A spokesman for COGEMA Australia – wholly owned by AREVA – said the company intends to revive efforts to mine the Koongarra deposit, over which it holds rights, once a five-year ban imposed by the land’s indigenous owners expires on April 4.
However, it is not clear whether a renewed attempt at starting mining operations would meet with success.
Negotiations must first be held with the traditional owners, as well as receive approval from the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments before mining can go ahead.
“I guess it’s pretty difficult, there’s a lot of variables we would, we would like to be optimistic (but) it’s been vetoed a number of times before,” Stephen Mann, COGEMA Australia’s general manager, was quoted as saying by ABC online news.
The Northern Territory’s Mines Minister has skirted around questions of whether support would be given for mining to commence, but has indicated it will not be a clear-cut decision.
“I mean, who in their right mind would even want to open a big mine next to Nourlangie, what’s it going to do for tourism in Kakadu, there are too many things to discuss and many things to actually take care of before you even start digging,” Minister Kon Vatskalis told the ABC.
The move, though, has already gained in principle support from the Northern Territory opposition.
“With appropriate environmental and regulatory controls, with the agreement of aboriginal owners, we’re all for uranium mining,” Country Liberal Party leader Denis Burke said.
The Northern Land Council’s chief executive, Norman Fry, said the matter would be takes up with Koongarra’s traditional owners, but has given no clues as to what response might be received.
The position of the Koongarra site so close to the world heritage listed Kakadu National Park, though, is sure to stir strong resistance to mining from environmentalists.
Koongarra is located three kilometres from the prized Nourlangie Rock, one of the park’s top tourist spots, and a rich showcase of ancient indigenous rock art.
The high-grade Koongarra uranium deposit is also near wetlands south of the existing Ranger mine, which has been in the spotlight for a number of leaks and spills in recent years.
As world demand for uranium continues to climb, the pressure to open Koongarra to mining is likely to grow.
With the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect yesterday, the push to cut back on energy sources that produce greenhouse gas emissions is stronger than ever and has reignited debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power.