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$800M Asia-backed metal mine project could be blocked to protect national security

Woomera Prohibited Area
Woomera Prohibited Area

A China-funded metal mine expansion worth $800 million could be cancelled if Australia’s military chiefs consider its South Australian location to be a threat to national security, it was revealed on August 20.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is examining possible avenues in the event of “significant national security concerns” to cancel CU River Mining’s permit to mine at its Cairn Hill Iron Ore Expansion, 55 km southeast of Coober Pedy.

No more permits

Defence Minister and Senator Linda Reynolds has confirmed ADF will not grant any more permit requests from CU River to access exploration tenements or establish further mines at the Woomera Prohibited Area.

“Given updated assessments of the evolving security environment, my department is examining how to audit and review permits and related processes including in the Woomera Prohibited Area,” Reynolds said according to Fairfax.

‘Top-secret’ location

The project is located in the Woomera Prohibited Area, one of the nation’s most top-secret weapons testing ranges that allied forces like the United States military sometimes use according to Fairfax Media.

The expansion involves constructing a new shipping terminal at Port Augusta to transport up to 15 million tonnes of iron ore to China each year from as early as 2026.

The proponent has carried out mining activities at the location since receiving the permit back in the year 2014. Although there has been no formal request made to regulatory authorities for the expansion, China-headquartered JiuJiang steel group has agreed to finance the project.

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‘National security’ concerns

ADF previously raised grave concerns about the proponent’s plan to develop the site since as early as the year 2010, according to Freedom of Information documents obtained by Fairfax.

Defence raised “national security grounds” as part of a Foreign Investment Review Board assessment of a partial buyout of Cairn Hill’s former owner, ASX-listed miner IMX Resources by other Chinese interests.

“It is very hard to understand how foreign controlled mining interests were allowed to set up operations next door to our most secret weapons testing range,” Senator Rex Patrick told Fairfax. “China would never allow an Australian miner to set up operations at one of their military facilities.”

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