Supervising Scientist Overview
Despite disruptions throughout 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic we completed our environmental monitoring program as scheduled and demonstrated that the people and environment of Kakadu National Park remained protected from the effects of uranium mining. It is a testament to all current and former staff of the Supervising Scientist that such a high level of protection has been sustained through-out the entire operating period of the Ranger uranium mine.
Forty-two years of uranium production in the Alligator Rivers Region drew to a close on the 8th of January 2021 with the closure of the processing plant at Ranger. The closure of Ranger is significant milestone for the region and marks the transition to full-time rehabilitation works.
Several key rehabilitation milestones were achieved at Ranger during 2020-21, including: completion of the backfill of Pit 1, completion of dredging of tailings in the Tailings Storage Facility, completion of make-safe activities in the processing area and the commencement of backfill of the Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine. During the reporting period SSB commenced a detailed rehabilitation verification project in order to ensure rehabilitation works at Ranger are completed in accordance with regulatory approvals. This program will continue for the duration of major rehabilitation works.
In support of ongoing rehabilitation activities at Ranger the Supervising Scientist Branch has been making good progress in completing key research work and rehabilitation related assessments, including a detailed assessment of the 2020 Ranger Mine Closure Plan. In addition, we have been working with ERA and traditional owner representative groups to finalise closure criteria and collaborating on rehabilitation-related monitoring activities.
The closure of Ranger will require a revision of our monitoring programs from a focus on detecting and preventing impacts from short-term changes in water quality, to a multi-decadal program which is focused on detecting seasonal-scale water quality effects from diffuse sources. Through the application of omics techniques, drones and artificial intelligence we are developing leading edge monitoring technologies which are safer, more efficient and provide vastly more data.
SSB has now established an omics laboratory and have successfully operationalised our fish videography artificial intelligence-based monitoring program for the first time. Through our BRUVNet program 185 citizen scientists from 34 countries have now labelled over 25 thousand images to assist in training our fish identification artificial intelligence model. We are now adapting our fish identification model to assist colleagues in the Biosecurity Group to identify imported fish at the border.
SSB is also providing technical support to the wider Department in a range of fields including the formalisation of the role of Chief Remote Pilot with oversight of all Departmental drone operations, and the establishment of Departmental Communities of Practice in Omics, Artificial Intelligence and Drones. We continue to provide technical advice to inform assessments conducted under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, including the assessment of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. The Supervising Scientist has taken on management responsibility for the South Alligator Disposal Facility on behalf of the Director of National Parks and has agreed to do the same for the Koongarra site in Kakadu.
External to the Department we continue to engage widely, including participation in working groups with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. SSB staff presented our work at a range of technical conferences and played a key role in the organisation of the Society for Ecological Restoration conference held in Darwin.
I would like to thank all the staff of the Supervising Scientist Branch for their hard work and dedication throughout 2020-21, their achievements are all the more remarkable given the difficult circumstances brought about by COVID-19. It remains a pleasure and a privilege to lead such a fantastic team.