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Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Conservation fears for Australian park

Jabiluka will take over from the existing Ranger uranium mine

Aborigines and conservationists are vowing to step up oppositon to uranium mining in Kakadu National Park following a UN decision not to list the area as an "endangered site".

Steve Jones: "The park is one of greatest natural areas"
The Australian Government had lobbied hard not to have the park listed, which means that uranium mining can more easily go ahead there.

Energy Resources Australia (ERA), the company which hopes to mine uranium in the park, saw its share price jump 8% in early trading on Tuesday.

It plans to invest $2.5bn in the Jabiluka mine.

[ image: Kakadu is a haven for many birds and animals]
Kakadu is a haven for many birds and animals
But as well as being one of the world's richest uranium deposits, Jabiluka is contains many species of wildlife and is a site the local Murra aboriginal tribe considers sacred.

The Murra believe a spiritual "Rainbow Serpent" sleeps on the land and must never be awakened. ERA has erected vibration detectors near a recognised traditional site which will never be mined so that any disturbances can be monitored.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) ruled against placing the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park on its "in danger" list after accepting assurances the mine would neither harm its environment nor endanger sacred Aboriginal sites.

Reconsider in a year

"We are very disappointed with the decision by the committee that followed intense political pressure from Australia," said Don Henry, executive director of the Australia Conservation Foundation.

"One of the conditions the committee has put on this is that they want to revisit this issue in a year's time and particularly look at what Australia is doing about protecting natural environment and culture.

"So there is time to stop Jabiluka and save Kakadu," Mr Henry said.

[ image: Robert Hill was pleased with the outcome]
Robert Hill was pleased with the outcome
Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill hailed the decision as a victory and said Jabiluka would be phased in as the existing Ranger uranium mine is phased out of service.

Mr Hill said that Jabiluka could start producing high-quality uranium by 2001.

"We're pleased with the outcome," he told journalists after the meeting.

"We could never understand the argument for putting Kakadu on the endangered list."

The Australian Government had already announced that the mine, which it says passed a rigorous three-year assessment procedure, would go ahead regardless of what the Unesco committee decided.

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26 Oct 98 | Asia-Pacific
Uranium fears for Australian national park

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