Nature & Wildlife

VOICES FOR THE EARTH

Lesson on Toxic Mining Waste

If anyone still has lingering doubts about whether mining should be allowed in the Clarence Valley, I suggest they consider the news emerging from western Tasmania.

That story involves a copper, zinc and lead mine that has been operating for 80 years, producing toxic waste in the process which is currently stored in two very large tailings dams on the edge of the world renowned Tarkine forest.

Those existing dams will reach capacity within three years, and the owner, MMG, wants to construct a third dam inside the Tarkine, with a massive 285-hectare footprint. Naturally, this has drawn condemnation from concerned citizens and protests have already erupted leading to more than 40 arrests to date.

MMG argues that without the third dam, the mine would be forced to close, which appears to be a clear admission that cleaning up these toxic waste storage dams isn’t possible. After all, to a layman at least, the obvious solution would be to clean out one of the existing dams, dispose of the waste safely, so it could be refilled, thus avoiding the environmentally destructive consequences of building the third dam.

Mining companies are supposedly obligated to eventually rehabilitate the site when a mine is closed down. How will this occur in the Tasmanian case? If history is any indication, it probably won’t!

The well-respected Australia Institute, in its report “The dark side of the Boom” (2017) reported that over 60,000 mines had been abandoned across Australia and found evidence of barely more than 20 that had been closed and relinquished. In fact, their researchers could only find evidence of a handful of mines that had been successfully rehabilitated.

The report points out that “rehabilitating a single mine can cost millions or even billions of dollars”, which probably explains why, in more recent times, so many mines are “moth-balled”, rather than closed permanently, thus avoiding the required rehabilitation.

If copper mining gets the go ahead in the Clarence, a similar toxic time-bomb could be the legacy facing the valley’s residents in the future.

John Edwards

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