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Issues at Operating Uranium Mines and Mills - Olympic Dam, Australia

(last updated 11 Dec 2023)

Olympic Dam, Roxby Downs (South Australia)

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General issues

BHP seeks approval for new 26 ha Evaporation Pond No. 7 at Olympic Dam mine

The proposed EP7 [Evaporation Pond 7] facility will be located to the south-west of TSF6 [Tailings Storage Facility 6] and north-west of TSF4 within the existing TRS [Tailings Retention System], on the OD SML [Olympic Dam Special Mining Lease].
ODC [BHP Olympic Dam Corporation Pty Ltd] proposes that EP7 will have a total pond evaporative area (at floor level) of 26 ha (including two discrete 13 ha cells, cells 'A' and 'B'). EP7 will have a total liquor storage capacity of 1,271 Mega Litres (ML) to freeboard level (nominally 1 m below crest level) and an average depth to freeboard of 4.5 m.
The combined storage capacity of all active OD EPs provides capacity for rainfall run-off from active TSFs and EPs from a 1 in 100 year Average Reoccurrence Interval (ARI) 72 hour duration rainfall event. Once operational, EP7 will contribute to the overall storage capacity of active EPs.
The Referral is open until Nov. 27, 2023.
> View Referral 2023/09655 , Nov. 12, 2023 (Environment Australia, EPBC Act - Public Notices)

On Dec. 8, 2023, the department decided that the proposed action is not a controlled action.

Wind and battery project to supply half of Olympic Dam mine's electricity needs

BHP has signed a renewable Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Neoen, which is expected to meet half of Olympic Dam's electricity needs from FY2026, based on current forecast demand, and allow Olympic Dam to record a net zero emission position for the contracted volume of supply.
The PPA is expected to supply 70 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Olympic Dam and will support Neoen to construct the 203MW Goyder South Stage 1b Wind Farm, assuming all relevant consents are obtained. [...]
In addition, Neoen will construct a large-scale battery energy storage system in Blyth, South Australia to support the PPA, which will also assist in improving the stability of the South Australian electricity grid. (BHP Nov. 3, 2022)

BHP seeks approval for new 52 ha Evaporation Pond No. 6 at Olympic Dam mine

The proposed EP6 facility will be located south of EP3 and is located on the SML [Special Mining Lease] and near to the current TRS [Tailings Retention System]. The new EP6 cell will consist of three discrete evaporation cells with a combined evaporation area of 52 ha and a storage capacity of 3,200 ML.
Environmental assessment not required for new Evaporation Pond No. 6 at Olympic Dam mine: On Dec. 19, 2019, Environment Australia made the decision that the proposed action is not a controlled action, that is, the action is not likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance and thus does not require approval under the EPBC Act.
> View Referral 2019-8526 , Oct. 21, 2019 (Environment Australia, EPBC Act - Public Notices)

Evaporation ponds at Olympic Dam mine are still killing hundreds of birds

Conservationists want BHP to stop using evaporation ponds at Olympic Dam that kill hundreds of birds, including threatened species. They want BHP to cancel plans for a new pond and phase out 146ha of existing ponds, which are used for the disposal of acidic waste water.
Scientist and environment campaigner David Noonan says it's shocking that birds are drowned, choked or scalded by BHP's highly acidic, toxic wastewater. "They see this as a wetland in an arid region as they're travelling through," he said. "They're typically poisoned by contact, they die on site or they're poisoned and die later."
BHP found 224 dead birds during weekly monitoring in the 2017-18 financial year and that included 39 banded stilts, a vulnerable species in SA. The number of dead birds found annually has hardly changed since 2011-12, when the banded stilt, red-necked avocet, whiskered tern, grey teal, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, little pied cormorant and silver gull were affected. (The Advertiser July 10, 2019)

BHP seeks approval for new Tailings Facility No. 6 at Olympic Dam mine

The proposed tailings storage facility TSF6 will be located to the west of, and adjacent to, the existing TSF5 cell in Olympic Dam's tailings retention facility. The new TSF6 cell will have an evaporative area of approximately 285 hectares (ha) and share a common wall with TSF5. The total footprint area for TSF6 is 416 ha.
Environmental assessment not required for new Tailings Facility No. 6 at Olympic Dam mine: On Dec. 19, 2019, Environment Australia made the decision that the proposed action is not a controlled action, that is, the action is not likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance and thus does not require approval under the EPBC Act.
> View Referral 2019-8465 (Environment Australia, EPBC Act - Public Notices)

Consequence of potential failure of Olympic Dam tailings dams rated "extreme"

In a disclosure released on June 7, 2019, BHP rated the hazard categorisation of its Tailings Storage Facilities 1-4 at Olympic Dam, based on consequence of failure, as "extreme" (i.e. having the potential to cause the deaths of 100 or more people).
> Download: ESG briefing: Tailings dams , 7 June 2019 (5.9MB PDF - BHP)
> Download: Tailings Facilities Disclosure: Response to the Church of England Pensions Board and the Council on Ethics Swedish National Pension Funds , 7 June 2019 (881kB PDF - BHP)
> View: Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative (Church of England Pensions Board Investments)

Mill breakdown reduces copper/uranium production capacity at Olympic Dam mine for six months

BHP Billiton says it expects a mill which broke down at Olympic Dam in late January will be out of production for six months. The Svedala mill was used for surface processing work at the site in outback South Australia and suffered an electrical failure on January 28. The Svedala mill is the biggest of three mills at the site. The two other grinding mills would be used at full capacity in the months ahead, the company said. (ABC Feb. 13, 2015)

On June 19, 2015, BHP Billiton announced that the Svedala mill at Olympic Dam has safely resumed operation.

Worker dies in Olympic Dam mine rock fall

BHP Billiton has temporarily suspended production after a 47-year-old mine worker was killed at its Olympic Dam mine following a rock fall in the underground section of the mine. Police said they were called to the mine site near Roxby Downs, about 560 km north of Adelaide, on Tuesday (Feb. 10) morning at about 6.30am after the rock fall. The mine worker, who was from Tumby Bay on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, died at the scene of the accident.
BHP Billiton has termporarily stopped production at the site while the incident is investigated. A BHP Billiton spokesperson said field response teams and emergency response teams had been activated and more details would be provided later. (Sydney Morning Herald Feb. 10, 2015)


Increase of wall height of tailings dam TSF4 planned at Olympic Dam mine

Proposed increase of wall height of tailings dam TSF4 at Olympic Dam mine requires no enviromental approval: On Feb. 6, 2015, the Department of Environment made the decision that the proposed action is not a controlled action, thus requiring no approval.
> View Referral 2015/7416 , Feb. 6, 2015 (EPBC)

Opponents say leakage rates will rise upon proposed increase of wall height of tailings dam at Olympic Dam mine: The change would increase the volume of radioactive fluids that can be held in the dam - which is one of four on site - from 48.4 million cubic metres to 64.8 million cubic metres, with the work expected to be complete by September 2023.
Storage of the tailings, which include radioactive materials and acids, has been controversial since Olympic Dam's previous owner, Western Mining Corporation, confirmed in 1994 that 5 billion cubic metres of the tailings fluids had leaked out of the storages and into an aquifer underground.
Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney said increasing the volume of tailings under storage would probably cause more leakage. (Sydney Morning Herald Jan. 12, 2015)

Comments invited on referral for proposed increase of wall height of tailings dam TSF4 at Olympic Dam mine: "An increase in tailings storage capacity of the existing tailings cell, Tailings Storage Facility number 4 (TSF4), is proposed to extend the life of TSF4 for an additional five years. TSF4 is expected to reach its current design height of 30m by December 2017. The proposed action is to increase the wall height to 40m for the continued storage of tailings produced from the existing process plant. Raising the wall height of TSF4 delays the need to construct an additional tailings cell." Submit comments by 23 January 2015.
> View Referral 2015/7416 , Jan. 9, 2015 (EPBC)


