On August 28, federal environment minister Peter Garrett announced the expansion of the Beverley uranium mine, situated in South Australia's far north-east.
Heathgate Resources, a subsidiary of US company General Atomics, will now expand the area of land mined, while the already approved production rate of 1500 tonnes of uranium oxide a year will remain the same. In effect, this allows for a greater area of land — and groundwater — to be threatened by acid leach for the same production and profit rate.
Garrett, who last year stated he wouldn't support any proposals to expand uranium mining, said "I am satisfied that the tough conditions attached to this approval will ensure the highest standards of environmental management by the mine operator", according to the August 29 Australian.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam told the media on August 28: "It is incredibly disappointing to see Peter Garrett of all people allowing such a thing to take place, given the current state of water in Australia and South Australia in particular."
The Beverley expansion is the first in a number of applications currently in process at state and federal levels, while the Honeymoon uranium mine in South Australia's north-east is expected to start production by the end of the year.
Unlike mining at Roxby Downs where the ore is mined, crushed and dissolved in large tanks, Beverley's unique system includes kilometres of pipes both above and below ground. The ore is dissolved by circulating corrosive liquid underground and is then pumped across open ground to the uranium processing plant.
This method is more controversial than regular uranium processing and the Conservation Council of South Australia says it "has the potential for the accidental release of tens of thousands of litres of radioactive solution". This has already occurred: January, 2002 a burst pipe at Beverley leaked 62,000 litres of radioactive liquid in four minutes.
According to an August 28 AdelaideNow article, Garrett said "In making my assessment I have been particularly concerned that the mine does not adversely affect groundwater values".
But Ludlam disagrees. "What [Heathgate Resources] have put to the minister is very sketchy and he has given them a blank cheque in return", he said.