New WA Government threatens future of uranium industry

Vimy Resources' Mulga Rock site

Western Australia’s new government has been urged to support the ongoing development of uranium projects in the state.

The state’s Labor Party, led by Mark McGowan, recorded a resounding victory over the Liberal Party in last weekend’s election to regain power for the first time since 2008.

McGowan’s election win has sparked fears for the future of the uranium industry in the state, as Labor went to the polls saying it was against the development of uranium projects, unless they had already received government approval.

Four projects in the state were approved by the former WA Government after it lifted a uranium ban in late 2008, including two prospects being developed by Canada’s Cameco and two others owned by Vimy Resources and Toro Energy.

However, despite recent approvals from the federal and state governments, opponents of uranium argue the projects still require a series of environmental clearances before they can officially advance towards mining.

For example, Vimy’s Mulga Rock project in WA’s Goldfields region, which received approval from federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg this month, still requires several environmental approvals before mining can begin, according to the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA).

A day before the election Vimy announced that it had started early construction work at the Mulga Rock site, even though it is yet to make a final investment decision on the project.

WA Labor need to clarify their policy approach to approved uranium projects in WA to provide certainty to the investors – AMEC’s Simon Bennison

Minerals Council of Australia executive director – uranium, Daniel Zavattiero, said the uranium industry recognised Premier-elect McGowan’s commitment to allow construction to start on those projects that were already approved.

“Since the ban on uranium mining in WA was lifted by the previous government, over $300 million has been invested in exploration and development, four mines have moved through comprehensive environmental assessment processes and achieved state government approval to proceed,” Zavattiero said.

“Although current global market conditions are challenging for new uranium projects anywhere, these projects are well placed to move through to construction and operations as market conditions improve.”

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) also raised concerns about the future of WA’s uranium industry under the new government.

“WA Labor need to clarify their policy approach to approved uranium projects in WA to provide certainty to the investors,” AMEC chief executive officer Simon Bennison said.

Zavattiero added that the uranium projects together could generate around 2000 jobs during construction and over 1400 ongoing jobs when operating.

“The uranium industry is confident that as WA uranium projects are developed and production comes on stream, the industry will show that it operates safely and responsibly in a manner which generates benefits for local communities and the state,”Zavattiero said.

“This has been the industry’s experience in South Australia and the Northern Territory where it operates with bipartisan support.”

Even with the opportunities that the uranium industry could deliver WA its development continues to receive significant opposition from environmental groups.

Earlier this month, CCWA lashed out at the federal government’s conditional approval of the Mulga Rock project, describing it as “irresponsible fast-tracking.”

“The project does not have final approval to begin construction, it is not economically viable, it does not have a social license to operate and there is no bipartisan political support for this sector in WA,” CCWA campaigner Mia Pepper said.

“It is a long way from a conditional environmental approval to an operating mine.”

Environmental groups have detailed concerns about the long-term groundwater and radioactive waste contamination impacts of the project, according to the CCWA.