July 16, 2012 by SCNCC
Melbourne-based BHP Billiton, plans to expand its uranium mining operations on aboriginal lands in South Australia from an area of about 1,700 square miles to a terrain roughly eight times that size. The $30 billion expansion would make Olympic Dam at Roxby Downs the world’s largest open-cut mine.
Olympic Dam already uses about 9 million gallons of water a day, withdrawn (free of charge) from inland Australia’s only reliable freshwater source, the Great Artesian Basin. Some of that liquid returns in the form of waste that seeps into the ground and migrates back into the water supply. An additional 53 gallons a day will be used up should mining at Olympic dam expand.
The amount of diesel required to extract and transport BHP’s uranium would cause South Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to skyrocket by 12%.
Olympic Dam currently operates under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act of 1982, which granted BHP exemptions from laws covering native sovereignty, public disclosure, environmental impact, and water preservation. The Indenture Act was amended in 2011 when BHP set its heart on expanding operations. Critics say the law is essentially a contract between BHP and South Australian government for the multinational to do what it likes.
Meanwhile, the effects of BHP’s mining are felt far beyond the outback. Uranium from Olympic Dam was used in reactors at Fukushima. Dr Jim Green, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia accuses BHP of turning a blind-eye to fraud and safety problems in Japan’s nuclear industry in the run up to the disaster. Despite widespread documentation of data falsification and safety breaches, he says BHP continued to peddle its toxic product to the quake-prone nation.
According to Friends of the Earth, the amount of uranium BHP seeking to dig up at Roxby Downs each year is enough to fuel 95 nuclear reactors, “which will produce 28.5 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste per year.” Nearly 3000 nuclear weapons could be made yearly from the nuclear waste that reactors would generate with BHP’s uranium–a real threat since, as the group notes, “BHP sells uranium to nuclear weapons states, states refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, states blocking progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, states with a history of secret nuclear weapons research, and states stockpiling ‘civil’ plutonium.”
Australian hip-hop activist Izzy Brown, who is working to shut down Olympic Dam, said, “If you look at the disaster at Fukushima and other reactor meltdowns, you look at the use of nuclear weapons, you look at the use of depleted uranium in bombs, in bullets in Kosavo, in Iraq the damage is exponential.”
Since Olympic Dam’s inception in 1988 it has been a Fukushima to South Australia’s indigenous community. As Eileen Wingfield, a Kokatha elder describes:
Many of our food sources, traditional plants and trees are gone because of this mine. We worry for our water, our main source of life. The mine causes many safety risks to our roads – transporting the uranium from the mine. It has stopped us from accessing our sacred sites and destroyed others. These can never be replaced. BHP never consulted me or my families, they select who they consult with. Many of our people have not had a voice. We want the mine stopped now, because it’s not good for anything.
An indigenous dreamtime story has it that there is a giant lizard sleeping under the rocks where BHP has sunk its teeth. Over the weekend, as mass demonstrations were held in Japan against the re-ignition of nuclear reactors, in South Australia the lizard started biting back. Hundreds of anti-nuclear activists have begun converging at the gates of Olympic Dam. They’ve established the “Lizard’s Revenge” protest camp where they are holding teach-ins, concerts (with a solar-powered sound system), film screenings (wind-powered) and demonstrations (people-powered) with the aim of shutting down the mine.
Protest organizer Nectaria Calan said police have not responded kindly to the activists’ presence at Roxby Downs. “[T]hose seeking to participate have arrived to discover road blocks preventing access to the site and a ‘protected area’ declaration, under the Protective Security Act, that suspends their freedom of movement, rights to privacy, and other civil liberties. Protesters currently have to obtain permission to leave and enter the camp site.”