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Radium/Uranium

Uranium minerals were discovered at Radium Hill in 1906 and at Mount Painter in 1910. G.A. Greenwood, manager of Mt Serle station and a part time prospector, found the Mt Painter deposits.

Geologist Douglas Mawson [connect to Mawson’s personal entry] was intensely interested and had some of this uranium shipped to France, where Nobel Prize winner Madam Marie Curie was involved in radioactivity research. Mawson also ensured that the mineral was traded to museums around the world.

The ores were mined intermittently from 1910 to the 1930s. The Mt Painter area is now in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary which was given long term protection from mining in 2012.

Uranium mining at Radium Hill and Mt Painter

  • Ore was mined briefly between 1910 and 1914 and after World War I until the 1930s when mining ceased.
  • The Australian Radium Corporation built a small crushing and screening plant on site in the 1920s.
    • Materials were transported by camels and loaded onto trucks for further transport to the Copley railway station and finally to Dry Creek.
  • The minerals were processed for their radium content which commanded a high price for use in medicine. Uranium itself had little use then and interest only increased after 1939 with the discovery of nuclear fission.
  • After 1939 uranium was studied much closer, first to make nuclear weapons but later as a source of heat to generate electricity, to preserve food, treat cancer, improve crop and livestock breeds and to keep checks on various kinds of pollution.

Arkaroola

  • Wartime use of uranium stimulated intense exploration at Radium Hill and Mount Painter. The Greenwood brothers had taken up the lease that included these sites in 1936 and called it Arkaroola.
  • Reg Sprigg was one of the young geologists employed to search for uranium around Mount Painter during World War II.  In 1969 he took over the Arkaroola lease and turned the area into a wildlife conservation zone.

Mining or Conservation?

Margaret Sprigg writes:

In the meantime, exploration for uranium and rare earth elements continued sporadically during the late 1960s/early 70s then again late 80s/early 90s with little success.

In mid 2000s another mineral exploration company was found to have illegally buried about 40 tonnes of low level RA waste at Mt Gee in the centre of Arkaroola, and another 20 tonnes in the Yudnamutana Gorge near Paralana Hot Springs.

After a five year battle and public controversy, it was finally agreed  that pursuits of mineral exploration and conservation were mutually exclusive. The fight was settled in favour of the long term protection of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and the exploration company lost its mineral licence.

The South Australian Government proclaimed the Arkaroola Protection Act, 2012 which was enacted in April that year and Arkaroola’s long term protection against mining was now assured.

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