BHP Billiton has announced that its plans for a massive expansion of operations at Olympic Dam in South Australia have moved to the feasibility study phase.
|Existing Olympic Dam operations (Image: BHP Billiton)
The decision to move to the next stage of the process to expand operations at the multi-mineral ore body follows the release of a draft environmental statement by the company in May 2009. It comes ahead of the release of the supplementary environmental impact statement (SEIS) and the start of the formal assessment of the project by the Commonwealth, South Australian and Northern Territory governments.
According to BHP Billiton uranium president Dean Dalla Valle, more than 4000 public submissions on a range of issues have been received and assessed since the draft environmental statement was submitted. The company spent more than a year preparing answers to all the issues raised, and submitted this information along with additional studies in the SEIS which was handed to the Australian Commonwealth for an adequacy test in December 2010. "We are now awaiting permission from the Commonwealth to publish the SEIS, which will allow formal assessment of the project by the respective governments," he said.
According to BHP Billiton, Olympic Dam is the world's fourth largest remaining copper and gold deposit and the largest known uranium deposit. It also contains significant quantities of silver. The project went into production in 1988. At present, ore is mined and primary crushing takes place underground, after which copper concentrate is recovered through series of flotation stages and regrinding. Uranium is recovered from the copper concentrate through a leaching circuit, and the copper is smelted and further refined with gold and silver recovered as by-products.
The expansion plans would see ore recovered from an open pit which would operate alongside the existing underground mine. Some of the uranium-bearing copper concentrate would be transported overseas for smelting under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The expansion would be implemented 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. Existing operations have a nameplate capacity of 4500 tU3O8 (3800 tU) per year.
The relevant governments are expected to reach a final decision on the project in the second half of 2011, according to BHP Billiton.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News