Olympic Dam mine will fuel nuclear disasters like Fukushima & leak radioactive waste – Pt 1


First, this is essentially a new mine. It’s
a new open-pit mine. It will go in next to the underground mining operation. Both mines
will operate side-by-side in BHP Billiton’s plans for decades to come. So you get the continued impacts of Roxby,
as you are familiar with Roxby… Roxby started in the 1980’s – everything that’s been wrong
with Roxby will continue to be wrong with Roxby… but it will get very much larger
and worse. It’s the plan of the company that the scale of the operation will vastly increase.
The scale of the mining, the scale of the production of radioactive tailings and the
demand for water and energy to drive the vastly increased volumes that come with open-pit
mining, and come with mining lower-grade ores. The company and the Government call it an
expansion. The Environmental Impact Statement says ‘Olympic Dam Expansion’. These are public
relations terms. These are terms to try and make the broader community think that this
is going ahead regardless. They’re just expanding within their existing rights and operations,
behind the fence, as approved. And it really is a fundamentally different project to have
a new open-pit mine- the largest open pit mine in fact in the world is proposed there.
Vast impacts from any aspect of that scale of mining, and doubly so when it’s a radioactive
ore and it’s making us further complicit in the uranium, nuclear fuel chain. Both the copper and the uranium markets are
fundamentally important to BHP Billiton’s interests in this mining operation. The open
pit would make Roxby the 4th largest copper producer in the world. They have plans to
make it much larger again. Larger plans that what you were consulted on in the Environmental
Impact Statement. The Company actually applied to the Federal Government for a larger mine
than what they assessed in the public consultation. They only produced documentation talking about
an operation to the scale of about 750,000 tonnes of copper product in total a year.
BHP were originally thinking 1,000,000 tonnes a year. Since then, they’ve been thinking
about ‘well, 1.2 million, 1.4 perhaps 1.5 million tonnes. They have long-term plans
for Roxby, its definitely a multi-decade mine. They’ve only really talked to you about initial
stages, and initial smaller scale likely impacts over the long term. So there are fundamental
questions about due process, in that, in terms of a Government assessing something that doesn’t
really convey honestly to the public ‘what is the long term impact company plan, the
scale or the impacts of their operations. Whether it is that the impacts on fragile
water resources and the ecological systems, whether it’s the Great Artesian Basin or the
mound springs, whether it’s the Upper Spencer Gulf and the ecology of the fishing industry
and the cuttlefish breeding ground.. how are those impacts, how do those impacts scale? If you build a project up from 750,000 tonnes
to 1 million or 1.2 or 1.5 what happens to the scale of impacts and those ecological
risks. How far do you swing the dial with those ecological risks if you vastly increase
the scale of the mine over time, from what the public has been consulted about? It’s certainly intended to be the world’s
largest uranium project and it will overall, increase uranium production from 4 to about
19 thousand tonnes of uranium per year. Now we’re already a big player. South Australia’s
already complicit in the worst of the nuclear risks around the globe. We are already a key
supplier of the uranium that produces high-level nuclear waste in reactors ad produces plutonium,
fissile material, the fuel used for bombs or for the boiling of water. Nuclear reactors
can boil water, that’s true- but there are far safer and more sustainable ways of doing
so. And regardless of the climate change debate
globally and in Australia, we have fundamental direct responsibilities to uranium threat.
We should not be involved in this. We shouldn’t be counter-sinking any company, any private
interest, any vested interest any profit margin, involving us in vastly increasing those risks
and our complicities in those nuclear risks around the globe. There are fundamental changes with the project,
not just in terms of the pit operation from underground, so you’ll have both mines together.
To date, Roxby has processed its copper on site, sold all the copper product from that
site. In the open pit mining project, it’s intended that Roxby will produce a concentrate.
So virtually all the production of copper that will come from the open pit will go and
be processed overseas. It will go out as a concentrate. It will go out as a uranium-infused
bulk copper concentrate. A few thousand tonnes of uranium will go out on what is said to
be an initial 1.6 million tonnes of concentrate. So that will be, that’s a radioactive powder. There are extra risks and concerns about bulk
radioactive transport. There are risk and concerns about the rights and interests of
communities and traditional owners. In central Australia, that radioactive infused bulk copper
concentrate will go up by the rail, up through central Australia through Alice Springs, through
Kevin’s people’s country. It will go out through the port of Darwin. The community in the Northern
Territory are going to be faced with that radioactive proposition as well as the likely
increased transport of most of the yellow-cake through the northern territory, rather than
the Port of Adelaide. And so far there is only one market country
for that uranium infused bulk copper concentrate. That’s China. When Prime Minister Howard did
his uranium sales deal with China, he didn’t even contemplate selling uranium concentrates.
