The Lizards Bites Back music and arts festival and protest camp will take place at the gates of the Olympic Dam uranium mine (or close by) from the 1st – 3rd of July this year. The “protestival” will include a variety of musicians and artists from around the country, mobile artworks, workshops on nuclear issues, non-violent direct action, and the message that there is strong community opposition to uranium mining and any expansion of the nuclear fuel chain in South Australia, from BHP Billiton’s planned heap leach demonstration plant to current proposals for South Australia to host a nuclear waste dump. The event will run entirely on solar and wind power.
The entire nuclear fuel chain from mining to nuclear waste dumps poses unique health and environmental risks that span generations. With South Australia currently facing two proposals for nuclear waste dumps The Lizard Bites Back will re-focus on the source of the problem, highlighting an absurd global situation where we continue to mine a mineral that we cannot dispose of safely, whilst proposals are again being made to force nuclear waste dumps on communities that do not want them. The Olympic Dam mine itself will also eventually become a dump – in the sense that once it is closed, it will leave millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings on the surface of the land forever.
Uranium mining is the beginning of the nuclear fuel chain, and the problem of the long term storage of radioactive waste remains unresolved. Until the industry and governments stop creating nuclear waste by mining uranium, operating nuclear reactors and making nuclear weapons, why should any community bear the health and environmental risks associated with a nuclear waste dump? The government’s current approach mops up the bathroom floor whilst the tap is still running.
A responsible approach to managing nuclear waste would begin with stopping its production. An environmentally and socially just approach would stop targeting Aboriginal lands as sacrifice zones.
The Lizard Bites Back follows on from the Lizards Revenge in July 2012, which mobilised 500 people against the proposed expansion of the mine. Since then, that proposal has been shelved and the company has been investigating heap leach mining as part of a cheaper expansion plan. BHP is projected to begin a heap leach trial on the current mining lease by late this year. Even though this technique is not currently used on-site, Federal approval of the trial did not require environmental assessment.
Please see below for a summary of the issues.
The campsite location is soon to be announced on our website at lizardbitesback.net
Media are welcome at the event from the 1st July onwards. Please visit the media caravan or welcome tent to declare your presence as a courtesy (and for a quick briefing as to media etiquette at the camp).
Nectaria Calan : 0432 388 665
Izzy Brown: 0457 695 738
We expect to have internet and phone reception at the camp site.
The Olympic Dam mine
The Olympic Dam mine produces 4000 tonnes of yellow cake and 10 million tonnes of radioactive tailings per year. Key health and environmental impacts include:
* Over 100 million tonnes of accumulated tailings which will remain a health and environmental hazard for several hundred thousand years.
* The mines 400 hectares of tailings dams are unlined, and designed to leak radioactive waste into the underlying rock and aquifer
* The mine uses approximately 37 million litres of water per day from the Great Artesian Basin. Under the Indenture Act it pays nothing for this water. The water intake is having adverse impacts on the Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are sacred to the Arabunna people.
* The company identify the inhalation of radon daughters and dust containing radionuclides as the primary radiation exposure pathways for the public. They are the only ones monitoring radon levels and dust contamination.
* These radioactive contaminants can also enter the food chain. This is not being monitored by BHP or any regulatory body.
* The mine has a history of leaks and spills – since 2003 the company has reported 33 incidents.1
* The mine operates under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, which allows wide-ranging exemptions from key South Australian laws, such as the Environmental Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act, the Natural Resources Management Act, and the Aboriginal Heritage Act. These legal privileges allow the mine to operate outside the state regulatory framework, setting a dangerous legal precedent for the nuclear industry in South Australia. There is no guarantee that a similar Indenture would not be applied to a nuclear waste dump in the state, exempting it from environmental and other laws.
The Olympic Dam expansion
Since the expansion was shelved in 2012, BHP Billiton has announced its intention to investigate a less capital intensive expansion plan using heap leach mining. Heap leaching involves piling mined ore into a heap with a liner underneath and pouring an acidic chemical solution over it, which trickles through the pile leaching out the uranium and copper. The uranium and copper enriched solution is captured at the bottom of the pile in ponds. This method is typically applied to copper or gold and is usually reserved for low concentrations of metal or low grade ore, where it is not economic to process by regular methods.
BHP Billiton has Federal and State approval for a heap leach demonstration trial. Federal approval did not require any new environmental assessment process, despite a new mining technique not currently used on-site.
The company originally projected that construction of a heap leach demonstration plant would begin in the second half of 2015, with a 36 month on-site trial period to begin late 2016. In November 2014 a Department of State Development projection pushed the construction start to the fourth quarter of 2015. At this stage it is unclear whether construction of the pilot facility has begun, and whether the company is on-track to begin the trial later this year. The company has been conducting laboratory trials at Wingfield, South Australia.
BHP has until October 2016 to proceed with an expansion under the approvals given for the expansion it shelved in 2012. Even though heap leach mining was not considered under its original Environmental
Impact Statement, current environmental approvals for the shelved expansion plan will carry through to any new expansion plan using heap leach mining.
The Federal waste dump
The Federal government recently shortlisted only Wallerberdina Station in the Flinders Ranges for further consideration for a national nuclear waste dump. As with past attempts to impose waste dumps on Aboriginal communities, once again Adnyamathanha traditional owners were not consulted, not even the community living at Yappala Station next door. The proposed site is adjacent to the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area which has thousands of Aboriginal artefacts, and is prone to heavy flooding and regular earthquakes. The site is strongly opposed by the Adnyamathanha community. A 70km Aboriginal storyline runs right through the nominated site. The dump would not just house low level medical waste such as hospital gloves, but intermediate level waste from the Lucas Heights reactor.
The international waste dump and the Royal Commission
The final report of the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle was publically released on the 9th May 2016. The Commissions principal recommendation is that South Australia develop an international high level nuclear waste dump, because it could be profitable for the state, according to a hypothetical business model done by Jacobs Group, a consultancy firm that has also been employed by BHP Billiton as a consultant for their new expansion plan.
The Royal Commission proposes that South Australia import 138 000 tonnes of high level nuclear waste which requires isolation for several hundred thousand years. There is currently no operating waste dump for high level waste anywhere in the world. The proposal requires South Australia to first stockpile thousands of tonnes of high level waste, to make the money to begin construction of a long term facility. For how many years will high level waste be stored in a temporary facility whilst first the money is made to begin construction, and second, the facility completes construction? If South Australia cannot do what no other country has yet managed to do, it will be left with a high level waste problem of its own.
Various factors have undermined the credibility of the Royal Commission, including:
* the direct connections of some members to the nuclear industry, notably Timothy Stone (Expert Advisory Committee) and Julian Kelly (Technical Research Team Leader).2
* the translation of materials into only one Aboriginal language
* misrepresentation of South Australia’s regulatory framework for uranium mining
* its failure to visit the one operating deep geological nuclear waste repository in New Mexico – the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)
WIPP is the only operating deep underground repository for long-lived intermediate level waste. Before it opened it was predicted that it may have one radiation release in 200,0000 years. In February 2014, after 15 years in operation, a waste barrel exploded leading to an aboveground release of airborne radiation. Twenty-two workers tested positive to low-level radiation exposure. In its final report the Royal Commission states that there is no direct technical relevance because WIPP stores a different type of waste – the “different type” is intermediate level waste, rather than the high level waste proposed for South Australia.