The uranium miner surrounded by Kakadu National Park, Energy Resources of Australia, has confirmed it would like to mine at the Ranger lease beyond its permit expiry in 2021.

In its first public contemplation of working the Ranger lease beyond that time, ERA said it may seek an extension to the lease if uranium markets remain weak between now and 2021.

Earlier this month, ERA deferred an investment decision on an expansion project at Ranger, which is the only hope of future mining at the site.

ERA, 68 per cent owned by Rio Tinto, has thus far evaluated the expansion on the basis that all mining must finish in 2021, but the company confirmed it was now contemplating life beyond that.

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“There is a risk that the development of the Ranger 3 Deeps resource may not be economically viable within the time constraints of the Ranger Section 41 Authority,” the company said in its annual report.

“If the Ranger 3 Deeps Resource is not economically viable within the current Ranger section 41 authority, an extension may be sought.”

No such comment was made in previous company statements, and the long-term view was also visible in ERA’s calculations of asset-carrying values, which were determined using time periods beyond 2021.

“The company’s financial modelling also includes the development of Ranger 3 Deeps mine within and beyond the term of the current authority, which remains subject to stakeholder, regulatory and ERA board approvals, and to which the company has assigned a high probability,” the miner said.

When asked if the comments were a sign ERA was contemplating extending life at Ranger, a spokeswoman said “we’ve always been very open that we would like to continue operations at Ranger in the longer term”.

The spokesperson stressed that no application for a lease extension had been made so far.

Representatives of the traditional owners of the land upon which Ranger is located, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, said the law requires mining to cease by 2021 and for rehabilitation to be complete by 2026.

Gundjeihmi chief executive Justin O’Brien said after 2026, the Ranger region was lawfully required to be returned to a standard that is comparable with the surrounding national park.

“Anything outside of that (scenario) is entirely new, unknown, foreign, and uncertain,” he said on Monday.

“The mining company should not entertain any of these thoughts without a comprehensive settlement here otherwise the prospect of their company becoming a train wreck will become a reality very quickly.”

ERA has also reduced the estimated cost of rehabilitation of the site by $74 million to $512 million, saying technological advances were making rehabilitation cheaper.

Mr O’Brien said the GAC was “concerned” about the claim and wanted to see “more detail” about the new technologies that were making rehabilitation cheaper.

The federal minister who gave ERA permission to consider the Ranger 3 Deeps project, Peter Garrett, said in November that he believed the mine should close in the agreed time frame.

“Exploitation of uranium within the World Heritage property of Kakadu National Park, effectively against the current wishes of significant traditional owners and others, is a historical aberration and ought to finish as soon as possible,” he said.
ERA reiterated last year’s admission that it may need to source external funds to cover the cost of rehabilitation at Ranger if the Deeps project did not occur.

The Sindney Morning Herald

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