Integral to the 2009 open pit mine plan BHP Billiton proposes an increase in water consumption from 35 million litres daily from the GAB to over 260 million litres daily to be turned into liquid radioactive wastes in processing the ore46. This water would come from a combination of sources of which up to 42 million litres would come from the GAB and around 200 million litres a day from a proposed desalination plant near Whyalla. That’s over 100,000 litres every minute − in the driest state of the driest inhabited continent on Earth47. The water already taken from the GAB has had adverse impacts on the health and flow rates of the precious and unique Mound Springs48. The proposed desalination plant is also inappropriately sited and threatens the fragile low flushing Upper Spencer Gulf and the breeding ground of the charismatic Giant Australian Cuttle Fish49.
Yet another provision of the Indenture Act means that BHP Billiton pays nothing for its water take for the Olympic Dam Mine. Despite the company recording a US$12.7 billion profit in 2009-10 precious Great Artesian Basin water is taken free of charge while the groundwater system is damaged and depleted.
The proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium mine highlights the fallacy that nuclear power is a ‘solution’ to climate change. If the mine expansion proceeds as proposed Olympic Dam would generate 5.3−5.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, increasing South Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 12 to 14 per cent and undoing the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse pollution50.
If the new open pit goes ahead BHP Billiton proposes that the majority of copper production occur in China rather than the current practice of processing all copper on site. The company intends to export a uranium infused copper concentrate, some 1.6 million tonnes a year containing a few thousand tonnes of uranium and some 400 000 tonnes of copper. China is the sole market for this radioactive concentrate. This highly contentious plan would see BHP Billiton dumping some 1.2 million tonnes of long lived radioactive mine wastes in China every year and would require an amendment to Australia’s uranium export treaty with China to provide for the unprecedented sale of Australian uranium in concentrates.
Yeelirrie ‘Wanti - Uranium leave it in the ground’
Natalie Lowrey and Mia Pepper
Yeelirrie is in a small valley south of the Montague ranges in mid west Western Australia around 500 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie. The area experiences some of Western Australia’s most extreme weather, temperatures can rise above 45 degrees and drop below zero. Among the spinifex, breakaways and gnarly Acacia woodlands live a wide variety of marsupials, reptiles, birds, and bugs. Below the surface is a clean water aquifer and an ancient and little studied ground water dependent ecosystem that has evolved over millions of years.
In the 1970s Western Mining Corporation (WMC) operated a trial uranium mine that left 35,000 tonnes of uranium ore on the surface at Yeelirrie. This material was un-fenced and exposed to the
46 BHP Billiton, 2009, Olympic Dam Expansion, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, accessed
online 29 September 2009, www.bhpbilliton.com/bb/odxEis/downloads/draftEisDocuments.jsp
48 Mudd, Gavin, 1998, ‘The Long Term Sustainability of Mound Springs In South Australia: Implications For Olympic Dam’. Proc. “Uranium Mining & Hydrogeology II Conference”, Freiberg, Germany, September 15-17 1998, pp 575-584, http://civil.eng.monash.edu.au/about/staff/muddpersonal/1998-UMH-2-ODam-v-MoundSprings.pdf. See also Dr Mudd’s research posted at www.sea-us.org.au/roxby/springsdrying.html
49 ABC, 2009, ‘Big cuttlefish ‘at risk’ from desalination’, http://abc.gov.au/science/articles/
2009/04/30/2557262.htm?site=science&topic=latest. See also ABC, 2009, September 24,
‘Giant Cuttlefish’, www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2695601.htm.
50 Mudd, Gavin, 2009, ‘Greenhouse emissions - Olympic Dam mine expansion’, accessed 29 September