Olympic Dam sidesteps new tailings facility requirement

BHP Billiton has sought to increase the size of an Olympic
Dam tailings storage facility, from 30m to 40m tall.

Although plans to expand Olympic Dam have been in the
pipeline for some time, the new request is not part of plans to double

The increase in wall height for ‘Tailings Storage Facility 4’
(TSF4) was requested to meet the requirements of building a new tailings dump
by 2017.

BHP have made the request to expand the existing waste-pile
amid a company-wide cost cutting campaign to avoid further expense during a
period of falling prices, including copper.

“Construction of a new tailings storage facility also has a
high capital cost,” BHP said.

“Increasing the design height of TSF4 delays the requirement
for an additional tailings cell by approximately five years.”

BHP claimed the
“main reason” to avoid building a new tailings cell
was because of the
environmental impacts of land clearing, and the risk to local bird species
caused by surface disturbance, which would be delayed.

Increases to the size of the tailings pile will increase the
amount of radioactive and acid liquid waste held in the TSF4 dam from
48.4 million cubic metres to 64.8 million cubic metres

Tailings storage has resulted in past radioactive material
seepage, with confirmation in 1994 that 5 billion cubic metres of liquid waste
had leaked from storage into an underground aquifer.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney
said there was no question that increased pressure would add to the chances of
increased seepage.

“We see tailings management as one of the big, unspoken
problems with uranium mining. It is an unresolved environmental management
problem,” he said.

However, BHP’s submission to government claimed otherwise,
stating there would be no increase in the current seepage rates experienced.

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