On 10 October 2011 BHP Billiton received environmental approvals for the expansion of the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine, 550km north of Adelaide in South Australia, with plans to make it one of the world’s biggest open pit mines. Copper production is set to increase from around 180,000 tonnes to 750,000 tonnes per annum.
It has been reported that the mine is already in the record books for all the wrong reasons, using so much water from the Great Artesian Basin that it is the largest industrial user of underground water in the southern hemisphere.
Howls of protest have followed the announcement of environmental approvals for the dam expansion, and protesters in Adelaide have erected a giant waste barrel in the Adelaide CBD (pictured) to illustrate the amount of seepage of radioactive waste back into the groundwater from the proposed tailings dams.
‘At 40 years of operation, the new tailings dams at Olympic Dam will have leaked well over 47.5 billion litres of radioactive waste into the underlying rock and groundwater, approximately 540,000 of these barrels,’ said Riley Ashton, a spokesperson for the protesters.
Dr Gavin Mudd of the Environmental Engineering Department at Monash University has prepared a report indicating that ‘not recovering the uranium is not only technically feasible but could also help reduce energy and water inputs as well as pollution outputs.’
Dr Gavin Mudd’s Report (pdf)