Protest outside BHP Billiton annual meeting

Protesters erected anti-uranium signs outside the BHP Billiton annual general meeting in Adelaide, November 20 2014. (ABC Nov. 20, 2014)

Olympic Dam mine radiation leak plan 15 years out of date

The radiation plans for Olympic Dam are more than 15 years out of date because of an administrative bungle, the Environment Protection Authority has revealed. The plans are needed because between 2003 and 2012, BHP-Billiton reported 31 radiation leaks at its Olympic Dam mine, totalling more than 3000 cubic metres of material, or the volume of a large hot-air balloon.
Responding to a Freedom of Information application that exposed the problem, the EPA could only find plans from 1997 and 1998 and has stated: "We acknowledge that an update is overdue and action is being taken to address this situation". (The Advertiser July 7, 2013)

BHP announces job cuts at Olympic Dam mine

BHP Billiton has told workers at its Olympic Dam project about further losses as the global miner seeks to slash costs. The world's largest resources company would not say how many workers would go at the massive Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold project, after reports that more than 100 workers could lose their jobs. "Olympic Dam continues to focus on reducing overheads, operating costs and non-essential expenditures to ensure it remains competitive in the current environment of sustained lower commodity prices and a strong Australian dollar," a BHP spokeswoman said in a statement on Wednesday (Feb. 6).
The spokeswoman said the cuts were not related to last August's cancellation of the expansion of the $US30 billion ($A28.98 billion) Olympic Dam mega project, when the project team was cut from 200 to 50. The company flagged further job cuts in December when it transferred control of Olympic Dam from Australia to its base metal division in Chile. The move signified the higher priority that earnings from copper now played over uranium. (Sydney Morning Herald Feb. 6, 2013)

Protesters disrupt BHP annual meeting

BHP Billiton has been blamed for fuelling the Fukushima disaster and for not adequately looking after the health of mine workers in Colombia in protests outside the mining giant's annual meeting in Sydney. Dozens of environmental and social campaigners gathered outside the Sydney Convention Centre on Thursday. A number of protesters unfurled banners reading "BHP dirty deeds" and "Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima" from the top of the building. A police spokesman said four abseilers who scale the centre to hang the banners were arrested. They were being questioned at Surry Hills police station and could be charged later today, the spokesman said.
The protesters - who represented environmental groups the Mineral Policy Institute, the Conservation Council of Western Australia, the London Mining Network and Friends of the Earth - also distributed an eight-page booklet titled Alternative Annual Report, which listed their complaints against BHP Billiton in the Kimberley and at the Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. (Sydney Morning Herald Nov. 29, 2012)
> Download Alternative Annual Report 2012 (3.8MB PDF - BHP Billiton Watch)

Olympic Dam production to be halted for one month for maintenance works

BHP Billiton is to shut down its Olympic Dam smelter production for almost a month. The company says a reduction in smelter production had affected mining operations, near outback Roxby Downs in South Australia. A BHP official said there were some issues with the smelter in the September quarter, which affected the throughput. The outage for the December quarter would be for maintenance to address this. (ABC Oct. 17, 2012)

Traditional owners 'pressured' into nuclear land leases

The Australian Nuclear Free Alliance says traditional owners, particularly the elderly, are facing increasing pressures from mining companies and governments to lease their land for nuclear development. The alliance of mainly traditional owners held its annual conference near Alice Springs over the weekend. Conference co-chair Donna Jackson says the proposed waste dump at Muckaty Station and the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia are of particular concern. "We're hearing from different people from different states about the pressures on them," she said. "The old people particularly, and the tricks that companies use to get people to sign and not realising the full impacts of what they're signing, and what that means for their ground water especially." (ABC Aug. 16, 2010)

Protesters block road to Olympic Dam uranium mine

An anti-nuclear protester has chained himself to a four-wheel-drive blocking the road to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia's far north. About 40 protesters gathered at the mine site on Friday (July 16) afternoon with the group mostly students from NSW. Spokeswoman Jay Fletcher said the group did not intend to leave until they had spoken with a representative from the mine. Another member of the protest group, Zane Alcorn, said their purpose was to highlight the catastrophic effects the mine and its planned expansion would have on traditional owners, their land and future generations. "Not only is the expansion at Olympic Dam going ahead without the consent of traditional owners, but tens of thousands of gigalitres of water per day is being sucked out of the Artesian Basin on Arabunna land to service the mine," he said. (AAP July 16, 2010)

Workers exposed to unsafe levels of radiation at Olympic Dam mine: whistleblower

Workers at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam are being exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, according to a company whistleblower. BHP Billiton has been warned about the risks at Roxby Downs, but according to South Australian Upper House Greens MP Mark Parnell the company has failed to take action. Mr Parnell says the levels of polonium-210, the toxic by-product of uranium production, have breached health standards. The whistleblower produced documents that show BHP uses manipulated averages and distorted sampling to ensure the figures are below the maximum exposure levels set by government, he said. (Sydney Morning Herald June 4, 2010)

Breakdown of ore haulage system seriously affects Olympic Dam mine production

BHP Billiton has escaped prosecution for the $200 million-plus Olympic Dam mine shaft failure in October 2009 that stopped 75 per cent of production at the nation's biggest copper mine for nine months. Safework SA yesterday said it would not charge the mining giant. "A legal review of all available information concluded that insufficient grounds exist to sustain a successful prosecution." (Australian May 3, 2011)

BHP Billiton says its Olympic Dam mine in outback South Australia is back to full production. The Clark shaft used to transport ore to the surface was damaged in a haulage mishap last October. (ABC July 21, 2010)

The failure of a hoist at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine last October that sent a full skip of ore plummeting hundreds of metres was caused by a computer braking system fault and could cost the company more than $US200 million (A$228.6 million) in lost profit.
Investigations into the failure, which also sent an empty skip hurtling into the mine's headframe at the top of the main shaft, were now largely complete, BHP said yesterday (Feb. 10). "Detailed investigations by us, with a third-party independent expert, have found that a fault in the logic of the braking system was the root cause of the accident," a BHP spokeswoman said. "This fault prevented the system's breaking mechanism from engaging fully, which in turn allowed the hoisting system to freefall to the bottom of the shaft," she added. Mechanical or operator faults have been ruled out.
The October 2009 incident has rendered the Clark shaft unusable and sliced 75 per cent of capacity from the big mine at Roxby Downs in South Australia. (The Australian Feb. 11, 2010)

BHP Billiton expects its stricken Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine to resume full production between January and March 2010, the firm said on Wednesday (Oct. 21). The mine is now running at 25 percent of ore-haulage capacity, it added. (Reuters Oct. 21, 2009)
BHP Billiton has declared force majeure on copper and uranium sales from the big Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, where damage from a plummeting ore skip in its main shaft is expected to reduce capacity to about 20 per cent for up to six months. (The Australian Oct. 21, 2009)

Mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd will probably not know for two weeks how Tuesday's mechanical failure at its Olympic Dam operation will affect production. There has been speculation the underground copper/gold and uranium mine in South Australia could lose 80 per cent of production because of the breakdown of one of its two haulage systems. Nobody was injured when the automatic haulage system, which carries ore from underground to surface processing facilities, collapsed at (2300 AEDT) on Tuesday (Oct. 6). A secondary haulage system continues to operate at the mine. (The Sydney Morning Herald Oct. 8, 2009)

First shipment of uranium from Olympic Dam mine to China

BHP Billiton announced the first shipment of uranium from the Olympic Dam mine to unnamed Chinese customers. (The Age Oct. 1, 2009)

Radiation monitoring of Olympic Dam mine workers has been lessened, Greens say

The Greens say standards for radiation monitoring at the Olympic Dam mine owned by BHP Billiton have been watered down by the South Australian Government. SA Greens MP Mark Parnell says documents he has obtained under freedom of information raise serious concerns about how often testing for radiation occurs at the mine in outback SA. He says reports provided to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) by BHP Billiton lack detail about radiation exposure for people working in areas of the uranium and copper mine where the risk is highest. "Up until 2006 there were between four and eight reports per month of exceedences if you like or dangerous levels - those reports have now faded away to only one in the last 18 months," he said. (ABC June 19, 2008)

Audit reviews call for improvements of Olympic Dam tailings management

The Olympic Dam uranium mine needs urgent improvements in radioactive waste management and monitoring, according to audit reviews. As owner BHP Billiton seeks state and federal government approval for a four-fold, A$5 billion expansion at Olympic Dam, concerns about the mine's tailings storage facilities have been raised in the last two audit reviews provided to the Rann Government.
The reviews, obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws, call on government regulators to "encourage" changes to the deposit of tailings. More than 10 million tonnes of tailings a year are placed in ponds near the mine. The review noted radioactive slurry was deposited "partially off" a lined area of a storage pond, which it believed contributed to greater seepage and rising ground water levels. The review also criticises the lack of an agreed, accurate formula to determine the rate of evaporation of tailings and how much leaks into the ground. (Australian March 10, 2006)

Olympic Dam mine to run on geothermal energy?

