EPA approval for Wiluna expansion

06 September 2016

The Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has today recommended for approval Toro Energy's proposal to extend the Wiluna uranium project, the second uranium approval by the regulator within a month.

The proposal to mine two additional deposits, Millipede and Lake Maitland - 30km south and 105km south-east of Wiluna, respectively - follows approvals already in place for the construction and operation of a mine at Wiluna based on the Centipede and Lake Way uranium deposits. A processing facility is to be built near the Centipede deposit. The expansion also includes construction of a haul road between Lake Maitland and the processing facility, and will enable the four orebodies to be developed in a coherent way.

Western Australia EPA chairman Tom Hatton said the proposal was assessed at the "most rigorous level of environmental impact assessment". The EPA's recommendation - subject to conditions - was reached following a public environmental review which attracted responses from government and non-government agencies, as well as individuals, during a 12-week consultation period. The EPA also conducted a site visit and reviewed the proposal's potential impact on environmental factors, including flora and vegetation, subterranean fauna, human health and radiological processes. It concluded that radiation exposure to mine-site workers and the public would be within acceptable limits for human health.

The conditions recommended by the EPA will ensure monitoring and management plans for conservation-significant impacts are implemented. In its assessment of subterranean fauna, the EPA noted there was potential for one species to be restricted to the edge of the impact areas, but found that it was possible to protect that species through an exclusion zone.

Toro managing director Vanessa Guthrie welcomed the EPA's recommendation as a "further significant advance" in project planning, following the completion of a mining agreement with traditional owners in July. "The assessment represents a further two-and-a-half years of substantive scientific studies, including those key environmental factors identified by both government and through public submissions as being of importance to the community and environment," she said.

The EPA's decision will now be open to public appeals for a two-week period ending 20 September. The proposal is also being assessed by the Australian federal government under existing bilateral arrangements for environmental assessment. Approval would be required at both the state and federal levels before the project can proceed.

Significant decisions

The EPA announcement follows its 15 August recommendation to approve Vimy Resources' Mulga Rock uranium project. Earlier in August, it recommended against approval of Cameco Australia's proposed Yeelirrie project after deciding it would not adequately protect underground fauna, although it met the objectives required for all the other environmental factors assessed.

Minerals Council of Australia executive director Daniel Zavattiero welcomed the progress made by the three companies in moving their projects through the WA EPA environmental review process. "It is pleasing to see independent, science-based analysis of uranium projects and their environmental impact," he said, describing the EPA's recommendations for approval of Mulga Rocks and the Wiluna expansion as "significant".

The EPA's decision on Yeelirrie was not connected with uranium or radiation, he noted. "Cameco Australia believes that with further sampling and research, subterranean fauna can be appropriately managed at Yeelirrie and they will work with government agencies and stakeholders to find a way forward," Zavattiero said.

Lift the ban

Zavattiero said the EPA's findings showed state-level bans on uranium mining in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to be "out-dated and simply not justified". He called for all state governments to support and implement the recommendation by South Australia's recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission that state and federal mining approval requirements should be simplified to deliver a single assessment and approvals process.

"The environmental reviews of these three uranium projects in Western Australia are evidence that not only is this urgently required, but that it is long past time for the remaining states to normalise their uranium policies," he said. Restrictions on transportation to and through ports outside of South Australia and the Northern Territory should be removed to give uranium exports the most competitive access to markets "under the appropriate best practice transportation safety governance", he added.

Zavattiero said Australia's uranium sector "can do more" in light of International Energy Agency projections of an 86% expansion in nuclear energy by 2040 in its base case scenario, and over 150% in its carbon constrained scenario. "The South Australia Royal Commission validated the call to support an increased role in nuclear fuel cycle industries as part of global efforts to generate more electricity with fewer emissions," he said. "With a focus on streamlining the approval process for no environmental cost and the removal of uranium mining prohibitions in states where they are still in place, Australia can ready the next wave of uranium projects in preparation for the market."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News