Olympic Dam expansion challenged in Federal High Court

In February of 2012, Kevin Buzzacott legally challenged the Commonwealth Environment Minister Tony Burke's environmental approval of the Olympic Dam mine expansion. 'Uncle Kev' is being represented by Geoffrey Kennett SC from the Environmental Defenders' Office.

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Kevin Buzzacott
Outside Federal Court

Olympic Dam accord 'is flawed'

Giuseppe Tauriello The Advertiser April 03, 2012

Federal Government approval of BHP's Olympic Dam expansion did not consider full radioactive impact, the Federal Court has heard.

Aboriginal elder and anti-nuclear campaigner Kevin Buzzacott is challenging the Government's approval of the $30 billion project, arguing its environmental assessment was too shortsighted and too small in scope.

Representing Mr Buzzacott, Geoffrey Kennett SC said BHP was only asked to assess the impact of nuclear waste over the course of 10,000 years.

"The minister's attention doesn't appear to have been directed to the very long duration, in the hundreds of thousands of years, of the potential impact of radioactive material," he said. "The minister has considered the impact of action on the environment over what we say is an arbitrarily truncated time frame."

Mr Kennett questioned Environment Minister Tony Burke's claim the radioactive impact of the waste could be acceptably managed, saying it was based on the assumption Roxby Downs would remain its nearest settlement. It also failed to consider the impact of earthquakes and erosion which could compromise the rocks that cover the tailings, he said.

A number of the conditions within the Government's approval, numbering more than 100, were described as "vague" and "management speak".

Neil Williams SC, for the Government, said projects with such long lead times required flexibility, a comment supported by Justice Besanko.

"The number of conditions and their extensiveness ensure maximum flexibility ... subject always to the minister's control," Mr Williams said.

Mr Kennett argued the Government was also required to consider the environmental impact of the uranium once it was exported overseas.

That was was another failure of the approval process, he claimed.

Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott challenges decision to expand Olympic Dam

AAP Adelaide Now April 03, 2012

WASTE from the expanded Olympic Dam mine will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years and the risks weren't properly considered by the Federal Government, the Federal Court has heard.

Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott is challenging the government's approval of the uranium and copper project in South Australia, which is destined to become the world's largest open cut mine.

He argues the approval by Environment Minister Tony Burke last year was too uncertain because much of the environmental assessment has been left up to plans and studies that are yet to be prepared or considered.

Mr Buzzacott also says the minister failed to consider the environmental impacts associated with the export of uranium and the risks from the storage of radioactive tailings above ground.

At the start of the two-day hearing, counsel for the elder from the Arabunna people told the court that mining giant BHP Billiton intended to deal with the tailings dump by covering it with a layer of rock.

Geoffrey Kennett SC said in its closure plan the company was only asked to consider the risks the dump might pose over the next 10,000 years despite the fact that the waste would remain radioactive for much longer.

Mr Kennett said in his approval for the mine Mr Burke had determined that the radiation risks could be acceptably managed.

But he said that was "fine and understandable" while Roxby Downs remained the nearest settlement and as long as earthquakes or erosion did not compromise the covering of the waste dump.

Before the hearing began, a group of about 40 anti-nuclear protesters gathered outside the court, supporting Mr Buzzacott's action.

He said he had decided to challenge the approval because he wanted to understand how it was granted given all the uncertainties over the proposed expansion.

"I feel like a tiny voice in this issue because BHP Billiton is so powerful," Mr Buzzacott said.

"But my role is to protect the old country."

The expanded Olympic Dam mine is expected to generate up to 6000 new jobs during the 11-year construction phase and a further 4000 operational jobs.

Annual copper production is forecast to more than triple to about 750,000 tonnes and uranium oxide production will jump to 19,000 tonnes.

The project is also tipped to create 15,000 indirect jobs in flow-on industries and services.

The SA government passed indenture legislation to approve the mine last year and it only remains for the BHP Billiton board to sign off on the proposal.

Nuclear safety a myth: Japanese Prime Minister

The Japanese Prime Minister warned a nuclear security summit yesterday that the world must not be lulled into a "myth of safety", following lessons learnt from the tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.

Addressing more than 40 world leaders gathered in South Korea to tighten the global nuclear security regime, Yoshihiko Noda said a "man-caused act of sabotage will test our imaginations far more than any natural disaster". SMH

Kevin Buzzacott outside the Federal Court (Pic: Dean Martin 'Adelaide Advertiser')
Kevin Buzzacott outside the Federal Court (Pic: Dean Martin 'Adelaide Advertiser')