BHP Billiton is considering a geothermal power plant for the Olympic Dam mine expansion. The A$1 billion power plant would be built 400 km north of the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. Pacific Hydro Ltd believes it could have a 400-Megawatt plant up and running within three or four years. (Sunday Mail June 16, 2006)

Olympic Dam in northern South Australia is showing promise as another site for a hot rocks energy project. Initial exploration of the site by Western Australian firm Green Rock Energy has found a potential 1,000 Megawatt resource. (ABC Nov. 9, 2005)
> Download Green Rock Energy release Nov. 8, 2005 (PDF)

Green Rock Energy Ltd (formerly Mokuti Mining Ltd, ASX releases ) completed the acquisition of geothermal energy licences over WMC leases in South Australia covering 2700 sqkm around Olympic Dam, where power needs could more than treble in a proposed $5 billion expansion. (Australian May 12, 2005)

South Australia to investigate bird deaths at tailings dam of Olympic Dam mine

A South Australian government taskforce will examine a huge spike in the number of birds killed at the Olympic Dam uranium mine, after more than 100 were found dead over four days in late December 2004.
The deaths were recorded at the mine's tailings dam in outback South Australia, which spans 400ha and is where solid and evaporated acid liquid waste from some of the uranium mine's operations is stored.
"Unfortunately the tailings system contains chemicals and that is what causes harm to birds," WMC spokesman Richard Yeeles said. (Australian Jan. 11, 2005)

South Australia plans nuclear waste dump site at Olympic Dam mine

The South Australian Government has entered a formal agreement with WMC to examine the establishment of a radioactive waste dump at the company's Olympic Dam uranium mine in the state's north. (ABC July 14, 2004)

WMC considers tripling rather than doubling of Olympic Dam capacity

On June 18, 2002, WMC outlined a multi-billion-dollar expansion of the Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine in South Australia.
Early planning has annual copper production being more than doubled, from 235,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes. Uranium production would also more than double, to 8000 tonnes a year, making Olympic Dam the biggest uranium mine in the world, although WMC faces the challenge of first finding buyers for the radioactive material. (Sydney Morning Herald June 19, 2002)

Fire again at Olympic Dam copper/uranium mill

A fire involving about one million litres of kerosene broke out just after midday on 21 Oct., 2001, at the solvent extraction plant of WMC's Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine. The blaze was contained just before 3:30pm. The fire is in the same area as a blaze on 23 Dec., 1999, that caused A$10 million worth of damage. (ABC News 21 Oct 2001)
The new fire caused damages above A$20 million. During the rebuilding period, the mine's annual uranium output would fall by 1500 tonnes from 4500 tonnes. (News Limited 23 Oct 2001)
WMC believes "the most likely cause was a static electricity discharge at a location where polyethylene piping carries a kerosene-like solvent." (WMC 13 Feb 2002)

WMC considers doubling of Olympic Dam mine capacity

Currently, WMC is in the process of lifting output from 200,000 to 235,000 tonnes a year of refined copper. WMC already has environmental approval to go to 350,000 tonnes and will now examine an even bigger step-up to 400,000 tonnes to 500,000 tonnes, with an associated increase in uranium production, most likely in five to 10 years. (Herald Sun 15 Aug 2001)

Fire at Olympic Dam copper/uranium mill

On 23 December 1999, a fire at the Olympic Dam solvent collection pond adjacent to the solvent extraction plant interrupted power to the mine, plant and Roxby Downs township. Employees in the area were evacuated and there were no injuries.
WMC and CFS fire crews contained the fire to the solvent extraction area. It started shortly after 7.30 pm and burned until about 3 am the next day. A fireball could be seen from 25 km away.
Uranium production will be down 200 tonnes to about 4,100 tonnes in the year 2000 because of a temporary loss of some solvent extraction facilities.
According to WMC corporate affairs manager Richard Yeeles, "there are no radiation issues associated with the fire". (WMC, The Australian 24 Dec. 1999)

Protesters block entrance to Olympic Dam

On 23-26 May 2000, about 70 protestors blocked the main access road to the Olympic Dam mine and plant. (WMC News Relases 23/24/26 May 2000)

About 50 protesters blocked the entrance to WMC's Olympic Dam mine site in South Australia on 14 September 1999, in protest against uranium mining.
The protest involves representatives from the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, Arabunna and Kookatha Aboriginal peoples who also joined the Humps Not Dumps anti-nuclear camel trekkers.
The protesters raised their concerns about the lasting effects of tailings dams at Olympic Dam, and about production of uranium at the site which ended up as nuclear waste. (ABC News 14 Sep 1999)



Olympic Dam underground mine expansion project

Olympic Dam underground mine expansion project shelved

Mining giant BHP has shelved long-held plans for an expansion of its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia despite the Morrison government seeking to fast-track the $3.5 billion project in a bid to stimulate economic activity and jobs.
Although BHP's Olympic Dam copper, gold, silver and uranium mine recorded its best performance in five years, the company said it had decided against proceeding with a brownfield expansion project of the asset after conducting more than 400 kilometres of drilling which has improved its knowledge of the ore body. (Sydney Morning Herald Oct. 20, 2020)

Olympic Dam underground copper-uranium mine expansion downsized to 300,000 t copper production per year

On Aug. 25, 2020, the State Minister for Planning and Local Government announced "that the scope of the Olympic Dam Resource Development Strategy has been revised down from a maximum production rate of 350,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of copper (Cu) and associated products to 300,000 tpa Cu and associated products.".
> View: Olympic Dam - Resource Development Strategy (PlanSA)

State Government releases assessment guidelines for expansion of Olympic Dam mine

On May 22, 2020, the State Government released the assessment guidelines for BHP's proposal for a staged increase in copper production at Olympic Dam from 200,000 to up to 350,000 tonnes per annum.
> View: Olympic Dam - Resource Development Strategy (SA Planning)
> Download: Guidelines Document , May 22, 2020 (3.4MB PDF)

Environment Australia issues public notice on EPBC Act Referral for Olympic Dam underground mine expansion

On Nov. 27, 2019, Environment Australia issued a public notice on BHP's proposal to increase the annual copper production of the Olympic Dam mine from 200,000 t to 350,000 t.
Submit comment by December 11, 2019.
> View/Download: Public Notices - referrals · Invitations to comment (Reference number 2019/8570)

On Mar. 19, 2020, the referral decision was made: "The proposed action is a controlled action. The project will require assessment and approval under the EPBC Act before it can proceed."

