Olympic Dam expansion gets environmental approvals

Olympic Dam (in Australia) is the world’s fourth largest remaining copper and gold deposit and the largest known uranium deposit.

The expansion plan would see ore recovered from an open pit which would operate alongside the existing underground mine. It would be implemented progressively over a period of about 11 years and the project would ultimately have a uranium output of some 19,000 tU3O8 (16,100 tU) per year, including that recovered from overseas refining. Some of the uranium-bearing copper concentrate would be transported overseas for smelting under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Uranium is recovered from the copper concentrate through a leaching circuit. Existing operations have a nameplate capacity of 4500 tU3O8 (3800 tU) per year.

In 2010, there was 53,663 tons of mined uranium production for the whole world. The 16,100 tons would be almost 30% of the 2010 world mined uranium production.

An open pit is proposed at Olympic Dam, adjacent to the existing underground mine (Image: BHP Billiton)

However, strict conditions were applied to the approvals. BHP Billiton will be required to commit to more than 150 conditions and obtain numerous licences and approvals. The conditions include establishing an offset area of about 140,000 hectares, biodiversity conservation and environment protection management programs and a comprehensive compliance strategy.

Dean Dalla Valle, president of BHP Billiton uranium said –

* The first phase of the Olympic Dam project is currently in feasibility and its progression into execution remains dependant on these approvals, the completion of all required studies and on BHP Billiton board approval.

* We will take these conditions into account and incorporate them into our final assessment and recommendation to the board next year.

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