Dust storms are a way of life for outback South Australians.
They come rolling across the paddocks and open country like giant red tsunamis, as though God was kneading a huge lump of red dough and the outer edge was coming right at you.
When they hit, it’s choking time. It’s in your eyes, your hair, all over your teeth.
You can’t drive, or you do so at your peril.
If you’re inside, you just sit it out, all the time watching fine particles settling on each piece of furniture despite the locked windows and the door snakes.
If you’ve got sheep, and it’s in between shearing times, you can sometimes lose quite big numbers to dust and sand storms. The sand gets in the wool, the sheep get tired and heavy with the weight and collapse into little miniature sand hills, and then can’t get up again to feed or get to water. You can try and lift them and get them walking, but it doesn’t do much good. Those that get to the overflow around a tank are so heavy that they can’t get themselves out of being bogged. They die and then you have to rope them to a ute and try to drag them far enough away so that they don’t foul the area. If you’re slow and steady with the pulling, the whole carcass comes out pretty cleanly. If you’re not, or the decomposition has set in…..
There have been some big dust storms around Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges and the APY Lands lately.
(Photo, above, from Nigel Carney at Copley in the Flinders Ranges, showing last week's dust storm)
If the wind heads south, Adelaide and the coastal regions get the dust. If the winds head east, South Aussie dust has been known to get as far as New Zealand.
All of which raises some pretty interesting questions with the Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs set to change from an underground operation to a three kilometer long and one kilometer deep open cut mine, the largest in the world (see David Bradbury's excellent short introduction to Olympic Dam, All That Glitters, in the clip below).
SA Premier Mike Rann has told the SA Parliament that the expanded Olympic Dam mine will be moving 1.5 million of tones of rock a day. You wont even need the special atmospherics of a major outback dust storm to get radioactive particles and radon gas swirling around the mine site on a daily basis with that much rock being moved in that dry, arid location.
However, when one of these dust storms passes of the mine and sucks this material up into a cloud that might deposit its radioactive content in any direction over hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers, the we have a problem.
Mine owner BHP $Billion has not yet said how it will address this problem. In fact, as reported in a previous post, it’s too busy trying to sweet-talk the Rann government into changing the state’s asbestos diseases Act so that it does not have to pay compensation to asbestos victims who worked for it in the Whyalla shipyards.
The expansion of Olympic Dam tramples on the rights of indigenous owners of the land which contains it; will accelerate the depletion of the waters of the Great Artesian Basin; will require a desalination plant at the top of Spencers Gulf where there will be brine discharge problems that will impact on fish breeding grounds.
And then there’s the dust.
You’ve just gotta love Bloody Hungry Profiteers!