Lizard's Revenge to confront world’s biggest uranium mine

Lizard's Revenge is an anti-nuclear protest camp planned for mid-July outside BHP’s giant Olympic Dam mine — the world’s biggest uranium mine. The protest camp, near Roxby Downs in South Australia, will feature a music and arts festival alongside non-violent protests against the mine’s planned expansion.

The South Australian government will deploy more than 200 police, including mounted police and an elite “Special Tasks” squad, to “manage the situation”. But in a July 10 ABC Environment article, Adelaide Law Professor Peter D Burdon said the past experience of police assaults on anti-nuclear protests meant “the anti-nuclear movement has good reason to be suspicious of these seemingly benign statements.”

Lizard's Revenge released the statement below on July 10.

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The Lizard's Revenge music and arts festival and protest camp will take place at the gates of the Olympic Dam mine (or close by) from the July 14 to 18. The festival will include a variety of musicians, bands and artists from around the country, a solar-powered sound system, wind-powered cinema, mobile artworks and the message that there is strong community opposition to uranium mining and to South Australia hosting the largest uranium mine in the world.

We anticipate a vibrant protest camp that combines educational workshops, entertainment and non-violent direct action. We will converge on the site of the current mine and approved expansion as the South Australian and Australian governments have failed to put the environment and people’s health before short-term economic concerns.

The impacts of this project will remain long after BHP Billiton packs up, repatriates its profits and moves on to the next project.

The expansion

• BHP Billiton plans to supplement the existing underground copper and uranium mine near Roxby Downs with a massive open-cut mine. The open pit will be four kilometres long, 3.5 kilometres wide and one kilometre deep. This is about the size of Adelaide’s CBD.

• It will take five years of digging to reach the top of the ore body.

• The ore body is the world’s largest known uranium deposit.

• Export of uranium is expected to increase from an average of 4000 tonnes a year to 19,000 tonnes a year. [Olympic Dam’s] production of copper, gold and silver is also expected to increase.

• The mine will require nearly 250 million litres of water per day. Forty two million litres will be extracted from the Great Artesian Basin, with the remainder to come from a desalination plant proposed for the Upper Spencer Gulf.

• The tailings dams will cover 44 square kilometres, which BHP plans to cap with rock in order to isolate [the dams] from the environment for the billions of years they will remain radioactive.

• The Mashers fault line runs right through the Olympic Dam ore body.

Key environmental impacts

• The tailings dams are designed to leak into the underlying rock and aquifer. For the first decade of the mine’s life, BHP estimate a maximum seepage rate of up to 8 million litres of tailings per day, levelling out at 3 million litres per day for the remainder of the mine’s life. BHP acknowledges in its environmental impact statement that there will be elevated levels of uranium in the groundwater.

• BHP predicts that the impact of digging the largest hole in the world will have such a massive impact on the groundwater system that this groundwater will be diverted to the open pit void. If they are mistaken, the contaminated groundwater will eventually discharge into Lake Torrens.

• Extraction of water from the Great Artesian Basin will increase from about 35 million litres a day to 42 million litres a day. There is already some indication that several of the springs are drying up.

Anecdotal evidence from the Arabunna is corroborated by BHP’s Great Artesian Basin Wellfield Reports, which show reduced flow rates for several springs, particularly those monitored from the mid-1980’s when the mine was established.

Last year, the South Australian and federal governments committed $2 million for the third stage of the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI), to preserve an additional 3.8 million litres a day. At the same time, the expansion will see a 7 million litre a day increase in water extraction from the basin.

• The brine output from the proposed desalination plant will potentially threaten the marine environment and the breeding ground of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish.

• Diesel use will increase from 26 million litres a year to 372 million litres a year for the five-year construction period, peaking at a total of 516 million litres a year at full production.

Uranium mining is the beginning of the nuclear cycle — the world has recently witnessed the potential consequences of nuclear energy. The issue of nuclear weapons is ever present and connected to mining this material to begin with, and the problem of the long term storage of radioactive waste remains unresolved.

