Moves for large new uranium mine

22 May 2009

The Yeelirrie uranium project in Western Australia has been reactivated after BHP Billiton applied to the federal government to commence a new process of environmental approval.


Yeelirrie is about 420 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie and close to the Goldfields gas pipeline. The deposit was discovered by Western Mining (WMC) in 1972 and found to extend over an area of 9 km x 1.5 km, is up to seven metres thick and has an average depth of about seven metres of overburden. Old published figures show some 52,000 tonnes of uranium oxide at 0.15% average grade, and considerable metallurgical work was done before a new federal Labor government killed the project in 1983. The uranium mineralisation is carnotite (hydrated potassium uranium vanadium oxide). 


Map - Yeerillie (Geoscience Australia).
Yeerillie (centre, among smaller uranium deposits) could produce
5000 tonnes of uranium oxide per year for 30 years
(Image: Geoscience Australia)


The project gained environmental approval from the state and federal governments around 1980 after and an environmental impact statement produced in 1978. However, A new state Labor government was elected in 2002 with an ideological anti-uranium stance and pursuant to this, the 1978 state mining agreement for Yeelirrie was revoked in March 2004. WMC Resources retained the mining tenements and awaited future opportunities after undertaking rehabilitation of the site by the end of 2004. In 2005 ownership transferred to BHP Billiton.


The possibility of development was raised anew with the 2008 a change of state government and BHP Billiton listed it as an "outstanding long-term opportunity". The company followed this with a new program to better define the ore resource and engage in community consultation.  Last November, BHP Billiton said it was reactivating work on the project.
The mine could possibly start development in 2011 and open in 2014.  Production of 5000 tonnes of uranium oxide per year over 30 years is suggested, which would likely have by-product of 2000 tonnes of vanadium oxide per year.