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Dyno and Kværner's controversial customer: Aborigin conflict and radioactive discharge

Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific has been awarded contracts for supplying explosives to the big mining complex Olympic Dam in Australia. Its activities occupies areas traditionally belonging to the aboriginals, and threatens to dry out huge groundwater resources. Local authorities have criticized the company because of considerable leakages from their radioactive waste deposit. The mines are now being substantially expanded, and Kværner is in this connection hired to do work on the copper smelter and refinery. Neither Dyno nor Kværner are familiar with the criticism that has befallen their customer.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific has been awarded contracts for supplying explosives to the big mining complex Olympic Dam in Australia. Its activities occupies areas traditionally belonging to the aboriginals, and threatens to dry out huge groundwater resources. Local authorities have criticized the company because of considerable leakages from their radioactive waste deposit. The mines are now being substantially expanded, and Kværner is in this connection hired to do work on the copper smelter and refinery. Neither Dyno nor Kværner are familiar with the criticism that has befallen their customer.

By Morten Rønning

Dyno's fully owned subsidiary Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific won the contract with the Australian Western Mining corporation (WMC) in August last year. It is a five year contract, worth around 30 million Australian dollars, equalling some 20 million USD. The Olympic Dam mines in the state of South Australia wins copper, uranium, gold and silver. The uranium deposits are the largest in the world.

WMC is now greatly expanding the processing capacity, from three to five tons of ore per year. The cost of this expansion is about NOK 7,5 billion. According to plans, extraction of uranium is to increase to 7,730 tons per year, which means that the company will be responsible for 20% of the world's total uranium extraction. Included in the expansion is a mine shaft, a subterranean line for transportation of ore and expansion of the smelter capacity. Kværner Metals are hired to do engineering and purchasing of equipment to the copper smelter and refinery. Work started on this during autumn 1996.

Strong Criticism
The mining company is strongly criticized by indigenous (aboriginal) groups and environmental organizations. Both today's standards of the company's activities, and the plans for expansion are targets of this criticism. Central to the process which ended in the Australian environmental authorities' approval of the expansion in 1997, was the company's environmental impact assessment (EIA). The environmental movement has labelled the document as both containing errors, and being inadequate.

Neither head of information of Dyno Industries' explosives department, Brad Larson, nor Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific, Australia, are familiar with the criticism raised against the mines, and refer only to the mining company's own statements. Brad Larson explains that their investigations indicate that the WMC has tried to act responsibly in this matter.

In the Dynos 1997 annual report, their customers in the mining industry are thus described:
- Our customers are, through infrastructure projects contributing to increased standards of living, and helping the rational use of natural resources.

Aboriginal conflict
WMC's activities in the area are in conflict with the interests of the aboriginals residing in the area. Both access to water and historical/cultural traditions connected to the water sources are threatened by the enormous amount of water used by the company. Olympic Dam is Australia's largest user of water from groundwater reservoirs. The Arabanna people have claimed rights to a large area of land in the north-western part of the state, at the National Native Title Tribunal. The land claim does not include the mining area as such, but the areas in which the company collect water from the groundwater reservoir. On their side, the state parliament has promised the WMC that all necessary measures will be taken to ensure the company's activities in connection with the land claim by the Arabanna people.

At the same time, the company has signed a deal with some members of another tribe, the Dieris, regarding the use of the areas. The agreement, which covers one water boring area and pipeline corridor, is made with the Diera Mitha Council (DMC) which is not collectively representing the Dieri people, but rather an autonomous grouping consisting of representatives from, among others, the Dieris. The Council has claimed rights to the disputed area of around 120.000 square kilometres. The agreement between the mining company and the DMC, does not take into account the fact that the Arabannas are, according to the environmental organization Friends of the Earth (FoE), regarded as the traditional inhabitants of the area. Friends of the Earth claim that the mining company has financed DMC activities, equipped them with vehicles and arranged provocative ceremonies on Arabanna people's land. Once, the WMC arranged for people from the neighbouring state to be flown in to partake in ceremonies, thereby tying the DMC closer to the area. To the Arabanna people, these company activities are nothing short of sacrilege.

During a ceremony at Maree in January 1995, fighting broke out between different groups. One 19 year old boy was killed in the rows, 12 were arrested, and four DMC members were sentenced to prison for assault. WMC is not directly linked to the violent incidents, but to the general conflict between the aboriginal groups. FoE is of the opinion that WMC has worked up the conflict between the aboriginal groups. On several occasions, the DMC has gone against projects that would have benefited the Arabanna people, and the inhabitants of Maree. For fear of new violent encounters, members of the Arabanna now keep away from parts of their traditional territories.