The narrative

The Lizard’s Revenge is named from an Indigenous dreamtime story of a sleeping lizard, who is said to be in the ground at the site of the Olympic Dam uranium mine. This legendary lizard has yellow poison in its belly. It should not be woken.

This story carries an ancient warning about the dangers of uranium. Stories from other Aboriginal nations from around the country carry similar warnings.

Aims of the event:

• Close down the mine.

• Run the festival on renewable energy (solar and wind power), showcasing alternatives to nuclear power.

• Bring people out to the desert so as to contextualise the issues. For many the mine is “over there,” too distant to really be a concern.

• Create a space that combines education, community dialogue, music, arts and resistance

Why?

• Raise awareness about the impacts of the project.

• Highlight community opposition to the project.

• The political process does not provide adequate avenues for community input and consultation: 4000 submissions to the Environmental Impact Statement still saw no substantial changes to the guts of the proposal.

• Bipartisan support in South Australia for the project has effectively closed political avenues for change. As the press would be aware, Uncle Kevin Buzzacott is also challenging the approval of the project through legal channels. More information on this is available on request.

The Lizards Revenge was first announced on the October 19 last year, coinciding with the state and federal approvals of the Olympic Dam expansion.

Since then, Rio + 20 in June this year has highlighted the failure of the concept of sustainable development and the failure of individual governments and the international community to genuinely address the ongoing environmental destruction that has become a feature of our age.

While governments and corporations pay lip service to sustainable development and environmental concerns, business as usual continues and economic growth is pursued as a goal in itself, with no reference either to people’s needs or environmental and social impacts. The main beneficiary of this growth model is big business.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), BHP has left a legacy of environmental devastation at the Ok Tedi mine, which has received international attention due to its practice of dumping the mine tailings and other waste directly into the Ok Tedi River.

The company has since cut and run, after securing its indemnity from future liabilities and legal claims, essentially absolving itself of any responsibility for the ongoing impacts on the local community and environment.

In the mid-90’s, in response to a lawsuit by 30 000 indigenous locals, BHP helped the PNG government draft legislation that criminalised participation in the lawsuit, leading to international condemnation, an out-of-court settlement and further lawsuits alleging that the terms of the agreement were not met. In 2010, BHP was refused re-entry into PNG.

BHP has shown similar contempt for taking responsibility for the impacts of its actions in Australia. The recently amended Indenture Act that will apply to the new mine continues to exempt BHP from the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988, which applies elsewhere in the state. Instead the company recognises the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1979, which was never made an operating law in South Australia.

It is preferred by the company due to its weaker consultation provisions in relation to Aboriginal heritage, and the company is further granted exemptions from parts of this Act. The effect of these exemptions is that BHP has absolute discretion as to what Aboriginal sites are recognised and protected. BHP has essentially chosen which parts of which legislation should apply to them.

It is clearly a conflict of interest to have a corporation with a commercial interest in a piece of land also making decisions as to whether this same piece of land has competing non-commercial values.

At this stage the company does not have a comprehensive Mine Closure Plan. This has instead been added as a condition to the federal government’s approval of the project. It has recently been argued in the Federal Court that a plan dealing with the closure of the mine should not have been added to the approval as a condition but that such a plan is a critical part of the project design, and hence should have been submitted prior to approval and considered as part of the approval process.

Uncle Kevin Buzzacott

Uncle Kevin Buzzacott is an Arabunna elder. Arabunna land lies North of the mine site. The borefields that extract water for the mine from the Great Artesian Basin are located on Arabunna land.

The recent recognition of the Arabunna peoples long standing Native Title claim does not give the Arabunna people any rights to contest the location of the borefields. The Great Artesian Basin feeds the mound springs scattered throughout the Lake Eyre region. The springs are integral to the desert ecosystem and sacred to the Arabunna people. They have already been impacted by the water usage of the current mine.

The campsite location is soon to be announced on our website at http://lizardsrevenge.net/

There is a no media policy for the basecamp at Alberrie Creek from the 7th to13th July. Media are welcome at the event from the 14th July onwards. Please visit the media tent to declare your presence as a courtesy (and for a quick briefing as to media etiquette at the camp).


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