Hit by lower iron-ore prices, Australian firms pitch nuclear waste as cash cow
YALGOO, Australia—Hit by tumbling iron-ore prices and searching for a new strategy, one mining company deep in the Australian outback is pushing aside the classic “not in my backyard” protest with a bid to store nuclear waste.
Gindalbie Metals Ltd., an iron-ore mining company, is among scores of bidders vying to make the shortlist for a federal-government nuclear repository valued at 27 million Australian dollars (US$20 million) over the next four years—and likely hundreds of millions more once construction starts.
For Gindalbie, winning the bid could be a lifeline, as the slump in commodity prices has hit the company hard. Iron ore has lost nearly 80% of its value since early 2011. Last year, the company wrote down the value of its Karara Mining Ltd. venture with China’s Anshan Iron & Steel Group Corp. by A$640 million. Now, it has offered Badja Station—a sprawling former sheep farm on company land near Yalgoo—as a possible nuclear-waste site.
“When we started, there was optimism abounding. But the iron-ore price at its current level makes it very difficult,” Gindalbie’s company secretary, Christopher Gerrard, said. “Last year we took a look at the whole industry of iron-ore and said we are going to write this investment off.”
The Australian government must decide where to put radioactive waste that for years has been piling up at temporary stores around the country. Australia doesn’t have nuclear power plants, but it does have lightly contaminated radioactive materials ranging from surgical gloves to scientific instruments, as well as spent fuel the country sent to France, the U.S. and Britain for reprocessing because it lacked the facilities to deal with it at home. Lawmakers have wrangled for more than a decade over where to store the material.
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