environment for 20 years until WMC was forced to clean up and fence the site in 2003. In 2005 BHP Billiton’s acquisition of WMC saw it acquire the Yeelirrie deposit and the massive Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. This started BHP Billiton’s disappointing move into the contested and contaminating uranium sector.
The consultation and consent process for the proposed Yeelirrie mine has been limited and inadequate and the project has been criticised and opposed by both Traditional Owners and pastoralists.
The Wongutha people have formally directed their representative body the Central Desert Native Title Service not to discuss Yeelirrie with BHP Billiton. Local Indigenous people have requested the company to release studies and details of the health and radionuclide content in animals in the region. They are concerned about hunting animals that have grazed on contaminated sites.
BHP Billiton’s failure to release any of these reports has led many to distrust the company. This has been further heightened by a litany of accidents and workplace fatalities at other BHP Billiton operations in Western Australia in recent years. These new concerns build on a long history of deficient environmental performance and management, unnecessary radiation exposure and poor relationships with the Wongutha people and the Koara tribal group.
The Yeelirrie project is surrounded by a high level of uncertainty and remains a risky investment for BHP Billiton. There is continuing political uncertainty around uranium mining in Western Australia and no bi-lateral support for the sector, with strong opposition to uranium mining in Western Australia among the opposition Labor party, the Greens and many civil society groups, including the trade union movement. There is also growing community opposition to the proposed transport of yellow cake across the state.
Yeelirrie is a controversial mine in a contested political climate and the project remains uncertain. What is certain is that BHP Billiton’s uranium ambitions are unnecessary, unsafe and increasingly unwanted.
This report was compiled and edited with the help of
Mia Pepper, Natalie Lowrey and Sakura Saunders.
For further information, contact London Mining Network
Tel: 07929 023214