Western Australia’s 1st Uranium Project Gets Mixed Response

From NZ Week

Australian Minister for Resources and Energy Gary Gray Tuesday welcomed final environment approval by the federal government for Western Australian (WA)’s first uranium mine.

Gray said the Wiluna Uranium Project of the Toro Energy Limited with an investment of 269 million Australian dollars (279.7 million U.S. dollars) has been the subject of “rigorous environmental assessment” since October 2009.

Environment Minister Tony Burke has approved, with 36 conditions, the uranium project and said he is satisfied the project can go ahead without unacceptable impacts on the environment during and after the life of the mine.

“The proposed mine will be the most advanced of the new generation of uranium mines in the world and will provide a variety of social and economic benefits both to local communities and Australia more broadly,” Gray said.

Gray said that Western Australia is rich in natural resources, and the Wiluna project will give the state the opportunity to mine and export uranium for the first time.

Australia’s uranium industry plays an important part in the global electricity market, and Western Australia has seen a significant resurgence in industrial development following the state government’s decision to lift a ban on uranium mining in 2008.

With a lifespan of 14 years, the mine is expected to process 1. 3 million tonnes of ore annually and produce around 780 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate.

“I see the Wiluna Uranium Project as a step forward for the Western Australian resources industry, and give it my full support, ” Gray said.

The Wiluna Uranium Project, located in the state’s Midwest region is based on the two largest of five separate calcrete- hosted uranium deposits, Centipede and Lake Way, which received WA ministerial environmental approval in October 2012.

The two deposits form the basis of the proposed operation that will be mined in a shallow, surface strip mining operation and processed through a conventional alkaline tank leach processing plant located at Centipede.

Significant test work, including a full scale hydrometallurgical pilot plant, resource evaluation and water barrier trials over the past two years have proven it to be the most effective economic recovery available, Gray said.

However, the Greens lashed out on the decision, saying Environment Minister Burke’s approval “means high risk, no reward for Western Australia.”

Australian Greens spokesperson for nuclear policy Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam on Tuesday “strongly condemned” Burke’s decision to allow the mining of uranium in Wiluna.

Ludlam, said the approval showed Labor could not be trusted to protect the environment or public health.

“While the Minister has placed 36 conditions on the approval, there is simply no safe way to mine uranium on a lake bed that floods. This is a rookie company with no operating mines. The WA government got it badly wrong and the federal government just blew its chance to fix this mess,” Ludlam said.

He argued that under new mine closure guidelines, Toro Energy has to find 100 percent of the mine closure cost, around 150 million (156 million), before it has raised the 300 million (312 million) to open it. With uranium prices plummeting by more then two thirds since its peak in 2007, it is highly unlikely that Toro can open, maintain and close a mine abiding by the necessary conditions and environmental standards.

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