Olympic Dam expansion declared a major development by state Government

A major expansion of BHP's Olympic Dam mine is a step closer, with the South Australian Government declaring it a major development proposal.
Key points: The State Government said the $3 billion proposal would increase Olympic Dam's annual copper production from 200,000 tonnes to up to 350,000 tonnes and increase its level of gold, silver and uranium production.
But Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said while it was an exciting prospect, BHP hadn't yet submitted its formal proposal, and still needed to pass a series of environmental, social and economic tests.
Plans for a $30 billion [open pit] redevelopment of the copper and uranium mine were shelved in 2012. (ABC Feb. 14, 2019)

> View: Olympic Dam production growth plan (South Australia Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure)
> Download: Olympic Dam Major Development Declaration , The South Australian Government Gazette, 14 Feb. 2019, p. 461-462 (2.7MB PDF)



Olympic Dam open pit expansion project

> View: Olympic Dam Expansion (Planning SA)
> View Referral: Expansion of the Olympic Dam copper, uranium, gold and silver mine, processing plant and associated infrastructure , Reference Number: 2005/2270 (Environment Australia)
> View: Olympic Dam Expansion (Government of South Australia)
> View: Olympic Dam Expansion Project (BHP Billiton)

Heap leach trial at Olympic Dam completed

On June 18, 2019, BHP announced that it has successfully completed its heap leach research and development trial in South Australia, confirming the viability of the technology to extract copper, uranium, gold and silver at Olympic Dam.

BHP abandons plan for open pit mine at Olympic Dam

BHP Billiton today confirmed that it will not be seeking a further extension to the Variation Deed to the Indenture, which was executed between BHP Billiton and the State of South Australia in October 2011 to accommodate an open pit development at Olympic Dam. The Indenture is the State Agreement which governs the operation of Olympic Dam.
As outlined in December last year, BHP Billiton is now pursuing an underground development pathway for Olympic Dam that, subject to approvals and an attractive investment environment, could see copper production increase to 450 ktpa from 2025.
Therefore as BHP Billiton will not be submitting a Project Notice for a potential open pit development, the Variation Deed will cease to have effect in October this year. (BHP Billiton July 22, 2016)

BHP announces scaled back Olympic Dam expansion plans involving heap leaching

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam asset president Jacqui McGill said plans to increase production were back on track, but would be dramatically different to the previous expansion proposal. "We are no longer looking at a 'big bang' expansion of Olympic Dam instead we will increase production capacity through low-risk, capital efficient underground expansions, including accessing the Southern Mine Area," she said. She said the company planned to increase copper production to about 230,000 tonnes in five years but there was potential for up to 450,000 tonnes per year.
BHP Billiton has been testing an alternative, less capital-intensive process, called "heap leaching" using chemicals to extract ore. "Continuing expansion underground and successful on-site application of heap leach technology could provide an opportunity for further growth," she said. (ABC July 8, 2016)

Protesters block main road to Olympic Dam uranium mine

Anti-nuclear activists are maintaining a blockade of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia's north after confrontations with police. The action, which included blocking the main road to the mine, continued into the night on Sunday. (AAP July 3, 2016)

Protesters gather near Olympic Dam uranium mine

More than 100 people are camped near South Australia's largest mine to protest against uranium mining and the nuclear industry. Lizard's Revenge protesters are rallying against nuclear energy use in Australia, the planned expansion of the outback Olympic Dam uranium mine near Roxby Downs and the proposed toxic waste dump for the Flinders Ranges. Protesters have returned to the site they used four years ago to protest against an Olympic Dam expansion plan which did not go ahead. (ABC July 1, 2016)

Protest in Adelaide against expansion of Olympic Dam uranium mine

Anti-nuclear campaigners dressed as "zombie mine workers" have taken their message to shoppers in Adelaide's busy Rundle Mall. Dancing to the song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, they rallied against nuclear energy use in Australia and a planned expansion of the outback Olympic Dam uranium mine near Roxby Downs. The protest group, the Desert Liberation Front, has dubbed its latest campaign, The Lizard Bites Back. (ABC June 28, 2016)

Heap leach trial for lower processing cost at Olympic Dam mine expansion project

BHP Billiton plans to run a three-year trial of a potentially cheaper way of processing copper and uranium from its massive Olympic Dam mine in Australia from late 2016, it said on Monday (July 28). On Monday it said it was applying for approval from the Australian and state governments to build and run a demonstration plant to use heap leach technology to extract copper and uranium from ore mined underground. If approved, the company said it expected to start building the plant in July 2015 and would start a three-year trial in October 2016, treating 36,000 tonnes a year of material from the underground mine. That would be less than 0.4 percent of the total ore produced at the mine. (Reuters July 28, 2014)
On July 28, 2014, Environment Australia issued a Notice "Invitation for Public Comment on Referral".
Deadline date for public comment is August 11, 2014.
> View EPBC Referral: Olympic Dam Heap Leach Trial
On Aug. 29, 2014, Environment Australia issued a Referral decision, finding that the trial heap leaching is not a controlled action, provided a number of measures are taken to protect the environment. This decision gives BHP the green light to develop and operate the heap leach demonstration plant.
> Download Referral decision Aug. 29, 2014 (1.1MB PDF)

Greens MP demands new EIS for Olympic Dam mine expansion project, if BHP switches to heap leaching

The Greens say BHP Billiton must be made to prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) after indicating new technologies may be used to expand the Olympic Dam Mine in South Australia.
Greens MP Mark Parnell said the SA government had already indicated that the existing EIS would cover the new acid heap leaching technology. But he said that would be "trashing" the integrity of the state's major project approval process. Mr Parnell said the government had given environmental approval for one type of mining and would now allow that approval to stand for a completely different processing technique. (Perth Now Nov. 16, 2012)
> View Mark Parnell release Nov. 14, 2012
A private member's bill to disallow an extension of the indenture for the planned Olympic Dam mine expansion has been defeated in the South Australian Parliament. The bill was moved by the Greens but defeated by the Government and Opposition. (ABC Nov. 29, 2012)

State Government grants four-year extension on Olympic Dam expansion

Premier Jay Weatherill has announced that the South Australian Government has granted an extension to the indenture for BHP Billiton to expand Olympic Dam. The period by which BHPB is required to approve the expansion has been extended to October 2016. BHPB also has committed to spending more than $650 million over the next four years at Olympic Dam and on other initiatives within South Australia. (DMITRE Nov. 13, 2012)

BHP Billiton seeks four more years to decide on Olympic Dam mine expansion

BHP Billiton has asked the South Australian state government to extend a December deadline to October 2016 for the company to approve an expansion of its Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine. BHP said the extension was needed for it to complete studies on new processing technology and a less capital-intensive design for the open-pit expansion. (Reuters Sep. 26, 2012)

BHP Billiton puts expansion of Olympic Dam mine on hold

BHP Billiton has shelved its $30 billion Olympic Dam expansion and will go back to the drawing board to find a cheaper alternative. BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers today insisted market conditions, subdued commodity prices and higher capital costs led to the decision, which has been the subject of speculation within several months. (Adelaide Now Aug. 22, 2012)

BHP Billiton likely to delay Olympic Dam expansion decision for two years: report

BHP Billiton is likely to delay a decision on a $30 billion proposed expansion of the Olympic dam mine in South Australia, a newspaper said, months after it scrapped a capital spending plan citing tough economic conditions. A decision by the world's biggest miner on whether to proceed with the proposed expansion of its copper and uranium mine will not be made until 2014 rather than by the end of this year, as previously stated by the company, the Australian reported on Saturday, citing documents it had obtained. (Reuters July 28, 2012)

'Lizards Revenge' rally against Olympic Dam mine expansion

Protesters have waved flags and indulged in song and dance at the gates of the Olympic Dam mine in Roxby Downs to protest against its expansion. The 'zombie' march, to demonstrate their opposition to uranium mining and nuclear power, finished shortly after 3pm on Saturday (July 14). There were conflicting reports on how many people attended the rally - organisers claim 400 while police put the figure at 150. (Roxby Downs Sun July 14, 2012)
Police have arrested 13 people during an anti-nuclear protest at South Australia's Olympic Dam mine, where activists and officers were involved in two confrontations. (Sydney Morning Herald July 17, 2012)
Five people have been arrested after renewed protest action at the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in South Australia's north. The arrests on Thursday (July 19) brought to 18 the number of people taken into police custody since about 350 anti-nuclear activists converged on the area on Saturday. (Perth Now July 19, 2012)
> See also: The Lizard's Revenge

