Years away: Kloppers says BHP waiting for new technology before Olympic Dam decision

From the start of BHP Billiton's "austerity" program, of all its mega-projects, the Olympic Dam uranium-copper-gold expansion looked the most vulnerable.

Today, CEO Marius Kloppers, put beyond any doubt that the gigantic project – some analysts put the final bill at an eye-watering $33 billion – would be decided on any time soon. Let alone be okayed.

Bloomberg quotes Kloppers speaking after an analysts presentation in London:

“We’ve been very clear that on Olympic Dam we’re not in a position to take any decisions for years. Time is needed to allow for the results of new leaching technologies that facilitate extraction of minerals from ore."

The expansion of the Olympic Dam underground mine was set to become the world's biggest open pit and also included construction of 270km of powerlines, a 400 km pipeline, a new desalination plant and a 105km railway.

The planned open pit mine would be adjacent to the current Olympic Dam underground operation. An idea of the olympian effort required to construct the mine and the size of the undertaking is clear from the fact that trucks will haul overburden 24/7 for five to six years just to reach the ore body.

The combined operations would mine 72 Mt ore per year and would produce 750,000 tonnes refined copper, 19,000 tonnes uranium oxide, 800,000 gold ounces and 2.9 Moz of silver per year.