For Australia especially, global warming means water shortage -drought over wide areas, more evaporation. Uranium mining is water intensive. Already outback communities in Australia are being hit by water shortage, as water is being extracted from the Great Arterial Basin faster than it is being replenished.
Water use in a typical uranium mine is approximately 200 to 300 gallons per minute. In water-short Australia, BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine has been for years taking 35 million litres of water each day from the underground aquifer, at no cost whatever. When BHP digs its new biggest hole in the world, it will pay a small fixed price for removing even greater amounts, exceeding 42 million litres.
BHP Billiton Olympic Dam mine expansion in South Australia has received a go ahead on 10 October 2011. This will create the world's largest open pit mine, over 1km deep, 4.5km long and 3km wide. Olympic Dam already consumes an inordinate amount of ground water extracted from the Great Artesian Basin every day - for free. The mine expansion will entail BHP Billiton expanding groundwater extraction and building a desalination plant at Point Lowly which will impact the only known breeding ground of the giant Australian cuttlefish, prawn fisheries and the sensitive marine environment.
BHP Billiton proposes to increase its water consumption by an additional 200 million litres per day. Water intake from the Great Artesian Basin will increase from 35 million litres per day to up to 42 million litres per day, with the remainder to come from the proposed coastal desalination plant at Point Lowly. That’s over 100,000 litres every minute – in the driest state on the driest continent on earth. The water intake from the Great Artesian Basin has already had adverse impacts on the unique Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, and are sacred to the Arabunna people, the traditional owners of the area. Under the Indenture Act, BHP Billiton pays nothing for its massive water intake for the Olympic Dam mine, despite recording a total net profit of US$23. 95 billion in 2011, nearly double its 2010 figure of US$13.01 billion.
Out of sight, out of mind
Groundwater is a major resource, but one that has been taken for granted for decades. In the past, groundwater supplies were treated as an infinite resource, and subject to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude. But that’s changing. There’s now an enormous interest in the way our groundwater resources are measured, managed and utilised. There are also concerns over issues such as over-extraction of water, pollution, wastage, allocation and licensing issues, water pricing and groundwater salinisation.
The most well-known and important groundwater source in Australia is the Great Artesian Basin, or GAB. This is a vast groundwater source that underlies 22 per cent of Australia – extending beneath the arid and semi-arid regions of Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales. It covers about 1.7 million square kilometres, and contains an estimated 8700 million megalitres (1 megaliter = 1 million liters) of water. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the largest artesian water basins in the world……
The sustainable yield of a groundwater source depends on balancing the use or discharge against recharge rates. Normally discharge of groundwater occurs through vegetation, into streams and lakes, or through evaporation into the atmosphere. Sustainable yield cannot simply be determined by a measure of the recharge rate. If water is extracted for human use at the recharge rate, discharge to other areas can be affected…..
Extraction of groundwater can also lead to salinity problems and have a negative impact on native vegetation with roots that tap into groundwater, as well as wetlands, rivers and streams. The full impact of using these aquifers as planned is not known, but is likely to reduce the rate of water flowing to support rivers and wetlands and other groundwater dependent ecosystems.
Water from the Great Artesian Basin in Central Australia is being depleted to keep residual radioactive dust from uranium mining wet in order to keep it from blowing across the continent. Seven million gallons of water is being extracted from the basin per day to keep the radioactive dust in place, according to Kerrieann Garlick, a member of Footprints for Peace from Perth, Australia.
Despite its profits more than tripling in the last three years, BHP has never paid a cent for the vast amounts of water used by the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine near Roxby Downs. Under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act BHP is not required to pay for this water usage. The Indenture Act applies specifically to the Olympic Dam mine, and provides for wide-ranging legal exemptions and overrides from environmental and Aboriginal heritage protection laws that apply elsewhere in the state, including the Environmental Protection Act and the Natural Resources Act (which incorporates water management issues).
“The Indenture Act means that the Olympic Dam mine is not subject to the same environmental regulatory framework as other industrial projects in the state,’ explained Nectaria Calan of Friends of the Earth Adelaide. “Additionally, by allowing BHP to take water from the Great Artesian Basin for free, the South Australian government is essentially providing BHP with a massive subsidy,” she continued.
The water intake from the Great Artesian Basin has already had adverse impacts on the unique Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, and are sacred to the Arabunna people, the traditional owners of the area.
As time goes by, it is growing harder for the nuclear industry to hide the toxic effects and legacy of uranium mining. But, uranium mining still disproportionately affects people who can be marginalized in some way by governments. The case against uranium mining is not only a public health and environmental issue, it is also a human rights issue.
Sources: Indymedia Australia, 12 October 2011 / www.antinuclear.net
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