Federal Court rejects move by Aboriginal elder to block Olympic Dam mine expansion

BHP Billiton's proposed $20 billion Olympic Dam mine expansion will be challenged in the Federal Court after an application was lodged by Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott. Mr Buzzacott is being represented by the Adelaide-based Environmental Defenders Office . The office claims the mine expansion has been approved unlawfully under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke. Among the claims are that much of the environmental assessment and decision-making was based on plans and studies that have not yet been prepared and that the minister did not properly consider impacts from the above-ground storage of radioactive tailings waste, the export of uranium and on groundwater resources, including the Great Artesian Basin. (The Australian Feb. 22, 2012)
The federal court has rejected a move by an Aboriginal elder to block a giant expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in South Australia's north. (Adelaide Now Apr. 20, 2012)
Mr Buzzacott has appealed against the court's decision and a hearing has been scheduled for Thursday (June 21). (AAP June 19, 2012)
The full bench of the Federal Court has dismissed a challenge by an Aboriginal elder to the proposed expansion of mining at outback Olympic Dam. Kevin Buzzacott of the Arabunna people appealed to the full bench after losing a Federal Court case last year. He argued the expansion was approved without proper consideration of the long-term environmental impact. But three judges ruled that lawyers for Mr Buzzacott failed to make out the grounds for appeal, backing the opinion of the primary judge. Mr Buzzacott was ordered to pay costs for the State and Federal Governments and BHP Billiton. (ABC Oct. 9, 2013)

Olympic Dam expansion bill passes South Australian Parliament

Legislation to enable the Olympic Dam mine expansion has passed the South Australian Parliament. The SA Government says ratification will allow BHP Billiton to start $1.2 billion of initial works on the project. The Greens tried without success to the amend the bill in the Legislative Council, including on the issue of a fixed-term royalty rate. (ABC Nov. 29, 2011)

Highway protest against expansion of Olympic Dam mine

About a dozen people are protesting on the Stuart Highway in Alice Springs against the expansion of Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. They're concerned about the health implications and additional traffic that will be caused by two additional trains full of uranium passing through Central Australia each day. (ABC Nov. 17, 2011)

South Australian Parliament starts inquiry into legal agreement on Olympic Dam Expansion Project

Senior BHP Billiton executives will face a public grilling over the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, following the South Australian Parliament setting up a committee to investigate the project's legal agreement. The document setting out legal and financial arrangements for the massive uranium, copper and gold project - which analysts predict will cost more than $30 billion - was made public yesterday after being tabled in Parliament.
Despite the desire of Premier Mike Rann and BHP for Parliament to approve the bill as quickly as possible, the process will be slowed to allow an investigation by a committee of senior opposition and government members. The committee is not expected to report back until November 8. (Sydney Morning Herald Oct. 19, 2011)

BHP approves US$ 1.2 billion pre-commitment funding for Olympic Dam expansion

BHP Billiton must reach a final investment decision on its Olympic Dam expansion within 12 months, under the terms of an indenture agreement with South Australian Premier Mike Rann today. The agreement, which will be put to SA parliament next week, follows environmental approval for the massive project on Monday (Oct. 10). The deal will see BHP pay the existing SA royalty rates for uranium, copper and gold, and follows BHP's agreement to increase the amount of ore processing within SA.
BHP has agreed to $1.2 billion worth of preliminary spending on the project provided the indenture agreement secures successful passage through the SA parliament. The funding will allow the company to procure long-lead time items such as trucks and accommodation, and begin infrastructure development and early site works.
The global miner's board is expected to decide by mid-2012 whether to proceed with the project, which has been estimated by observers to cost about $30 billion. The first phase of the planned expansion, which will involve development of a huge open cut mine to add to the existing underground operation, is currently in the feasibility study stage. (Sydney Morning Herald Oct. 12, 2011)

Conservation and Aboriginal groups upset about Olympic Dam mine expansion

The environmental approval for the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine has locals fearing the expansion, especially the construction of a desalination plant in upper Spencer Gulf. Whyalla diver Tony Bramley fears any change in salinity levels in the gulf could be fatal to the giant Australian cuttlefish, which aggregate in the area to breed each year. "We just don't know too much about what happens underwater," he said. "Even though this area is more studied than anywhere else in the state, we've got to the point now where we realise just how much we don't know."
A spokesman for the Arabunna people says the environmental approval is a sad day for Aboriginal people in the region. Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott says the site holds historical significance and the Aboriginal community has been left out of the consultation process. "We don't want that big great gaping hole in the desert, we just don't want it," he said. "We never wanted Olympic Dam in the first place because it's a sacred site and we're trying to protect our areas."
The Conservation Council in South Australia is concerned the company hasn't done enough to reduce its carbon footprint, with the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine. (ABC Oct. 11, 2011)

Giant Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine expansion gets federal and state environmental approvals

The Gillard [federal] government has given the green light to the expansion of BHP Billiton's giant Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in South Australia. The South Australian and Northern Territory governments have also given a tick of approval to what is set to be the world's biggest open-cut mine, after assessing the mining giant's environmental impact statement. The approval requires BHP to commit to more than 150 conditions and obtain more than 600 licences and approvals. It allows BHP to expand its mine and smelter and build a waste rock and tailings storage facility, new airport, gas-fired power station, desalination plant, railway line and power transmission lines.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said his approval under federal environmental law imposed strict conditions lasting well beyond the life of the uranium and copper mine, which is about 550km north of Adelaide. They include a requirement for BHP Billiton to set aside 140,000 hectares for biodiversity conservation. Under the approval conditions, the mine's tailings storage facility must be covered when the mine is finally closed to protect it from erosion in the “very long term” [oh, really?!].
BHP Billiton must now prepare an extensive environmental management plan which Mr Burke might sign off on before substantial work can be undertaken. “The program must describe how compliance with conditions will be achieved, and what action will be taken if conservative thresholds are exceeded,” Mr Burke said. “The company will be held accountable if it doesn't comply with the strict approval conditions.” [well, well!]
BHP's board is expected to make a final decision early next year on whether to proceed with the expansion.
(The Australian Oct. 10, 2011)

> Download Australian Government Decision on Approval , Oct. 10, 2011 (3.3MB PDF)
> View Federal Environment Minister's news release , Oct. 10, 2011
> Download South Australia Premier's news release , Oct. 10, 2011 (103k PDF)
> Download Assessment Report for the Environmental Impact Statement of the Olympic Dam Expansion (Government of South Australia)

Greens fault BHP's environmental commitments for Olympic Dam expansion

A record-smashing $21 Billion annual profit expected to be announced tomorrow (Aug. 24) proves BHP Billiton can afford to drastically improve its environmental commitments for the Olympic Dam mine mega-expansion. "BHP Billiton's record profit must not come at the expense of South Australia's environment," said SA Greens Parliamentary leader Mark Parnell.
"The company and the Premier have promised 'world's best environmental practice' but so far the reality has fallen far short of that. Every controversial decision so far - from the location of the desalination plant next to the Cuttlefish at Point Lowly, to only lining 4% of the highly toxic tailings dam, to powering the expansion from fossil fuels, to increasing their take of ancient water from the Great Artesian Basin has been justified on the basis of cost."
"Yet, tomorrow's expected record profit announcement again proves that BHP Billiton can easily afford to do much much more to safe-guard South Australia's environment. The State Government must insist on much higher environmental standards before it grants approval for the expansion." (MLC Mark Parnell Aug 23, 2011)

