Thursday, 10 January 2013 08:35
Conservationists are concerned tailing ponds at a north Queensland nickel refinery owned by mining magnate Clive Palmer will burst during the upcoming wet season.
WWF Australia spokesman Nick Heath said three ponds containing toxic industrial waste at Queensland Nickel's Yabulu refinery near Townsville were already at capacity and could collapse when seasonal storms hit, creating a major environmental disaster.
"Heavy rains from the wet season could hit this area any day now, we have a ticking time bomb on our hands," Mr Heath said.
"The government needs to urgently reveal how it plans to fix this."
The State Government said its Environment and Heritage Protection department was in talks with Queensland Nickel to address water management issues.
Ingrid Fomiatti Minnesma, the department's acting executive director, said the refinery has submitted a corrective action plan.
She said the plan includes proposals to divert stormwater away from the tailings dams and to construct additional contaminated water storage capacity on the site.
"The department is reviewing the TEP (Transitional Environmental Program) as a matter of priority," Ms Minnesma said.
Queensland Nickel requires a permit from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to release tailings into the ocean.
Mr Heath said dumping millions of litres of contaminated water into the Great Barrier Reef was not the answer.
"The tailings dam water contains metals, nutrients and nitrogen," he said.
"Not only could a release damage parts of the reef but the chemicals could enter the food chain, potentially affecting the fish we eat."
GBRMPA says it's concerned about any proposal to discharge hazardous waste from the refinery's dams into the marine park or nearby coastal wetlands.
"The refinery has known since at least May 2012 that the tailing storage facility was reaching capacity but has failed to act effectively to deal with the situation," GBRMPA written statement says.
Queensland Nickel applied for a permit to discharge into the marine park on May 30 last year.
GBRMPA said it requested more information but the refinery failed to meet the deadline and the application was considered "withdrawn".
Queensland Nickel has been contacted but is yet to respond.
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