Rio Tinto blew up Juukan Gorge rock shelters 'to access higher volumes of high-grade ore'
4 August 2020
Rio Tinto could have chosen one of three options to expand its iron ore mine that would not have damaged a 46,000-year-old highly significant Aboriginal heritage site in Juukan Gorge, but chose a fourth option that did damage the rock shelters “in order to access higher volumes of high-grade ore”.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry on the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters, Rio Tinto acknowledged that “various opportunities were missed to re-evaluate the mine plan in light of this material new information” on the significance of one of the sites.
In their 46-page submission, Rio Tinto said the company had drilled 382 blast holes and loaded them with explosives by 13 May, the day before the PKKP learned of the upcoming destruction. They said they engaged an independent expert to see if the blast holes could be safely unloaded, but that a management committee, including the iron ore chief executive, Chris Salisbury, “did not consider it feasible to remove the shot from the holes to protect Juukan 1 and Juukan 2”.
“There was insufficient time to do so safely given the limitations on the stability of the explosives and the unacceptable environmental and safety risks,” the submission said. Salisbury toured the site with representatives from the PKKP in early June and found they were “impacted but not entirely destroyed”.
It said that of the four options considered for the open-cut iron ore pit in 2013, before ministerial consent was sought, “three avoided the shelters to varying distances. The fourth option impacted the rock shelters in order to access higher volumes of high-grade ore, and was the option that was chosen by Rio Tinto.”