Australian news, and some related international items

BHP’s Olympic Dam expansion plan deserves serious attention and scrutiny

10 Dec 19, BHP is formally seeking to expand the Olympic Dam mine in northern South Australia and public comment on the federal EPBC referral – the Olympic Dam Resource Development Strategy – closes today.

Conservation SA, Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation have sent a joint submission to the federal Environment department.

After today’s close of public comment the federal Minister has up to twenty business days to make a decision on the required level of assessment.

We maintain that the Olympic Dam expansion plan deserves serious attention and scrutiny for three key reasons: it involves the long lived and multi-faceted threat of uranium, it proposes to use massive amounts of finite underground water and the company is in trouble globally over the management of mine wastes and residues currently stored in multiple leaking – and sometimes catastrophically failing – tailings dams. BHP has identified and conceded that three of the existing Olympic Dam tailings dams are in the most severe global ‘extreme risk’ category.

The key recommendations from environment groups include:

  1. That BHP’s Olympic Dam operation be assessed in its entirety with the full range of project impacts subject to public consultation.

At a minimum, EPBC Act responsibilities to protect Matters of NES require that the BHP Olympic Dam Referral must be subject to a public environmental impact assessment process.

  1. A comprehensive Safety Risk Assessment is needed for all Olympic Dam mine tailings facilities.
  2. BHP must lodge a Bond to cover 100% of Olympic Dam rehabilitation liabilities.
  3. BHP must stop the use of evaporation ponds to reduce mortality in protected bird species.

These issues are further explored in detailed project briefing papers linked with the joint groups submission.

David Noonan – the submission author is available to provide further issue background on 0414 519 419

The comments below are attributable to ACF spokesperson Dave Sweeney (0408 317 812):

“As the world’s largest miner BHP has a responsibility to adopt best practise standards to every aspect of its Olympic Dam operation, including transparency, rigour and extent of assessment.

“A federal review when BHP wanted to expand Olympic Dam as an open cut mine earlier this decade made clear recommendations about the need to assess the projects cumulative impacts – this approach must be reflected in the current federal consideration of BHP’s proposal.

“Uranium is a unique mineral and risk and is always contested and contaminating.

“The global uranium price remains depressed after Fukushima and BHP should actively model a project configuration where uranium is not part of Olympic Dam’s mineral products.”

(note: there is direct DFAT confirmation that Australian uranium was inside Fukushima when the reactors failed: Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima’s fallout)

“Any increase in the footprint of Olympic Dam would mean an increase in the complexity and cost of future clean up and rehabilitation.

“Cleaning up a uranium mine is never easy and always costly – BHP must be required to ensure there is the dedicated financial capacity to fund this clean-up work – it cannot be allowed to become a future burden to the SA taxpayer or wider community.

“Existing federal government standards require the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu to isolate its radioactive tailings for at least 10,000 years. The same standard must be applied at Olympic Dam – especially as BHP has confirmed that three of Olympic Dam’s existing tailings dam are in the global ‘extreme risk’ category. There should be no new pressure on this already compromised tailings management system without comprehensive and independent review.”

December 10, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, uranium

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