Engineer warns of seepage risk from tailings of an expanded Olympic Dam mine

BHP Billiton estimates eight million litres of seepage daily will drain from the tailings dam for the first decade of expanded mining, then three million litres daily until 2050. The company says it will not affect humans, plants or animals.
But Monash University environmental engineer Gavin Mudd estimates the tailings will be nine times the volume of Sydney Harbour. "The reported mineral resource for Olympic Dam is more than nine billion tonnes of ore, so by the time you process that you're still left with billions of tonnes of tailings," he said. "I don't accept BHP's proposition that it's acceptable to leave billions of tonnes of radioactive waste on the surface."
The Australian Uranium Association says it thinks the proposed Olympic Dam expansion will reach the highest environmental standards. The Association's Michael Angwin says the tailings will leak into the limestone base under the tailings dam. "I'm very confident that this mine will reach the best environmental standards there are," he said. "With regard to tailings, tailings are in fact a potential future resource so I think there's a considerable incentive to manage the tailings in a very good way with that in mind." (ABC Aug. 5, 2011)

Fishermen fear impact of proposed desalination plant for Olympic Dam mine expansion project on breeding cycle of prawns

BHP's environmental assessment of its proposed desalination plant at Point Lowly on South Australia's upper Spencer Gulf is flawed, a fishermen's group says. The Spencer Gulf and West Coast Prawn Fishermen's Association has released its own report into the company's environmental assessment. The Association says the mining giant has failed to consider the impact on the breeding cycle of prawns. (ABC July 6, 2011)

Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement for Olympic Dam Expansion Project released

On May 13, 2011, BHP Billiton released the final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the expansion of its Olympic Dam operation in South Australia. The SEIS addresses the environmental, social, cultural and economic issues raised in more than 4,000 public submissions on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was released to the public in May 2009.
> Download Olympic Dam Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (BHP Billiton)

Feasibility study started for Olympic Dam expansion project

On 30 March 2011, BHP Billiton announced the Olympic Dam Project (ODP) in South Australia has progressed into the Feasibility study phase.
The decision comes ahead of the pending release of ODP's Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and the start of the formal assessment of the project by the Commonwealth, South Australian and Northern Territory governments. BHP Billiton Uranium President, Dean Dalla Valle, said the project's progression into Feasibility followed the release of its Draft Environmental Statement in May 2009 and the subsequent assessment of the more than 4,000 public submissions received on a range of issues. "We are now awaiting permission from the Commonwealth to publish the SEIS, which will allow formal assessment of the project by the respective governments."
The ODP aims to develop a new open pit copper mine and associated gold and uranium byproducts alongside its existing underground operation and increase its production from around 180,000 tonnes per annum of copper to 750,000 tonnes per annum over the next 30 years.

Olympic Dam expansion viable without uranium extraction, leading academic says

The expansion of one of Australia's largest resources projects will be viable without mining for uranium, according to a leading academic. A report for the Greens by Monash University engineering lecturer Gavin Mudd - who has written extensively on uranium mining - says the proposed "mega expansion" of BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam project would not only benefit environmentally from leaving uranium in the ground, but would also still be financially viable.
At present about 200,000 tonnes of copper, 25,000kg of silver, 4000 tonnes of uranium, and 2800kg of gold are taken from Olympic Dam, in northern South Australia. The expansion proposed by BHP would see the amounts extracted of all those resources increase by between three and 10 times the present amount. The amount of uranium taken would increase almost to 19,000 tonnes. Three governments - federal, South Australian, and Northern Territory - are assessing environmental issues relating to the expansion.
But Dr Mudd - a critic of the sustainability of uranium mining - has proposed a production process that would allow the expansion of Olympic Dam, without uranium recovery. It would mean all copper concentrate smelting would need to occur on site, instead of being sent to China for processing as is proposed, leading to more jobs at the actual project. Not mining uranium would lead to 18.9 million litres of water being saved each day, 293 gigawatt-hours - or enough power to supply 60,000 households - of electricity savings yearly, and 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
Dr Mudd said expanding the project without uranium recovery was "clearly a realistic and technically feasible development option" but was not considered in BHP's draft environmental impact statement for the upgrade. (Sydney Morning Herald Dec. 13, 2010)

Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement on the Olympic Dam Expansion Project completed

Mine owner BHP Billiton yesterday (Dec. 2) handed its draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement on the expansion to the state, NT and federal governments.
The draft document must undergo an "adequacy test" by the three governments to determine whether it contains sufficient information to enable them to fully assess the project. Its 15,489 pages are BHP's responses to issues raised by the three governments and in 4189 public submissions about BHP's initial expansion plan, published in May 2009 and open for comment until August.
Only after it passes the adequacy test - expected to be in late January - will the document be made public on the internet, libraries and via select government offices. Once public, the governments will begin to assess the statement.
Areas of concern include the desalination plant at Point Lowly, effects on the Great Artesian Basin, waste storage and energy use. (Adelaide Now Dec. 3, 2010)
On April 21, 2011, Environment Australia accepted the supplementary EIS for formal assessment.

Australian Conservation Foundation criticizes EIS for Olympic Dam Expansion

BHP must present feasible alternatives to prevent or reduce the environmental impacts of the proposed Olympic Dam expansion in the next phase of the Environmental Impact Statement process, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) say. The company is now preparing the supplement to the EIS in response to more than 4000 public submissions, but foundation anti-nuclear campaigner David Noonan says so far it is not good enough.
"ACF call on BHP to leave all uranium and other radioactive wastes at the Olympic Dam mine site, and to only proceed with a new open pit if all copper production is processed on site and if strict environmental preconditions are met," Mr Noonan said. "BHP propose precedent sale of uranium in copper concentrates to China." "This is not sanctioned under Australia's nuclear treaties - it would compromise our safeguards and environmental responsibilities, and dump some 1.2 million tonnes of long-lived radioactive mine wastes in China every year." "China's failure to observe human rights and their practice of jailing nuclear whistle blowers are sufficient reasons to disqualify China from receiving Australian uranium."
He said BHP had designed the project to leak an average three million litres of liquid radioactive wastes a day until 2050 and only plan to line about 15 per cent of tailings piles. "BHP propose to dump radioactive mine tailings on the surface and to leave them there forever rather than to dispose of their wastes," he said.
"BHP do not intend to rehabilitate the proposed open pit, intending instead to leave a toxic lake as a radioactive scar on the landscape."
"ACF calls on the Commonwealth and SA governments to direct BHP to assess a number of key feasible alternatives to prevent or significantly lessen the impact of BHP's plans," he said. (Roxby Downs Sun Oct. 25, 2010)

BHP plans do double Olympic Dam expansion

At a briefing in South America, a senior BHP executive indicated the company plans to produce almost 1.4 million tonnes of copper per year at the Roxby Downs mine - almost double the 750,000 tonne limit outlined in current expansion plans. The presentation suggested the company would achieve that level of production after just 11 years of operation at the mine, meaning a new approval process would have to be instigated. Minerals Resources Minister Paul Holloway said the current Environmental Impact Statement covered the company up to 750,000 tonnes. (Adelaide Now Oct. 16, 2010)

Protest in Adelaide against expansion plans for Olympic Dam uranium mine

Adelaide residents protested against BHP Billiton's expansion plans on Thursday (Nov. 26). They protested outside the company's Grenfell Street office in Adelaide, on the same day as BHP Billiton's annual general meeting. "Adelaide residents this morning protested in solidarity with traditional owners struggling at the hands of BHP Billiton," event coordinator Riley Ashton said. Referring to the Kokatha and Arabunna as examples of communities he believed were being "kicked off their land", Mr Ashton said: "Olympic Dam has been causing cultural genocide and environmental destruction since operations began over 20 years ago". "This needs to stop, we are standing here today in solidarity with the Kokatha and Arabunna communities impacted by Olympic Dam's operations..." (Roxby Downs Sun Dec. 2, 2009)

In view of dust storms, BHP Billiton told to address dust risks from Olympic Dam uranium mine expansion

South Australia's Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway has told the SA Parliament BHP Billiton will need to prepare a supplementary environmental impact statement addressing dust management. He says the company will have to give an assurance it can manage dust from proposed open cut mining before permission is given for expansion of its Olympic Dam uranium, copper and gold mine at Roxby Downs.
Academy Award-nominated documentary maker David Bradbury claimed this week that red dust dumped onto east coast cities was a reason to be concerned about BHP Billiton's proposal to turn its uranium mine into an open cut operation. The Greens say the dangers of an Olympic Dam mine expansion spreading radioactive dust across wide areas of Australia will be an issue for centuries to come. (ABC Sep. 25, 2009)