In December, 1997, the state authorities made the mining company responsible for preserving cultural monuments related to aboriginals in the area. In effect, this means that the company itself may decide what to preserve and what not to. Additionally, this selection of what to preserve, may be done by the WMC without consulting the aboriginals themselves. Australian NGOs are outraged by this decision, and FoE labels the arrangement as "Dracula in charge of blood banks".

According to the WMC, to which Dyno is referring in this connection, the company is working on these issues through the national Native Title Tribunal, and have a special employee responsible for contact with the aboriginals.

Water resources
Water for production in the Olympic Dam mine, is taken from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) groundwater reservoir. GAB covers an area of 17 million square kilometres, around 22% of the Australian continent. Presently, the mine takes out 15 million litres of water (ML) per day from boreing field A. An increase to 34 ML will take place when boreing field B is opened. Later, yet another bore hole, C, is possible, then with a total water outtake of 42 ML per day. The water outtake is situated some distance away from the mine, and has to be transported through pipelines across aboriginal territory.

According to an evaluation of the environmental impact assessment, done by Dr. Guido Giordano and Gavin Mudd for the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI), this will cause the total state outtake of water to exceed the daily inflow of 452 ML.

Even today's level of water outtake from the subterranean basin, has caused several of the 600 water springs to dry up. In the otherwise arid area, these springs are like oasises in a desert, and absolutely necessary for animal and plant life in the area. To the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, the springs are indispensable too, and are considered as sacred sites by the Arabanna and other peoples. In their traditional rituals, these play an important part. According to FoE, the water springs are too valuable not to be protected. Also, the wetland areas surrounding such springs are listed as areas of national interest, and are being considered for protection by the Commonwealth's laws on endangered species. Australian environmental organizations are working to have parts of the area on the UNESCO

World Heritage List
According to the Roxby Action Collective (RAC), consisting of several Australian environmental organization, the actual, total outtake of water by the Olympic Dam mine will be between 58 and 75 ML per day. The RAC maintains that the environmental impact assessment on the expansion does not adequately take into consideration that this level of water use will lead to the drying up of a number of the water springs in the area. The RAC recommends that WMC shut down bore hole A, and that a thorough impact assessment be made for bore hole C before any decision is made on whether to open this hole. However, the RAC maintains that the only really sustainable alternative when it comes to the area's water resources, is to close the mine down. Also the evaluation done for the Mineral Policy Institute advocates the immediate closing of bore hole A.

-The Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine owned by WMC is having a significant impact on regional water resources of the arid interior of South Australia. The impact of their water supply borefields located near Lake Eyre has also been dramatic, mound spring sites are drying up and most are seeing reduced flows, explains Gavin Mudd of FoE/RAC to NorWatch.

Dyno Industries refer to the WMC, who in turn say that reduction of the water level of the ecologically most important springs, will be less than 2%.

Waste deposit
If the activities at Olympic Dam are expanded, its radioactive waste deposit will be the largest in the world. According to Friends of the Earth, Sydney, the environmental impact assessment completely overlooks the problems related to such a deposit. There are already today large leakages from the deposit, which, among others, contain radium and thorium. In the EIA, no standards for preventing leakages to the ground are mentioned. In the USA and several other countries, a leak-proof membrane on the bottom of radioactive waste deposits is mandatory.

FoE points to the fact that the deposit would have to be constructed with the fact that its mortally dangerous contents will stay there for 200.000-300.000 years in mind. Considering this, it appears highly inadequate when the EIA applies quality standards for the deposit for only 1.000 years. Already when the mine was established in 1982, FoE pointed to the possible problems of leakages to the ground, and say that the leakages from the deposit since then, prove that this problem should be taken seriously when an expansion is planned.

In 1994, the company reported that a total of 3 million cubic metres of waste had escaped from the deposit. Today, this figure is way higher.

- To date WMC have still not proven where up to 5 billion litres of toxic tailings effluent has escaped from the tailings dam, says Gavin Mudd in FoE to NorWatch.

The deposit is designed to receive altogether 330 million tons of waste, with 12,5 million tons per year. This amounts to 60% of all such waste produced in the world per year.

