By Joel Scanlon
The Woomera weapons testing range in South Australia's outback will be downsized to allow mining in the region as per a federal government report recommendation. Vast restricted areas of South Australia will be opened up to mining companies including foreign investors if the review is considered favourably.
The 128,000 square km area in question is supposed to have the largest deposits of uranium, gold and copper in Australia. Currently three mines are in operation on the government owned land. The region is synonymous with the testing of long range missiles and rockets during the Cold War and is still used by the military for weapons testing.
Explosion at Woomera Range. Photo by 92 Wing Photographic. Image Credit: www.defence.gov.au
The Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said that the new recommendation is that the miners and the military would be both operating at some sections of the land on a time share basis. Last year the Treasurer Wayne Swan had blocked a takeover of Oz Minerals by China's Minmetals saying that one of the mines was in the Woomera Prohibited Area.
The federal review was ordered after that. The findings indicate that the Department of Defence is not the owner of the land. So it is alright for restricted mining activity to be allowed in the region which is roughly the size of England. The review also recommended a faster processing of exploration licences.
During the early 1960s, Woomera became part of the Gemini space program capabilities. Specialised tracking and communications stations were set up at Red Lake (about 50 km north of Woomera) and at Mirikata (about 200 km west of Woomera). These stations also played a critical part in the first Moon landing mission.