16th November 2016
Company Directors of BHP Billiton will face some difficult questions tomorrow at the mining giants Annual General Meeting in Brisbane. The operator of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia’s north has been receiving much attention over the past year after the tailings dam collapse at its jointly owned Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil in November 2015, causing what’s been described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.
Anti-nuclear and social justice campaigner Adam Sharah is one of several delegates attending the meeting to challenge company directors on matters including the Samarco disaster and issues surrounding the Olympic Dam mine. Mr Sharah will question company directors about BHP Billiton’s position regarding nuclear regulation in Australia, new expansion plans for Olympic Dam, and plans to increase the height of the tailings dams at the mine.
In its submission to the recent South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, BHP Billiton recommended that nuclear actions should not be regulated under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the key piece of legislation for environmental protection in Australia, on the basis that uranium is just like any other mineral. The company claims that “there is no scientific basis for uranium mining to be defined as a Matter of Environmental Significance…”
“BHP Billiton is in la la land if they still believe that uranium is just like any other metal – no other metal has such an enormous range of international treaties – uranium is fundamentally risky, and BHP Billiton should act accordingly,” said leading Environmental Engineering academic, Dr Gavin Mudd.
“What would have been the impact of the tailings dam collapse in Brazil if the tailings were radioactive?” asks Adam Sharah. “Uranium and the tailings produced by uranium mining are unique both in their health and long term environmental impacts.”
“In the wake of the tailings dam collapse in Brazil, there are concerns here in Australia about reports that BHP Billiton are seeking approval to increase the height of their tailings dams at the Olympic Dam mine,” continued Mr Sharah. “It is important that the company clarify this for the Australian public, Aboriginal custodians of the area, and its shareholders.”
Mr Sharah will also seek clarification on the progress of the company’s plans for an on-site heap leach trial at Olympic Dam as part of a cheaper expansion plan, after it shelved it’s grand expansion plans in 2012.
“It is always a concern when corporations start seeking cheaper, cost-cutting alternatives,” said Nectaria Calan, of BHP Billiton Watch. “These concerns are magnified by the fact that federal approval of the heap leach trial did not require any environmental assessment even though heap leach mining is not a method currently used on-site at the Olympic Dam mine.”
“Yet despite by-passing environmental assessment for the trial, and despite the legal privileges and exemptions BHP Billiton enjoy under the Indenture Act, which only applies to the Olympic Dam mine, the company is still lobbying through forums such as the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission to reduce regulation further. This type of regulatory race to the bottom, characteristic of third world nations competing for foreign capital, will only make disasters like Brazils more common.”
BHP Billiton’s AGM will be held on Thursday 17th November, 11 am, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
For comment contact:
At the AGM – Adam Sharah: 0402 463 820
General comment – Nectaria Calan, BHP Billiton Watch: 0432 388 665
Gavin Mudd: 0419 117 494
 BHP Billiton’s submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission can be viewed at: http://nuclearrc.sa.gov.au/submissions/?search=Submissions&query=&cat=Issues+Paper+1&swppg=2