For its part, Rio Tinto says preparing the town and region for a positive future after mining and ensuring it leaves a lasting legacy are very important parts of its mine closure plan, which the miner is determined to get right.
The Gove closure program is one of Rio Tinto’s largest and most complex projects
Following the 2017 announcement of the closure of the Gove alumina refinery and associated Residue Disposal Area (RDA), works have been taking place to safely prepare for demolition and rehabilitation activities to align with eventual cessation of mining activities in about 2030.
Located in the remote region of North East Arnhem Land, the refinery and RDA closure will take ten years to complete and is made up of three key areas:
- Closure of the refinery, which includes the removal of approximately 143,000 tonnes of steel; or the equivalent of 14 Eiffel Towers, making it one of the largest demolition jobs in Australia
- Rehabilitation of the tailings facility, or RDA, including the capping of ponds and treatment of approximately 15GL of water; or the equivalent of 6,000 Olympic swimming pools
- Working with the Nhulunbuy community to prepare for a sustainable future after the cessation of bauxite mining in 2030
REMEDIATING AND RETURNING THE LAND TO TRADITIONAL OWNERS
Rio Tinto’s mining leases include the town of Nhulunbuy and are located on Aboriginal land. Rio Tinto is working with the Traditional Owners to understand their future aspirations and to prepare the region for a future beyond bauxite mining.
“The way we operate, close and hand over the land to the next custodian is critical and we are placing a huge focus on being transparent during this process. By working with the Traditional Owners of the Gove Peninsula and the community of Nhulunbuy, we aim to create a positive legacy for the area,” said James Low, Rio Tinto Gove Closure General Manager.
“There is a significant amount of work to be done to successfully remediate the site and to prepare our surrounding community for life beyond mining. There’s a lot at stake. It’s incredibly meaningful work for our team,” he said.
Rio Tinto is engaging with Traditional Owners on the remediation of the refinery and RDA including identifying opportunities of how land or other assets could be used or retained to benefit the Nhulunbuy and surrounding communities after closure.
One such opportunity is a proposal from Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation to convert part of the refinery into a strategic fuel storage facility, enabling the storage of up to 160 megaliters of fuel.
“We’re all working really hard to get the maximum outcomes for community and the region by using existing infrastructure where possible,” said Klaus Helms, CEO of Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation.
“Nhulunbuy was always a mining town. It has a lot of potential, but you have to find industry for that potential,” he said.
A TRANSITIONING REGIONAL ECONOMY
Over the next 10 years, Rio Tinto is committed to providing access to opportunities for local and Indigenous businesses and community members to benefit from closure activities. Already a success to achieve this is the independent economic entity, Developing East Arnhem Ltd (DEAL). DEAL was created in 2014 following the curtailment of the alumina refinery to drive economic diversification and stimulate new opportunities in the region. Rio Tinto and the Northern Territory Government Injected A$2 million each in seed funding to get DEAL off the ground.
Last year, the miner spent $119 million with Gove Peninsula goods and service suppliers, $49 million of which was with local Indigenous businesses and contributed more than $200M to the Territory economy.
Although the demolition of the refinery itself is highly specialised work, Rio Tinto is making sure local businesses are given as many opportunities to be involved as possible through sub-contracting. In June, Rio Tinto invited local businesses to meet with contracting teams bidding for the large-scale demolition works to explore partnership opportunities.
“One of the key factors, under Rio Tinto’s agreement with Traditional Owners, is ensuring they are set up for the future with business and economic opportunities and are able to foster and grow their businesses both now and after we close the operations,” said Alicia Sherwood, Rio Tinto Aluminium’s Northern Territory-based general manager of corporate and social performance in the Pacific.
“Nhulunbuy is a strong, resilient, entrepreneurial town and region and part of the closure project will be to ensure local businesses are maximising the opportunities that Rio Tinto has available over the next 10 years,” she said.
Traditional Owner organisations, including Gumatj Corporation Ltd and the Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation, together with Northern Land Council, Rio Tinto, the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, have established the Gove Peninsula Futures Reference Group which is committed to working together over the next decade to achieve a positive future for Nhulunbuy and the Gove Peninsula post mining for the benefit of Yolngu land owners, local communities, businesses and industry.
For more information on Rio Tinto’s Gove closure program, visit: