Radium Hill is a former minesite in South Australia which operated from 1906 until 1961. It was Australia's first uranium mine, years before the country's next major mines at Rum Jungle in the Northern Territory (opened in 1950), and the Mary Kathleen mine in Queensland (1958). The associated settlement which once housed up to 1,100 people is now largely demolished and abandoned and is a ghost town.
During its main period of production between 1954 and 1961 the mine produced nearly 1 million tonnes of davidite-bearing ore to produce about 860 tons of U3O8.
The site was first pegged for mining in 1906 after prospector Arthur John Smith inadvertently discovered a radioactive material at a location approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) East South East of Olary. Smith mistook the dark coloured ore he found for tin oxide or wolfram (tungsten). His samples were sent to Adelaide University where young Sydney geologist and future Antarctic explorer, Douglas Mawson found the ore to contain radium and uranium.
It also had traces of ilmenite, rutile, magnetite, hematite, pyrite, chalcopyrite intergrown with quartz and biotite, chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum. Mawson named the ore davidite after geologist and Antarctic explorer, Sir Edgeworth David. The mine was initially called "Smith's Carnotite Mine" (a similar uranium-bearing mineral) and in September 1906 Mawson proposed the name "Radium Hill". Smith worked the mine for the next two years before allowing the lease to lapse. Adjoining leases stretched for 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) along the lode, with one being half-owned by Mawson.
Restoration works on the site were undertaken in 1962 and again in 1981 when the tailings impoundment was covered with about 75,000 m3 of material from four adjacent borrow pits. Backfilling of old mine openings was also undertaken.
Radioactive Waste Repository:
From 1981 an area of the site was gazetted as a low-level radioactive waste repository. Approximately 16 separate consignments of waste, including contaminated soil from Thebarton in the Adelaide metropolitan area was deposited there.
The last deposit was made in 1998. A New South Wales government study in 1979 found the incidence of cancer-related deaths by former Radium Hill workers to be four times the national average. According to the report, 59% of underground miners who had worked there for a period of two years or more had died of cancer.
The site has been inactive since 1998. The Resources Division of Minerals and Energy at the Department of Primary Industry and Resources maintains management responsibility including a radiological watch on the site.