Four West Australian uranium projects granted environmental approval will be allowed to proceed, but the state government is blocking future mining bids.
Toro Energy’s Wiluna project, Vimy Resources’ Mulga Rock project, and Cameco’s Kintyre and Yeelirrie projects all had the approval before Labor won the March election.
Yeelirrie was granted in mid-January – two weeks before the Barnett government went into caretaker mode – while Mulga Rock got the green light a month earlier.
Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said Labor, which banned uranium mining when last in power between 2002 and 2008, had received advice it could not legally deny secondary approvals for the purpose of frustrating those already granted.
“In making this decision, the McGowan government has carefully considered the potential liability risk for WA taxpayers,” Mr Johnston said.
But Greens upper house MP Robin Chapple accused the government of bowing to industry pressure, vowing he would do everything in his power to stop the projects from going ahead.
Conservation Council of WA director Piers Verstegen said the new government should have investigated the approvals.
“Environmental standards went out the window under the Barnett government,” Mr Verstegen said.
“We believe there are serious legal flaws in the way these approvals were granted … and we will continue to contest them at every stage of the process, including through pursuing legal options.”
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy said it would have preferred the government to fully reverse its policy of not allowing any new uranium mines, but welcomed the four companies getting clarity that they could proceed.
Uranium prices plunged in November last year to $US18.50 per pound, compared to more than $US50/lb five years earlier, and remain historically low.
Toro Energy, which was the first company to secure state and federal environmental approvals for a WA uranium project, recently said spot prices at the end of the March of about $US23/lb weren’t high enough to bring Wiluna into production.
Cameco, one of the world’s biggest uranium miners, says Kintyre and Yeelirrie, which are Australia’s two biggest undeveloped uranium deposits, are being advanced “at a pace aligned with market conditions”.
The Canadian company initially had environmental approval for Yeelirrie knocked back amid fears several species of subterranean fauna would be made extinct, but got the nod after conditions for managing the underground animals were added.
Vimy is yet to complete a definitive feasibility study for Mulga Rocks, which is WA’s third biggest undeveloped uranium deposit.
Shipping via Port Adelaide is proposed for all four projects.
WA has known uranium deposits totalling about 226,000 tonnes.