A team of Australian scientists are analysing the dust that has engulfed eastern Australia this week to see whether it is dangerous. The dust storm is believed to have originated around Woomera in outback South Australia near the massive Olympic Dam uranium mine, prompting fears it was radioactive and dangerous.
Climatologist Professor Nigel Tapper, from Melbourne's Monash University, played down the risks to humans but said the dust might threaten important eco-systems such as the Great Barrier Reef. "Certainly the dust storm could have potentially come from those outback areas, we believe it has mainly come from dry lake and creek beds and elsewhere in the Lake Eyre basin," he told AAP. (The Age Sep. 25, 2009)

South Australian Government demands BHP Billiton to address environmental concerns before Olympic Dam mine expansion

The South Australian Government has told BHP Billiton to address a range of concerns before the Olympic Dam mine expansion at Roxby Downs can go ahead. The Government has published its submission on the company's draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which was released in May. It says BHP Billiton needs to investigate further any radiation and air pollution impact on the Roxby Downs community, along with water, waste and transport issues. The Government's response says some aspects of the EIS are "not substantiated", "unjustified" and "insufficient". On the desalination impact for marine species in Spencer Gulf, it says: "While the EIS indicates that the proponent considers there is no likely impact on [cuttlefish], the Department of Environment and Heritage is still very concerned about potential impacts on the cuttlefish." "There is no justification for the statement that the [proposed] desalination plant's impact on the tiger pipefish will be negligible." "The evaluation of potential impacts to the blue swimmer crab is not substantiated." The desalination plant is to be built to supply the heavy water needs of a mining expansion. (ABC Aug. 24, 2009)
> Download Consolidated South Australian Government submission to BHP Billiton's proposed Olympic Dam expansion Environmental Impact Statement, 24 Aug 2009

Eminent scientists warn of "mind-blowing" health risk from Olympic Dam mine expansion

A group of eminent scientists and doctors, including a Nobel Prize-winner and two Australians of the Year, has warned of the "mind-blowing risk" to the health of South Australians from the Olympic Dam expansion. The experts warn of arsenic, mercury and uranium which will enter undergroundwater and the atmosphere. The 15 have written to the State Government warning that up to 5.5 million tonnes of toxic waste in dams with an area of 4000 ha will reach ground water within 150 years and dust storms could blow thousands of tonnes from the 242 million tonnes of waste into the atmosphere and all over the state for hundreds of years. "To use a non-medical term, these proposals are mind-blowing in the potential risks to this and future generations," the letter states. "There will be direct adverse health impacts and also impacts on future generations." The medical experts recommend the project be delayed until after health impact studies can be undertaken and that BHP be made to put aside funds to pay for the health effects for "centuries".
The letter is signed by, among others, Nobel Prize-winner and Australian of the Year Professor Peter Doherty, Australians of the Year Professor Gustav Nossal and Professor Fiona Stanley, former Dean of the University of Adelaide Medical School Professor Bob Douglas and Executive Dean of Health Sciences at Flinders University Professor Michael Kidd. (Adelaide Now Aug. 18, 2009)

Balloon protest over Olympic Dam mine expansion

Hundreds of black balloons symbolising carbon emissions have been displayed outside Parliament House in Adelaide by opponents of the proposed Olympic Dam mine expansion. The Greens and supporters displayed more than 600 balloons which they say represent potential carbon pollution output if BHP Billiton expands the mine. David Noonan from the Australian Conservation Foundation says the South Australian Government should also stop BHP Billiton from building a desalination plant near Whyalla as part of the mine expansion. (ABC Aug. 7, 2009)

Parliamentary committee recommends different site be found for desalination plant needed for the planned expansion of the Olympic Dam mine

A South Australian parliamentary committee has unanimously recommended that a different site be found for a proposed desalination plant needed for the planned expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in outback SA. Presiding member of the Environment, Resources and Development Committee Lyn Breuer says it has been told Point Lowly on upper Spencer Gulf would be the worst possible site for a plant to serve BHP Billiton's water needs for a proposed expansion of mining. Ms Breuer says the main concern about Point Lowly is that brine from the plant would not disperse properly and would damage marine life, including cuttlefish breeding areas. (ABC Aug. 6, 2009)

Olympic Dam expansion would counteract South Australia's greenhouse gas emission reduction target

BHP Billiton's proposed multi-billion-dollar expansion of its Olympic Dam mine will increase South Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 12 per cent, casting doubt on Mike Rann's climate change credentials, environmentalists said yesterday (July 28). The Australian Conservation Foundation said BHP Billiton was seeking government approval to increase Olympic Dam's greenhouse emissions by at least 4.1 million tonnes a year. The Premier, who is also South Australia's Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change, has pledged as part of the state's strategic plan to meeting the Kyoto target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 levels by 2012. But the ACF says the Olympic Dam expansion, which would create the world's largest open pit mine, 560km north of Adelaide, would cause a "blow out" to the state's current emissions of 33 million tonnes a year. (The Australian July 29, 2009)

Australian Conservation Foundation: Olympic Dam expansion over-sized, subsidised and leaky

The Australian Conservation Foundation has revealed BHP plans to expand the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine much further than is outlined in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The company has applied for State government approval to extract up to 1 million tonnes of copper product a year, even though the EIS only examines an expansion of up to 750,000 tonnes of copper product a year. Radioactive waste from the mine, damage to the marine environment from desalination and greenhouse pollution from additional energy demand may all be one third worse than envisaged by the company's EIS.
The EIS shows BHP is cost cutting on environmental protection by designing its 'tailings storage facility' to leak an average of 3 million litres of radioactive liquid waste a day, every day, over decades of proposed mining. BHP plans to line only 15 per cent of the proposed 44 square kilometre tailings facility that will be up to 65 metres high. This could be leaking 8 million litres of liquid waste by 2020.
BHP is also dipping into the public purse to dig the world's largest open pit mine by taking more than A$350 million in diesel fuel rebates over five years - more than is proposed to be paid to the State in royalties from the existing underground mine over the same period. (ACF June 2, 2009)

Olympic Dam expansion EIS rejected by the Maduwonga people

The original custodians of the land in and around Roxby Downs have rejected BHP Billiton's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) into the expansion of its Olympic Dam uranium mine. The Maduwonga say the 17,000 hectares of land that will need to be cleared to make way for the mine will desecrate the most sacred sites in their family's history. BHP Billiton's 4,000 page EIS outlines native title payments and employment for Maduwonga people. A Maduwonga elder, Isabel Dingaman, says developing the open cut mine would be going against the wishes of her ancestors. "All the old men, they said 'no destruction of sacred sites', the old people loved the land, we still love it and we still carrying on the tradition," she said. (ABC May 4, 2009)

Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Olympic Dam expansion project released for comment

Please make your submission in writing during the public consultation period - 1 May to 7 August 2009.

