This BHP Billton illustration shows how the Olympic Dam mining operation would look when expanded as the company plans.

Expanded Mining Closer for World's Largest Uranium Deposit

BHP Billiton on May 13 published its final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement for a huge expansion of its Olympic Dam operation in South Australia.

An expansion that would add an airport, a 60-mile rail line, a new village for workers, and a desalination plant to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mining operation in northern South Australia appears to be closer to approval, now that the mining giant has published its final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The SEIS is hundreds of pages long, with chapters discussing the expected impacts on the dry region where copper, uranium, gold, and silver are currently mined. Videos, information sheets, and supporting materials are available here.

A 28-page Health and Safety chapter of the document explains BHP Billiton's processes for monitoring noise and radiation exposures, site access control, fire safety, and other risks. This chapter says BHP Billiton uses the classified incident frequency rate (CIFR), which is the number of workplace injuries that result in a worker's not returning to normal duties on the day he/she was hurt per million man-hours worked. The average CIFR for Olympic Dam was 5.6 for 2007, higher than the 3.8 rate averaged by all of BHP Billiton that year, it states. The lost-time incident frequency rate for Olympic Dam was 3.6 in 2002-2004, before BHP Billiton acquired it in 2005, and was less than half the 7.0 rate for all Australian mining during that period and better than mining rates in North America, Canada, South Africa at the same time.

The company says Olympic Dam is the world's largest uranium deposit and the fourth-largest remaining copper deposit. It submitted the SEIS for review by the Australian, South Australian, and Northern Territory Governments in December 2010; these governments conducted adequacy checks on the SEIS before granting BHP Billiton permission to publicly release it.

"Government permission to release the SEIS is a significant step towards establishing South Australia's Olympic Dam as one of the world's premier mining operations. The proposed expansion of Olympic Dam still remains subject to final government approvals as well as approval by the BHP Billiton Board," according to the mining company. BHP Billiton Uranium Customer Sector Group President Dean Dalla Valle said the project could inject billions of dollars into the South Australian economy. "The Olympic Dam expansion will deliver enormous benefits to the South Australian economy, including generating up to 6,000 new jobs during construction, a further 4,000 full-time positions at the expanded open pit mine, and an estimated 15,000 new indirect jobs. Furthermore, the expansion has the potential to boost State revenue by billions of dollars over the life of the project," he said.

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