WA government says yes to Wiluna

11 October 2012

Western Australia is a step closer to opening its first uranium mine with the announcement of the state government's final environmental approval of Toro Energy's proposed Wiluna mine. The project is now awaiting a final go-ahead from the Australian federal government.

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

WA environment minister Bill Marmion's final approval of the mine includes new conditions to protect local stygofauna (fauna living within groundwater systems) and groundwater-dependent vegetation, especially the local Tecticomia plant species. The approval also includes strengthened conditions on surface water flows, dust management and rehabilitiation.

The state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recommended earlier this year that the project should be allowed to go ahead. The EPA's report was subsequently opened to public appeal, and the final ministerial decision was taken following consultations with other decision-making authorities, including the state's ministries for mines and petroleum and for indigenous affairs. Nine appeals were lodged against the report, resulting in the strengthened conditions announced by Marmion.

Toro Energy managing director Greg Hall welcomed the ministerial announcement and pledged that the company would work within the conditions set by the minister. Hall described the decision to approve the first uranium mine since the Western Australian government lifted a ban on uranium mining in 2008 as a "true achievement by many people who have worked diligently to deliver a project that will provide benefits ... in an environmentally sustainable manner."

Discovered in the 1970s, Wiluna comprises two shallow uranium deposits, Centipede and Lake Way, with resources in excess of 20,000 tU. Toro plans to produce about 820 t U3O8 (695 tU) per year from open-pit mining at Wiluna. The company is now waiting for a decision on the project from the federal government before advancing its proposed financing of the project, but says that potential joint venture partners have been engaged in technical review work "for some time."

Uranium mining is currently permitted in three Australian states – Western Australia, Northern Territory (home to the operating Ranger mine) and South Australia (home to Olympic Dam, Beverley and Honeymoon). New South Wales recently joined Queensland in allowing uranium exploration, but not mining. The state of Victoria does not currently allow uranium exploration or mining.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News