> View: Proposed Olympic Dam Expansion (SA Government)
> Download: Draft Environmental Impact Statement (BHP Billiton) [from 3pm Friday, 1 May 2009]

Olympic Dam expansion EIS - now completed - won't be released until May 1; comment period extended to 14 weeks

The long-awaited study into the environmental effects of what will be the world's biggest copper and uranium mine, BHP Billiton's massive Olympic Dam expansion near Roxby Downs in the state's far north, is finally complete. But the public can't see it. The environmental impact statement won't be released until May 1, according to Mines Minister Paul Holloway - and South Australians will have just eight weeks to make a response. (The Independent Weekly Feb. 28, 2009)
On March 25, 2009, South Australian Premier Mike Rann announced that the consultation period has now been extended to 14 weeks. (The Independent Weekly Mar. 25, 2009)

Aboriginal elder takes on BHP over planned expansion of Olympic Dam mine

An Aboriginal elder has taken on the heavyweights at BHP's annual general meeting to urge the mining giant to abandon plans to expand its Olympic Dam mine because it was taking "sacred water". Kevin Buzzacott addressed the board of the world's biggest miner, asking them to stop the planned expansion of the copper, gold and uranium mine in South Australia. "Do not expand this mine. We don't want an open cut mine; we do not want any more water taken out of the Great Artesian Basin; we want that to stop," Mr Buzzacott said. He was supported by about 100 protesters who gathered on the Melbourne Park lawn outside the venue to oppose the expansion, which would make Olympic Dam one of the largest mines in the world. (The Age Nov. 27, 2008)

BHP intends to have first stage of Olympic dam expansion in production by 2013

On Oct. 31, 2008, BHP Billiton said it plans to have the first of five planned stages of expansion at its Olympic Dam mine in production by 2013. The first phase of expansion is to optimise the existing underground operation and increase its production capacity to 200,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium and 120,000 ounces of gold. The development of the open pit is to take five years with the ore processing expansion to be developed in three stages.
The mine has a capacity to produce 180,000 tonnes of copper and 4000 tonnes of uranium per year, with the staged expansion looking to increase copper and uranium output to 730,000 and 19,000 tonnes, respectively. (The Australian, Oct. 31, 2008 )

NT Government invites comment on EIS draft guidelines for increasing uranium transport from Olympic Dam to Darwin

As part of the proposed expansion BHP Billiton is proposing to export copper concentrate and uranium oxide through the Port of Darwin via the Adelaide to Darwin rail line. Northern Territory Environment Minister Alison Anderson has determined that the proposal is considered environmentally significant requiring preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Australian, South Australian and Northern Territory governments.
Comments must be submitted by 31 October 2008.
> View NT Gov. media release 17 Oct 2008
> Download draft guidelines for Olympic Dam Expansion (NT Transport Option) project

Scientists denounce location of proposed desalination plant for Olympic Dam mine as inappropriate (South Australia)

Three hundred residents from the Port Hughes on the Yorke Peninsula attended a public meeting this month where marine ecologist Toby Bolton warned that too little was known about the cumulative, long-term effects of desalination plants for them to be regarded as the solution to the nation's water shortages. One of the three desalination plants is proposed by BHP Billiton in the upper reaches of Spencer Gulf to feed its expanded Olympic Dam uranium mine.
Dr Bolton said it was difficult to think of a more inappropriate location than BHP's proposed Spencer Gulf plant. It would operate in an area that combined poor tidal exchange with mangrove and samphire swamps that nurtured organisms for the marine food chain such as giant cuttlefish and the area's prized whiting. Dr Bolton, from Flinders University's Lincoln Marine Science Centre at Port Lincoln, said he did not oppose desalination plants that were in open ocean where strong tidal currents dispersed the waste brine. He is one of five South Australian scientists who last month wrote to the State Government warning it of the dangers of desalination when so little was known about its long-term effects on marine life. (The Age May 31, 2008)

BHP considers export of unsmelted Olympic Dam copper / uranium concentrate to China

In view of China's expected serious over-capacity of copper processing, BHP Billiton has asked the federal Government to approve the export of uranium-bearing copper concentrate to China. BHP's next chief executive, Marius Kloppers, met Industry Minister Ian MacFarlane to signal a formal request to directly ship up to 1.2 million tonnes of Olympic Dam copper concentrate a year, rather than convert the ore into metal at the mine site.
The idea means that BHP would be, by stealth, selling uranium directly to China, which is why the company needs to secure federal endorsement. The export copper concentrate would contain relatively low levels uranium. But even at the expected 0.01 per cent to 0.15 per cent concentrations, BHP would still be shipping up to 2500 tonnes of uranium to Chinese smelters each year. It is not yet clear whether BHP would propose, or be required, to repatriate that uranium. Any sale of the uranium to China's nuclear industry would first require the finalisation of the bilateral safeguards agreement which is part of the Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement signed in April 2007.
Export of the concentrate rather than metal would mean that the proposed expansion would concern the Olympic Dam mine only, but not the on-site smelter. (The Australian 12 July 2007)

Fishermen slam site selection for proposed water desalination plant for Olympic Dam mine expansion

BHP Billiton has been challenged by the fishing industry, scientists and environmentalists to justify its selection of the shallow, tidal Spencer Gulf for a massive desalination plant to supply an expanded Roxby Downs uranium and copper mine. (Australian Mar. 15, 2007)

Russia's Tenex seeks participation in Olympic Dam uranium mine expansion project

Russia's Techsnabexport (Tenex) is negotiating with BHP Billiton for a role in the development of Olympic Dam, the world's biggest uranium project, in Australia, Vadim Zhivov, the company's first deputy general director, told a press conference in Moscow. The next round of talks with BHP Billiton is planned in January 2007. (Itar-Tass Dec. 15, 2006)

BHP Billiton to investigate desalination plant to supply Olympic Dam expansion with water

BHP Billiton will investigate building a $300 million desalination plant off South Australia to provide the water needed for its $5 billion expansion of the Olympic Dam mine.
The company and the SA government have agreed to investigate the desalination plant on Spencer Gulf and a $400 million pipeline to supply the extra 120 million litres of water a day. The desalination plant would not only avoid the need for BHP to take more water from either the River Murray or the Great Artesian Basin but would also supply quality water to Whyalla and other Eyre Peninsular towns. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said the announcement that no additional artesian water would be used to service the mine was good news. (The Australian Feb. 17, 2006)

Public comment invited on Draft Guidelines/Issues Paper for Olympic Dam expansion Environmental Impact Statement

The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage (DEH) and the South Australian Minister for Mineral Resources Development (Planning SA) will be jointly assessing the environmental impacts of a proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam Mine to enable production to be increased from the currently approved level of 350,000 tonnes per annum (t/a) of copper and associated products, to up to 1,000,000 t/a of copper and associated products. According to the Draft Guidelines/Issues Paper, the corresponding uranium output would be up to 30,000 t/a (up from currently 4000 t/a)!

> Download Planning SA Advertisement Nov. 18, 2005 (PDF)
> Download DRAFT GUIDELINES/ISSUES PAPER For an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT on the proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam operations at Roxby Downs , Planning SA, Primary Industries and Resources SA, November 2005 (2.2MB PDF) · alternate source (DEH)

The final guideline was released on Feb. 10, 2006:
> Download GUIDELINES For an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT on the proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam operations at Roxby Downs, January 2006 (2MB PDF)

> See also:
Planning SA Major Project Assessment · Planning SA Major Development Panel
DEH Referral

Protest on expansion of Olympic Dam mine ground water use

On Oct. 26, 2005, environmentalists held a peaceful protest outside BHP Billiton's Adelaide office in opposition to the company's plan to take five times more water from the threatened Great Artesian Basin (GAB) to expand the Roxby Downs mine.
BHPB has applied for a licence to take an additional 120 million litres of GAB water daily free in the assessment of its uranium/copper mine expansion plan. This is in addition to the daily extraction of 33 million litres.
David Noonan from the Australian Conservation Foundation said the mine already was the largest single-site industrial user of ground water in the southern hemisphere. "And now BHPB proposes to take one third of all the GAB waters that flow into SA each year," he said. "That could kill the basin and the Mound Springs." (Advertiser Oct. 27, 2005)

BHP Billiton commences environmental assessment of proposed expansion at Olympic Dam mine

"BHP Billiton has today commenced the environmental assessment of its proposed A$5 billion expansion at its Olympic Dam operation in South Australia with the lodgement of the project proposal to the Federal and State Governments.
While this does not signal BHP Billiton's formal commitment to undertake further expansion at Olympic Dam it does mark the beginning of a two-year process of scientific analysis and extensive public consultation." (BHP Billiton Aug. 19, 2005)



License violations and reportable events at Olympic Dam

> see also: Olympic Dam uranium incident summary since 2003 (DMITRE)
> see also: Olympic Dam news (WMC)

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