$900mn Northern Territory mining project gets green light despite radioactive risk

By Addie Thomes

A huge mining project northwest of Alice Springs has been granted approval by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA), despite the presence of radioactive material at the site.

After more than two years of assessment, the NT EPA decided the environmental risks at the Nolan Project could be mitigated sufficiently by storing radioactive material in dams. It also made 15 other recommendations relating to environmental protection.

Arafura Resources will develop the site, supplying rare earth materials including neodymium and praseodymium which are used to build magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines.

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EPA Chairman, Dr Paul Vogel, said: “This proposal comes with long term environmental risks that will require a high level of ongoing regulatory scrutiny across government.” EPA’s key recommendations focus on ensuring leading practice in management of tailings, residue and waste during operation, closure and post decommissioning.

Arafura wants to mine 14,000 tonnes of rare earths a year, and expects the mine to be productive for at least 30-35 years. The site is said to contain 56mn tonnes an average grade of 2.6% total rare earth oxides, extending 215m below the earth’s surface.

NT EPA has stressed the need for rigorous oversight of the measures it proposes. In a statement it said: “The NT EPA emphasises that the environmental commitments, safeguards and recommendations outlined in the Environmental Impact Statement, this 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 proposed site is 135km north-northwest of Alice Springs and 10km west of Aileron roadhouse and Alyuen community.

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