Significant step for WA uranium

21 May 2012

Western Australia's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has recommended that the state's first uranium mine, Toro Energy's Wiluna, be allowed to go ahead.

Wiluna water barrier trial (Toro)_200
Water barrier trials under way at Wiluna (Image: Toro Energy)

The EPA has formally submitted a 109-page report of its findings on the project to the state minister for environment, concluding that it meets environmental approval requirements and should be allowed to proceed subject to various conditions being met.

Wiluna, which comprises the Centipede and Lake Way uranium deposits, contains uranium resources of 24,360 t U3O8 (20,657 tU). Discovered in the early 1970s, Wiluna is set to become the first uranium project to receive a positive EPA recommendation since Western Australia's government formally lifted its ban on uranium mining in 2008.

EPA chairman Paul Vogel said that the authority recognised the high public interest in the state's first uranium mine project. "As with all the proposals assessed by the EPA, I can assure the public we have applied the highest level of scrutiny in our examination of its environmental acceptability," he said.

Toro Energy managing director Greg Hall described the EPA's positive recommendation as an important milestone both for his company and for the Western Australian uranium industry. He said the company had worked hard to technically de-risk the project with a test mine and pilot process plant, and would continue to work with government departments, local communities and traditional land owners on the final pre-development stages. "The Wiluna project is one of the few in the world capable of commencing near-term production in the crucial 2014/2015 period when the international nuclear industry will be seeking additional secure long-term supplies," he said.

The main ecological issues identified by the EPA centre on the protection of a local plant species, Tecticomia, and the protection of underground stygofauna species (fauna living within groundwater systems). While impacts on stygofauna were unlikely to be significant, the EPA has recommended strict conditions including offsets to ensure the protection of Tecticomia.

The EPA report is now open to public appeal for two weeks, with the state environment minister required to review any appeals before reaching a decision on the project. A federal government decision on the assessment is likely to follow after the Western Australian process is finalised. With that in mind, Toro's board is targeting a final investment decision on the project by the end of 2012. The company envisages production of up to 1200 t U3O8 (1018 tU) per year from the project, 520 km north of Kalgoorlie.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News