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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Australia miner pleads guilty
Ranger mine, courtesy ERA (archive photo)
The Ranger mine is within the World Heritage-listed park
An Australian mining company has pleaded guilty to charges relating to a water contamination incident in the Northern Territory.

Energy Resources Australia (ERA) has pleaded guilty to three charges, and faces fines of A$300,000 (US$230,000).

Twenty-eight workers fell sick last year after drinking and showering in water allegedly containing 400 times the allowable limit of uranium.

The incident happened in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

ERA is owned by global mining firm Rio Tinto, and is the world's third largest uranium miner.

On 23 March 2004, a tube carrying water used in the processing of uranium was mistakenly connected to a drinking supply at the Ranger mine, Darwin Magistrates Court was told on Friday.

The error was not discovered until a supervisor drank the water and suspected it had been contaminated, according to prosecutor Jon Tippett.

A short time later, 28 miners complained of symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, headaches and skin rashes after drinking or washing in the affected water.

The plant was immediately closed down, while an investigation was launched.

Mr Tippett insisted the incident could easily have been avoided.

He said the water system at the mine was in poor condition, and there was a "serious contamination just waiting to happen".

But ERA's lawyer Ross Ray said the contamination was the result of human error and not an equipment problem, and he added that the company had now implemented a number of safety procedures.

He also said the workers would not suffer any long-term health effects.

ERA pleaded guilty to two charges in relation to the water contamination, and a further charge related to contaminated vehicles leaving the mine site.

Even before the contamination scare, there were concerns about placing a uranium plant in Kakadu national park.

Some members of the aboriginal community living on the land had repeatedly objected to the presence of the mine.

The area has a stunning collection of aboriginal rock art and a dazzling array of native flora and fauna, including Magpie geese and crocodiles.


SEE ALSO:
Aborigines count cost of mine
25 May 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Howard axes Aboriginal body
15 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Aborigines fight for their money back
07 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's lost generation
16 Feb 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Australia
04 Feb 04 |  Country profiles


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