ERA applies to renew Jabiluka lease

21 March 2024

Energy Resources of Australia Limited says it has lodged an application to renew the lease in Australia's Northern Territory but says it has no plans to develop the high-grade uranium deposit. The deposit's Mirarr Traditional Owners have said they oppose both the renewal and development of the lease, which is surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

A retention pond at the Jabiluka site, pictured in 2010 (Image: Owen65)

Energy Resources of Australia Limited (ERA) has a long-term care and maintenance agreement with the Mirarr Traditional Owners that includes a veto over development of Jabiluka unless approved by the Mirarr. Renewing the lease - which is due to expire in August - extends this arrangement and is the best way to preserve this veto, and Jabiluka's cultural heritage, CEO Brad Welsh said.

"ERA has protected the cultural heritage at Jabiluka for almost two decades under a long-term agreement with the Mirarr Traditional Owners that also includes a veto right over any future development. The agreement and veto right only remain in place if the lease is renewed," Welsh said.

The Jabiluka uranium deposit was discovered in the early 1970s and, with resources of more than 130,000 tU3O8 (110,240 tU), is one of the world's largest high-grade uranium deposits. Jabiluka is also a site of international cultural heritage significance, containing extensive rock art galleries of World Heritage significance as well as sacred sites and the archaeological site of the oldest known human occupation in Australia.

A mining lease was granted in 1982. ERA purchased the Jabiluka lease from Pancontinental in 1991, and some development work began with the construction of an access decline excavation around the orebody, but mining was subsequently deferred and in 2005, the Mirarr and ERA formally agreed that mining may only proceed with the written consent of the Mirarr Traditional Owners.

ERA Independent Non-Executive Director and former Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said the application for the lease renewal protects the rights of the Mirarr to control the future of the site. "The best way to preserve the veto right is to renew the MLN1Jabiluka lease," he added.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners, has publicly expressed its intention to oppose both the renewal and development of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease, and say the Traditional Owners "remain concerned about ERA's capacity to deliver on their commitments in Kakadu National Park": the company is currently rehabilitating the former Ranger uranium mine after more than 35 years of uranium production operations came to an end in January 2021, and recently said it will need to raise further funds this year to cover the work.

"ERA's announcement today that it has applied for an extension of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease does nothing to improve the Mirarr's confidence in the mining company or its capacity to clean up properly at the former uranium mining site at Ranger," the corporation said.

CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation Thalia van den Boogaard said the Mirarr Traditional Owners would now seek formal protection of Jabiluka's cultural heritage and called on the Australian and Northern Territory governments as well as ERA to support this. "We've heard very encouraging words from this company when they assured us Ranger would be cleaned up by January 2026 and look how wrong that turned out to be. We don't doubt their sincerity, but we gravely doubt their capacity," she said.

ERA is majority owned by Rio Tinto.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News