| SYDNEY, March 27
SYDNEY, March 27 Damaged rubber lining on a tank
led to a massive uranium leak from a processing plant in
Australia late last year, a subsidiary of global mining giant
Rio Tinto said on Thursday.
An investigation into the spill found that more than 1
million litres of liquefied uranium material escaped from a
three storey-high steel tank when its wall corroded after the
rubber lining was damaged, according to Energy Resources of
Australia Ltd. The firm is 68.4 percent owned by Rio
Workers were evacuated from the Ranger mine site in the
early hours of Dec. 7 when a hole was discovered in the tank.
The tank subsequently split, knocking over a crane and spilling
the uranium onto the ground.
Operations were suspended after the spill.
The damaged tank has been dismantled and removed, while
inspections of six other tanks at the site discovered signs of
steel corrosion in one of them, ERA said.
The investigation recommended 35 steps relating to
inspections and testing of the leach tanks be taken before
operations are allowed to resume.
Australian Conservation Foundation national nuclear
campaigner Dave Sweeney said the findings showed inadequate
safeguards existed at the site.
"This spill was a combination of metal and management
fatigue," he said. "It clearly demonstrates the dangers that
exist at Ranger."
ERA Chief Executive Andrea Sutton said there had been no
environmental damage in areas close to the spill due to a
containment system , adding the surrounding Kakadu Park, a World
heritage-listed preserve, was also unaffected.
"The detailed review is an important part of helping restore
community and stakeholder confidence in the Ranger plant
operations," Sutton said.
The investigation, commissioned by ERA, was separate from
ones by government task forces, which must sign off before
operations can restart.
ERA said it had built up sufficient stockpiles of processed
uranium, known as uranium oxide, prior to the spill to meet its
sales commitments through the first half of this year and was
looking at ways to meet its second-half commitments.
Uranium oxide is mainly bought for use in nuclear power
Production stopped for five months in 2012 at the Ranger
mine, which can supply as much as 10 percent of the world's
uranium, due to heavy rains, forcing ERA to purchase more than
2,000 tonnes of uranium to cover deliveries.
(Editing by Joseph Radford)