Australia opens huge weapons testing area to mining

June 27, 2014

Australia’s parliament agreed to open a weapon test range in the Australian outback to mining.

The Woomera Prohibited Area area, larger than the U.S. state of Ohio, stretches more than 49,000 square miles and contains an estimated $35 billion of mineral resources, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Some areas, so-called red zones, will be retained solely for defense use. Other zones will allow access to mine workers, tourists and others during specified times of the year.

Since 1947 the area has been used to test rockets and conduct nuclear tests for Australia and its U.S. and U.K. allies.

Last year, British defense scientists used the range in South Australia state to test BAE Systems PLC's Taranis unmanned stealth drone, which is being developed to carry bombs and missiles while traveling at supersonic speed, undetected by radar.

Australia's conservative government has agreed to allow miners to explore for iron ore, uranium and gold deposits thought to lie within Woomera's boundaries.

"The legislation will improve the management of the Woomera Prohibited Area in a way that will meet defense-testing requirements while also giving greater certainty of access for other sectors, particularly the resources sector, to invest in operations," spokesman for Australian Defense Minister David Johnston told The Wall Street Journal.

Major mines already in the area include the Challenger gold mine operated by Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd., Arrium Mining's Peculiar Knob iron ore mine and OZ Minerals Ltd.'s Prominent Hill mine.

In 2009, the Labor government blocked China Minmetals Non-Ferrous Metals Co. from buying an OZ Minerals copper and gold mine in nearby Prominent Hill because of security fears.

Miners would be excluded from areas outside red zones only for periods between 14 and 70 days, and weapons testing would take place under timeshare arrangements with the military.

The government also plans to open to tourists parts of Woomera that hosted British nuclear weapons tests between 1955 and 1963. It has agreed to excise these rehabilitated nuclear test sites—known as Section 400—from the area at the request of the local indigenous Maralinga Tjarutja people, who hope to run tours.

The Woomera range is prized by weapons developers because of its relative freedom from electronic-signals interference, large size and extremely remote location, making it almost impossible to observe military activity there. Weapons ranges of similar size in northern Australia are used by thousands of U.S. Marines and Australian soldiers each year for several months in a defense-training arrangement that is being expanded to include U.S. ships and aircraft.



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