Mining waste recommendation from NT EPA

The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) has assessed a proposal north of Alice Springs to mine rare earth elements, with naturally occurring radioactive materials to be permanently stored onsite.

The NT EPA concluded the Arafura Resources Ltd’s Nolans Project could be managed to avoid unacceptable environmental impacts and risks.

Its key recommendations focus on ensuring best practice management of tailings, residue and waste during operation, closure and post decommissioning.

The agency noted potential contaminants and the presence of naturally occurring radioactive materials in waste streams warrant independent technical review and operational oversight to ensure the risks are minimised to the lowest extent practicable and to promote a transparent regulatory process.

The proposal is to mine rare earth elements, key components in many green and sustainable products, such as wind turbines for the clean energy industry and hybrid vehicles. The proposal includes open cut mining and processing over a 55 year mine life.

The proposal also includes groundwater abstraction from a new borefield and permanent diversion of an ephemeral creek.

The proposed site is 135 km north-northwest of Alice Springs and 10 kilometres west of Aileron roadhouse and Alyuen community.

NT EPA Chairman, Dr Paul Vogel, said the NT EPA identified potentially significant environmental impacts and risks associated with the proposal and made 16 recommendations to avoid and mitigate those impacts.

“This proposal comes with long term environmental risks that will require a high level of ongoing regulatory scrutiny across government,” Dr Vogel said.

The NT EPA considers there is potential for impacts on groundwater hydrological processes and associated environmental values.

The sustainable use and management of groundwater resources is important in an arid zone where the project is located.

The NT EPA recommends further hydrological investigations including refining the groundwater model, setting site-specific groundwater level triggers and adaptive management of groundwater use.

To ensure best practice closure and rehabilitation, the NT EPA considers the project should effectively integrate mine closure planning with mine operational planning and that progressive rehabilitation is undertaken during its operations.

The NT EPA has recommended that the security bond be revised based on the updated Mine Closure Plan to ensure the costs of rehabilitation and post-closure liabilities are not borne by the Northern Territory Government and the community in the event of the operator abandoning the site or becoming insolvent.

It notes that uncertainty remains around the potential for significant environmental impacts over the life of the project.

The NT EPA emphasises that the environmental commitments, safeguards and recommendations outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement, the Assessment Report and in the final management plans must be implemented by the proponent, with a high level of oversight and strong compliance enforcement by the relevant regulator throughout the life of the project to deliver acceptable environmental outcomes.

The NT EPA has provided its assessment report to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Lauren Moss, for consideration.

NT EPA recommends Chandler Hazardous Waste Facility approval

The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) has recommended approval of Tellus Holdings Ltd’s hazardous waste storage proposal.

The EPA said it follows a rigorous environmental impact assessment.

The proposal includes a temporary hazardous waste storage facility, an underground salt mine, a permanent disposal facility for hazardous waste (in the mined out, underground salt caverns), and associated infrastructure such as salt stockpiles, haul roads and access roads.

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The proposed site is approximately 120 kilometres south of Alice Springs and 25 kilometres from the nearest community, Titjikala.

NT EPA Chairman, Dr Paul Vogel, said the NT EPA identified potentially significant environmental impacts and risks associated with the proposal and made 19 recommendations to avoid and mitigate those impacts.

“The NT EPA’s assessment of Australia’s first national hazardous waste repository has been informed by the operation, regulation and learnings from other deep geological waste repositories internationally as well as ongoing discussions with the WA EPA who are also assessing a similar, but smaller proposal,” Dr Vogel said.

The EPA’s key recommendations focus on ensuring transparent, ongoing and rigorous regulatory oversight, including requirements for the public disclosure of any financial assurance or security held in respect of the proposal, as well as public disclosure of independent auditor and process safety oversight reports.

“This proposal comes with environmental and financial risks to the community and the Northern Territory Government,” Dr Vogel said.

“To address these risks the NT EPA has made recommendations consistent with the proponent’s commitment to ensure appropriate financial assurance provisions are provided upfront to the NT Government over the life of the proposal, should it be approved.

“A whole-of-project financial assurance would ensure that significant residual environmental impacts and risks are acknowledged, and financial risk to the NT Government is avoided, covering all financial obligations under an appropriate regulatory regime.”

The NT EPA supports the concept of a deep geological repository that can store and isolate hazardous waste and has identified further work required to demonstrate that the Chandler Facility is the best option for disposing of hazardous waste without unacceptable environmental impacts now or in the future.

The NT EPA has provided its assessment report to the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Lauren Moss, for consideration.