July 12: Police will set up roadblocks around BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine in outback South Australia, creating further anger and warnings of confrontations with anti-uranium activists who plan to “shut down” mining operations during a five-day protest at the site.
Two roads leading to the Roxby Downs mine, in the state’s remote centre, have been blocked ahead of the first day of the protest on Saturday. The road protesters planned to use has been blocked 4km from the mine’s southern gates.
Only mine workers, emergency services workers and people individually approved by police can use the roads.
Protest organisers had hoped between 200 and 2000 activists would attend the demonstration and a music festival. One organiser, Nectaria Calan, said yesterday the police were being deliberately antagonistic.
“They’re blocking a public road,” she said. “On the one hand, they’re saying we’ve got the right to protest but on the other hand they’ve already made moves to prevent us from doing so.”
She said the activists would decide how the protest would proceed once they reached Roxby Downs, but would not rule out blockading the roads.
Hundreds of police reinforcements, including special operations officers, have reportedly been sent to the town.
The assistant police commissioner for the northern region, Neil Smith, told ABC radio yesterday the roadblocks were partly in place to stop protesters being hit by heavy machinery and other drivers could be allowed on the roads. “It will depend on what they have with them and what their intentions are,” he said. “We’ll be stopping all vehicles.”
BHP has been considering making Olympic Dam the world’s largest open-cut mine and has government approval for the $30 billion expansion, which could tap vast reserves of uranium, copper and gold.
The Weatherill government yesterday claimed the state could supply enough uranium to power one-third of the world’s nuclear power plants if the expansion went ahead.
A company spokeswoman would not confirm whether hundreds of private security contractors had been flown to Roxby Downs but said preparations had been made.
“Olympic Dam has a plan in place to allow for business continuity and has taken appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of its employees,” she said.