In 1996, ERDC, Environmental, Resources and Development Committee of the South Australian parliament, published a report on the conditions by the Olympic Dam. The committee found that neither the storage nor control of the waste was adequate, in spite of the fact that the company was aware of the blameworthy conditions. Furthermore, the report states that only when the discharge became too large to ignore or to be explained away, and only in response to hard prompting from regulatory agencies, did the company implement ad-hoc measures against the leakages. The committee commented the lack of a leak-proof membrane on the bottom of the deposit, as well as measures to prevent flooding of the deposit. Such measures were parts of the conditions laid down in the environmental impact assessment of 1982.

Again, Dyno refers to the WMC, which evades discussing uncertainties in connection with the expansion of the deposit. However, they state that the storage facilities have been dramatically improved, as a result of previous leakages. Also, the WMC says that no negative effects for the environment, employees or others have been proved as a result of these leakages.

Last year, Australian environmental organizations joined forces to establish the Roxstop '97 campaign, which was in charge of a camp by the mining complex from September 22nd to October 2nd. The name refers to Roxby Down, a town that has grown up by the mine. More than 250 people partook in discussions, protests and cultural activities. The aboriginals contributed with their history tied to the area. On September 25th, environmentalists blocked a transport load of equipment to the company's pipeline. One person was arrested, but was soon released, with no charges raised.

The Australian environmental movement is concerned about the increase in uranium extraction. Many new mines are planned, and at the same time older ones are expanding. Australia has no production of nuclear energy or arms, so the entire outtake of uranium is exported. NorWatch has not been successful in finding out who is the buyers of uranium from the Olympic Dam mine.

Dyno Asia Nobel Pacific
Dyno Asia Nobel Pacific is a fully owned subsidiary of Dyno Industries ASA, with its headquarters in Sydney. In August 1997, the company won a five year contract with the Western Mining Corporation, for deliveries of explosives to the company's activities at the Olympic Dam mine. The contract is worth NOK 150 million, approx. 20 million USD.

Kvaerner Metals
Kvaerner Metals is a fully owned subsidiary of Kværner ASA. The company's Melbourne branch is responsible for the contract with Western Mining Corporation, in co-operation with Kvaerner Metals. Their work consist in engineering and providing equipment for the copper smelter and refinery.

WMC (Olympic Dam Corporation) Pty Ltd.
WMC (Olympic Dam Corporation) Pty Ltd. is a fully owned subsidiary of the Australian Western Mining Company. The company is in the process of expanding their mining activities in the state of South Australia, which was inaugurated in 1988. According to the plans, the mines will produce 350.000 tons of copper, 7.730 tons of uranium, 3.630 kilos of gold and 49.600 kilos of silver per year. The company possesses the richest uranium deposits in the world.

The WMC, which is among the largest mineral companies in the world, is the second largest gold producer in Australia, and among the ten largest companies in the country.

Three gorges dam in China
A study by International Rivers Network and Human Rights in China, published in March this year, has little good news about conditions related to the giant development of the Yangtze river. The study is written by a Chinese sociologist, Wu Ming, and covers 4 out of 22 'counties' that will be partly inundated by the dam.

The study discloses bad implementation and problems of corruption and forgery of material related to forced resettlement. Furthermore, the report points to inadequate plans for forced resettlement, inadequate compensation, too little arable land and too few jobs available, as well as a problem of general discrimination against the local population in economic and material compensation matters.

The result is, according to Wu Ming, that during five years of forced resettlement, a mere 50.000 people have been relocated. Shortage of time is bound to lead to hasty and probably violent forced resettlement into areas with lower standards than promised, which in turn may lead to extensive poverty in such areas. Cited in the study is a spokesperson for Chinese authorities, saying that Chinese authorities: "will have to depend on either military forces or man-made inundation to force people out of their homes.

No more than 60% of the forcibly resettled farmers, and 40% of all those resettled will have land as compensation for land lost; a principle endorsed by, among others, the World Bank. As a side note, it could be mentioned that the Bank has refused to support the project. In the May issue of the Lancet Magazine of the British Medical Association, the probability of increased spreading of HIV in the area following the influx of the work-force is commented. Also, the magazine fears growth in malaria, parasitic diseases and epidemics in areas surrounding the reservoir. According to Lancet, Chinese authorities have no programme to take care of these problems, and recommend that local experts immediately be engaged to monitor the situation.

Both Advisory Group of Norway and Kværner are involved in supplying services and equipment to the Three Gorges project. They have been granted export guarantees from the Norwegian Guarantee-Institute for Export Credits, (GIEK) for this. Export guarantee institutions of several other countries, among them the American Ex-Im Bank, have refused to give such guarantees in connection with the Three Gorges project.

Norwatch Newsletter 10/98