Australia yesterday gave environmental approval for a new uranium mine in its resource-rich west, with 36 conditions to guard against negative impacts from radiation and other factors.
Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke said he was giving the go-ahead for Toro Energy Ltd’s A$269 million (US$281 million) Wiluna uranium project of two open pits and a processing plant, after a “rigorous environmental assessment.”
“Expert agencies provided advice to ensure that the proposal meets world’s best practice environmental standards for uranium mining, and that the risks to the environment, including risks from radiation and to groundwater and surface water, can be acceptably managed,” he said.
The project will be the first uranium mine in Western Australia State, a key exporter of iron ore and gas.
Burke said that he had considered public comments made during the assessment for the mine, which will be 30km southeast of the goldfields town of Wiluna, about 730km east of the state capital, Perth.
Australia does not use nuclear power, but is the world’s No. 3 uranium producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada. In 2010, it exported 6,888 tonnes of oxide concentrate worth more than A$600 million.
Japan, the US and EU buy the majority of Canberra’s exports of the nuclear fuel, with smaller shipments made to Taiwan, South Korea, China and Canada.
Canberra’s overturning of a uranium export ban to India in 2011 and subsequent talks about jump-starting the trade have boosted interest in the nuclear fuel. The Government of Western Australian approved Wiluna last year.
Burke said he was satisfied that the strict conditions would ensure the project could go ahead without wielding unacceptable impacts on the environment during mining operations and after the mine closes.
“The 36 strict conditions I have put in place will guard against any negative impacts from radiation or to groundwater and surface water, and include precautions to ensure that once the mine is closed, the site is safe for humans and animals and is non-polluting,” he said.
“The measures that the company will use to achieve these requirements must all be detailed in an extensive and thorough environmental management plan which I must be satisfied with and approve before substantial works on the project can begin,” he added.
Australian Minister for Resources and Energy Gary Gray said the proposed mine would be the most advanced in the world of the new generation of uranium mines and provide economic benefits locally and nationally.
“With a lifespan of 14 years, the mine is expected to process 1.3 million tonnes of ore annually and produce around 780 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate,” he said.