On 7 October, BHP Billiton, owners of the world’s largest uranium mine Olympic Dam announced that the haulage system in one of the mine shafts had been damaged.

The fully-automated haulage system in the Clark Shaft, which supplies ore from underground to the surface processing facilities, was damaged in a mechanical failure at approximately 10.30pm on Tuesday 6 October, according to BHP Billiton’s statement. No-body was injured during the incident.

BHP Billiton launched a full investigation to determine the cause of the failure and extent of the damage. In the meantime underground mining is continuing with ore being hoisted to the surface via the secondary Whenan Shaft.

The company is working with inspectors from SafeWork SA and has also assembled its own investigation team which is expected to begin arriving at Olympic Dam, in South Australia over the weekend.

Olympic Dam’s mine planning team is currently examining what impact the temporary closure of the Clark Shaft will have on mine production, planning schedules and budget.

This work is expected to be completed in the course of the next two weeks and will run in parallel with both the government and company investigations into the incident.

Olympic Dam is currently licensed to produce 17 million pounds U3O8 a year and in 2008 produced around 9.1 million pounds. However, BHP Billiton has plans to more than double the mine’s output. In May it submitted a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposed expansion plans, which envisage annual production of 42 million pounds after 2021. Government decisions on the draft EIS are expected by mid-2010.

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