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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1247


Mr HAND —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy aware that workers at the Ranger uranium plant in the Northern Territory have been on strike for a week over a health and safety issue? Are Press reports correct that the drinking water at the uranium mine was contaminated by a radioactive substance? Does the Minister have any information about the circumstances which led to this strike? Are reports that the strike has ended correct?


Mr BARRY JONES —I have seen the report in today's Australian Financial Review on the matter raised by the honourable member for Melbourne. Workers at the Ranger mine had been on strike for about a week but returned to work today. The background of the strike is as follows: On 21 July 1983, a workman made an improper hose connection between the potable water supply and the plant circuit used to flush out pipes in the plant. Modifications were also being made to the potable water piping. When pressure was reduced for this purpose there was some flow-back from the plant circuit to the isolated section of the drinking water pipes. The problem was immediately recognised, and the potable system was flushed out and tested chemically before being restored to use.

Recent modification work revealed that small amounts of ammonium diuranate had apparently been lodged in short blind ends of pipework and had not been thoroughly flushed out in the July incident. Ammonium diuranate is a yellow insoluble precipitate which is dried and calcined at high temperature to make the final product uranium oxide or, as we generally call it, yellowcake.

Regular analysis of the drinking water and testing of the workers who could have used the water from that section of the potable water supply show that there has been some contamination, but not significant contamination, within what are generally regarded as safe limits. The company is, however, completely replacing the potable water pipework in that section of the plant.

My colleague the Minister for Resources and Energy has suggested that the Supervising Scientist in the Alligator Rivers Region be invited to visit the site to discuss these matters with management and workers. As Acting Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, I would be very glad to endorse that suggestion.