native title to make way for a coalmine is socially and culturally regressive. If the court does not uphold the agreement, this would create profound difficulties for the project as they may not be able to proceed with the development of the coal mine to the extent that it interferes with Indigenous landholdings.

So, while the decision of Adani to self-fund a scaled-down coalmine in Queensland might indicate determination, it also suggests a resistance to, and misunderstanding of, a rapidly changing energy sector and the broader social and environmental responsibilities that this change necessitates.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: New South Wales – Sugarloaf State Conservation Area Mining Damage


The link below is to an article reporting on the mine subsidence disaster in the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area of New South Wales, Australia.

For more visit:
http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1743298/mine-subsidence-rehab-credibility-mess-video/

Australia: Tasmania – Tarkine Mine Approved


The link below is to an article reporting on an approval for a mine in the Tarkine region of Tasmania, home to the endangered Tasmanian Devil.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/deadly-tarkine-mine-gets-go-ahead.htm

Australia: Tasmania – Tarkine Mine Halted


The link below is to an article reporting on a court decision to halt a mine in the Tarkine region of Tasmania until a final decision has been reached.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/tarkine-mine-on-hold-in-court.htm