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BHP Billiton Plans to Build Pilot Processing Plant at its Olympic Dam

Mining company BHP Billiton is planning to build a pilot processing plant at its Olympic Dam mine in South Australias Far North.The company, which has a...

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|Jul 29|magazine5 min read

Mining company BHP Billiton is planning to build a pilot processing plant at its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia’s Far North.

The company, which has already applied to the Federal and State Governments for approval on the expansion, is set to run a three-year trial for a potentially cheaper way of processing copper and uranium.

BHP plans to utilize heap leach technology to extract copper and uranium from ore mined underground. The company believes using the technology at the beginning of ore processing rather than in a late stage (as it does now) could cut costs significantly at Olympic Dam.

“The heap leach trial is intended as a demonstration and proof of concept,” BHP said in a statement. The company added a successful trial “will not necessarily lead to a full scale project”.

According to SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, BHP is a long way away before a full investment can be made to upgrade mine production.

"It's something that was envisaged in the initial indenture but look, we're not going to overplay this. This is just another step forward.”

If the project is approved, the pilot plant construction would commence late next-year with the processing trial running for two-and-a-half years.

“Olympic Dam is a world class ore body. One day it will be expanded — the question is when, not if,” says SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel.

“It’s good to see BHP Billiton moving ahead one step at a time, hopefully towards an expansion.”

A decision from the Federal Government is set for August 22 if federal assessment is needed.

“If it does need approval, it will be subjected to a thorough environmental assessment that will include another opportunity for public comment,” a spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said.