The Beverley North in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mine is owned and operated by Heathgate Resources, owner of the adjacent Beverley uranium mine and 100% owned subsidiary of US corporation General Atomics. Adjoining the Beverley mining lease directly to the North, it lies between the northern Flinders Ranges and Lake Frome on Adnyamathanha country.
Beverley North was approved by the South Australian government in November 2010 as a field leach trial, after being ruled “not a controlled action” by the Federal Environment Minister, meaning that despite being a nuclear action it does not trigger the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This designation precludes the requirement for environmental assessment under the Act, which often includes, for example, an Environmental Impact Statement, and leaves environmental assessment to the South Australian government. Furthermore, it relegates trial ISL uranium mines to a category less than a nuclear action (as nuclear actions trigger the EPBC Act), even though uranium mines are supposed to trigger the Act, and even though trial mines typically have the same environmental impacts as commercial mines (if not on the same scale).
Uranium from the trial mine is trucked to the existing processing plant at the Beverley mine for processing and assessment of yield. The two uranium deposits currently targeted by the trial are conceived of as the first “uranium satellite mines” (around the Beverley mine), and considered the “nuclei” of the Beverley North project, with Heathgate claiming further mining is expected to follow.
Heathgate has two other exploration licences in the immediate surrounding area (south and east of the Beverley uranium mine), totalling 2097 square kilometres. They are both jointly owned with Giralia Resources, with Heathgate retaining a 75% share in each licence.
Impacts on groundwater are assessed within a framework of ensuring groundwater remains within the same water quality category of use it was prior to the trial. Heathgate claims that the groundwater in the target aquifer is of a low quality preventing its use as potable water or for irrigation, due to its salinity and the presence of uranium and fluoride. The only commitment made is that post mine closure the groundwater will remain in the same (low quality) use category, rather than returning the groundwater in the aquifer to the same state it was prior to the trial. Conceivably, the groundwater in an aquifer may be left contaminated with much higher levels of uranium and other heavy metals, now in a biologically mobile form as a result of the ISL process, and remain within the same low quality category of use it was prior to the trial.
Between 1998 and 2012, Heathgate reported 59 spills at the Beverley mine, with some of these incidents involving multiple spills. In February 2012, Heathgate estimates that 30-34 cubic metres of pregnant liquor escaped from a damaged valve into surface run-off. The spill was not confined due to flooding of the site and the local creek. The report summary states that “radiation levels are expected to be low due to dilution by stormwater.”
- Applications related to Beverley North available at: http://www.pir.sa.gov.au/minerals/public_notices/beverley_north_mining_lease_applicationper
- Mining and Rehabilitation Program: https://sarigbasis.pir.sa.gov.au/WebtopEw/ws/samref/sarig1/image/DDD/ENV12046_R201000357