Directors of company responsible for cleanup of Kakadu uranium site to resign amid fight with Rio Tinto | Rio Tinto

Directors of the company that owns the Jabiluka and Ranger uranium deposits in Kakadu, Energy Resources Australia, which is not affiliated with majority shareholder Rio Tinto, said they would step down amid a fight over whether there should be mining on the site.

It came after Rio Tinto dramatically escalated its war with ERA’s minority shareholders on Monday by calling on company chairman Peter Mansell to step down.

Rio, which owns 86% of ERA, has pledged to rehabilitate the depleted Ranger open-pit mine and said it would not look for uranium at Jabiluka until its traditional owners, the people Mirarr, would maintain their longstanding opposition to the mine.

However, ERA’s minority shareholders want the company to develop the Jabiluka deposit and consider reviving a deep mining project under the Ranger pit.

Following Rio’s call, ERA said Mansell, along with independent directors Paul Dowd and Shane Charles, had told Rio they intended to step down as soon as “a clear path to a funding solution provisional for the company would be found”.

The stoush threw into limbo efforts to raise up to $2.2 billion needed to clean up Ranger — work that is already suffering from major cost blowouts and lengthy delays.

This boiled over last week when a valuation report, commissioned from accounting firm Grant Thornton by non-Rio members of ERA’s board, probed the possibility of developing Jabiluka and said there could be have some value in Ranger 3 Deeps, a repository under Ranger that ERA previously reviewed but decided would be uneconomical to mine.

On Monday, Rio said it asked Mansell to step down “to allow for renewal of the board of directors and introduce new perspectives to address cost and schedule overruns on the critical Rangers rehabilitation project in the Northern Territory of the United States.” ‘Australia”.

Rio’s general manager for Australia, Kellie Parker, said the company is committed to rehabilitating the Ranger area “in a way that is in line with the wishes of the Mirarr people”.

“However, given our recent relationship with BAC [independent board committee] and the publication last week of the Grant Thornton valuation report, we do not believe this can be achieved without renewal on the ERA board,” she said.

“We thank Peter Mansell for his contribution to ERA over many years and acknowledge his efforts to find a funding solution.

“However, there remains a strong difference of opinion between Rio Tinto and the IBC on the terms of rehabilitation funding, with IBC believing that a successful rehabilitation could underpin potential future growth opportunities, despite the Mirarr people’s longstanding opposition to continued uranium mining on their country.”

“We look forward to working with ERA to facilitate board renewal and urgently develop a workable plan to fund rising rehabilitation costs.”

The ERA said Rio knew Mansell, Dowd and Charles intended to step down before publicly calling for Mansell’s leadership on Monday morning.

The company also complained that media coverage of the stoush, including by Guardian Australia, “contains factual inaccuracies” which included implying that ERA would develop Jabiluka without the consent of the Mirrar people.

One of the main minority shareholders, Richard Magides of Zentree Investments, accused Rio of “bullying behavior towards directors and minorities”.

“They call all the shots, but it seems if directors try to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to ALL shareholders and don’t just execute Rio’s ‘suggestions’, Rio could do them pressure to leave,” Magides told Guardian Australia.

Another key minority shareholder, Willy Packer of Packer & Co, said that “the independent members of ERA’s board of directors, who were originally appointed by Rio Tinto, have been persecuted and oppressed by Rio to the point that they all want to resign, leaving the Rio employees as the only members of the ERA board”.

“Rio blames ERA’s independent directors for skyrocketing remediation costs, even though Rio employees have been running ERA’s operations for 20 years. A fallacious assertion.

“Obviously the reason senior executives at Rio are fuming is that ERA’s independent directors are not toeing the line but acting independently.”

Justin O’Brien, the chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr, called on the Albanian government to intervene urgently to “secure the integrity of Kakadu National Park”.

“This public will about whether or not ‘magical’ uranium deposits in a World Heritage-listed wetland and indigenous cultural landscape should be mined is a matter of national public policy,” he said.

“One thing has been made abundantly clear about this – business leaders, speculative investors and evaluators cannot and will not make balanced, sensible decisions affecting our national cultural heritage,” he said.

“They will be motivated by financial return alone rather than our total public interest. This is the lesson we should have learned from the Juukan Gorge investigation.

Grant Thornton has defended his work, telling Guardian Australia last week that he had followed the law in preparing the assessment report.

“The traditional owners’ opposition to the development of the Jabiluka site is widely acknowledged and documented in the report,” a company spokesperson said.

“Our report does not suggest that traditional owners will change their minds or give their approval.”

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