It’s not part of the treaty for the sale of uranium to China. So there are actually three
sets of Government approvals involved in Roxby Downs. There’s the South Australian approval
which we hear about in the media. Mike Rann wears his hard hat. The Liberals try and compete
with him to be more pro-mining, to be more in favour of BHP and Roxby. Both the South Australian government and the
Federal government have virtually got separate full rights of say over what happens at Roxby
Downs in the proposed new open pit, under what conditions can the mine go ahead, if
it does go ahead. Now both of those Governments are fundamentally responsible for effectively
the types and the scale of impacts that are involved in this proposal and there are quite
key contrasts between what the Company plans and the impacts from that, and in theory what
the Government’s gonna require of them. Now one, one change is that you don’t go ahead
with the mine whatsoever. That you acknowledge that the nuclear impacts of such a large uranium
project, being the impacts of producing such large amounts of radioactive tailings are
unconscionable. To be involved in that. The next level of Government decision is ‘well,
the mine’s going ahead. Under what terms may it go ahead?’ They could decide to run the
mine as a copper mine. They don’t have to sell uranium out of Roxby Downs. There’s no
technical or economic reason why Roxby sells uranium now. I may have time to go one briefly..
when Fukushima happened, Roxby should’ve stopped selling uranium. They have an obligation that no uranium and
no other radioactive waste should ever leave that site. If that means ‘no mine’ or if it
means that in an interim it goes to a copper only operation, they should’ve stopped uranium
sales immediately following Fukushima. That nuclear disaster. The commons have those powers in the long
run. They have the policy and the powers, they’ve got it under the constitution, corporations
power. They can do these things in Australia if they chose to do that. If they felt the
public power to overcome the vested corporate and political interests, we could do that
in Australia. The third set of approvals- we have Mike Rann
here, we can largely assume what his decision is going to be. It may come out this week.
We expected the Roxby decision well before now. Lately it was expected last week. All
the stars seemed to align. Mike Rann, the Feds and the company to announce the approvals
last week. To suit Mike Rann’s schedule, and he’s gonna be leaving in a fortnight, from
Office as Premier. He may announce the decision of approval next week and then produce an
indenture that Mark Parnell will talk about the week after, in the three days they’re
in Parliament. They may, they may well rush some of those matters to suit a political
agenda, so that one person can wear a hard hat and say ‘well this is what I give to you.
I give you the legacy of the world’s largest open pit. The legacy of responsibility for
the highest level of uranium production and sales of the world. The legacy of producing
the world’s largest radioactive tailings pile ever in the globe. They’re civil society issues that we need
to be able to get a handle round at some stage if we’re ever going to claim that we really
are a democracy. Now the Federal government have separate power, because it’s a uranium
mine. They have full power under the federal environment legislation to place a decision
and conditions on that operation. For instance the Federal and the State governments could
take, divvy up, a different set of priorities for approval between them. The State could
say ‘well, we wanna have a key say about what might be done about energy production and
greenhouse impacts at Roxby, in terms of approving. The Feds could say ‘we’re not satisfied with
BHP’s plans to design this mine to leak radioactive waste.’ It doesn’t make sense under the powers
of the Environment Protection Act to protect the environment, to design a mine to leak
vast amounts of radioactive waste. It doesn’t make sense. The Feds could say ‘you’ll have
to dump the tailings underground.’ Make them dispose of it back into the pit as is required
in the long term at the Ranger uranium mine. Why should we, why should the Federal Government,
a Labor federal government, with very strong discretionary powers to use in the Federal
Parliament, why should they drive down environmental standards in Australia to even
less than they are now, in terms of how Australia manages radioactive liquid wastes and radioactive
tailings long-term. Which we have to do worse than we already do, assuming BHP Billiton’s
profit margins and mining interests. Because they don’t want to pay to manage their radioactive
waste. They don’t want to have to have to line the tailings pits. They don’t want to
pay to dispose of the tailings back into the pit. They don’t want to take any responsibility
for the uranium that goes overseas. When it leaves Australia’s shores, they’re hands off
for al those nuclear impacts. For the unresolved high-level nuclear waste. For the risk, of
the weapons and waste risks that come with both governments and state players. The state
players and the governments but also the other high risk is terrorism around the world. Nuclear
power plants are pre-placed nuclear disaster potential. They are pre-placed radioactive
weapons. We’ve seen the potential that can come through lack of preparedness and the
ill design and natural events in Japan. If you put that into the context that there are
nuclear terrorists with the potential for war, what sort of responsibility are people
taking there for those inherently dangerous, unacceptably dangerous risks that BHP will
make a profit out of. Unnecessary profit- because they know full well they can run that
project as a copper project and leave all the uranium and radioactive waste on site.

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