A key reason for BHP Billiton’s decision four years ago to indefinitely mothball a $30 billion plan to turn Olympic Dam into the world’s biggest uranium mine was the Fukushima nuclear plant explosion rather than cost concerns, it has been revealed.
Senior BHP executives told The Australian that although lingering effects from the global financial crisis in 2008 were used to publicly justify the 2012 decision by BHP’s board not to proceed with the original expansion plan, the real concern was the effect of the Fukushima disaster on demand for uranium and its price.
“You have to consider the events that occurred around that time … Fukushima changed everything and probably set the nuclear energy and uranium industry back years, if not decades,” one senior BHP executive said.
Uranium prices had risen as high as $US130 a pound in the years before Fukushima, driving a plan to create the world’s biggest open-cut mine at Olympic Dam, 570km north of Adelaide, which holds the world’s largest uranium deposit under more than 400m of dirt and rock.
But the Japanese tsunami in March 2011 sparked a partial nuclear meltdown at a power station in Fukushima province, reviving fears about the safety of nuclear power. Japan turned off its 50 nuclear reactors and other nations, such as Germany, announced plans to phase out nuclear power completely, while Switzerland, Belgium and Italy moved away from nuclear power and new reactors in Britain and the US faced stronger community resistance.
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