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Rio Tinto was able to reach high grade iron ore worth about $135 million with the blasting of two sacred caves in Western Australia, the global miner's chief executive has told a government inquiry.
Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques told a Senate probe into the destruction of the culturally significant site in May that the company had four options for its mine plan and chose the most valuable one.
"The difference between option 4 and the other three options was in the vicinity of 8 million tonnes of high grade iron ore. The economic value at the time of the decision ... was around $135 million of net present value," he said.
Jacques earlier apologised for the destruction of the site, which showed evidence of 46,000 years of continual habitation, saying there was no doubt the company could have made better decisions.
"This is a defining moment for Rio Tinto. We are absolutely committed to learn and change," he said as the hearing began.
The world's biggest iron ore miner in late May legally destroyed the two historically significant sacred caves, against the wishes of the Aboriginal Traditional Owners, which sat atop a high grade ore body it planned to mine.
The destruction distressed the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) and fuelled a wider public outcry that led to the inquiry into how the blast was legally sanctioned.
The destruction of the sites occurred just as the Black Lives Matter protests trained a global spotlight on racial injustice.
The inquiry is looking at how the culturally significant site came to be destroyed, the processes that failed to protect it, the impacts on Traditional Owners, and the legislative changes required to prevent such incidents from recurring.
Rio is conducting its own independent board review into the incident, due to be completed in October, and has pledged to make the findings public.