Olympic Dam plan ignores nuclear reality

BHP Billiton's proposal for expanding the Olympic Dam mine ignores the reality of the nuclear fuel cycle and would seriously degrade the Murray River or the Great Artesian Basin through massive water extraction, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

The South Australian Government and the Federal Department of Environment & Heritage today released draft guidelines for an environmental impact statement on the proposed mine expansion. People have four weeks to comment.

This new proposal increases the anticipated production rate of the mine to one million tonnes of copper, uranium and associated products per year, doubling the scale of the expansion flagged in the original referral to the Federal Government.

"These guidelines ignore the risks and the impact uranium inevitably has on the global environment," said ACF nuclear campaigner David Noonan.

"All the detail in these guidelines is based on the old anticipated production rate of expansion. There is nothing here to explain what impact the doubling of the expansion would have - on water, greenhouse gas emission and waste."

The further expansion would also have broader environmental impact with the company already planning to dramatically increase water extraction from the Great Artesian Basin or even from the over-stretched Murray River.

"BHP Billiton's plan to grab an extra 120 million litres of publicly-owned artesian water per day, every day, for the next 70 years, would damage the unique and endangered desert mound springs. For the world's largest uranium mine to take more water from the Great Artesian Basin - or any extraction of water from the already stressed Murray - is unacceptable.

"Uranium mined from Olympic Dam could end up in a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb and will end up as radioactive waste, but these guidelines ignore Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle and disregard our international responsibilities."

BHP Billiton's annual general meeting is in Perth this Friday (25 November).

* Update 9 December 2005: BHP Billiton has given ACF written assurance that it "is not pursuing the option of using Murray River water."