WA approves Cameco uranium project despite environmental concern

Cameco's Yeelirrie site

Cameco’s proposed Yeelirrie mine in the Goldfields region of Western Australia is the latest uranium development to be approved by the state government.

Yeelirrie is the fourth uranium project now approved in WA, joining Vimy Resources’ Mulga Rocks, Toro Energy’s Wiluna development and Cameco’s Kintyre prospect.

Development of Yeelirrie was given the state government nod despite the proposal failing to meet one of the WA Environmental Protection Authority’s nine key environmental factors.

The environmental watchdog recommended against the development because of the impact it believed the mine would have on local underground fauna in the area.

However, WA environmental minister Albert Jacob said the state government had also considered broader economic and social matters, as well as the environmental factors, in deciding to grant approval.

The WA Government has added conditions to the development proposal that require Cameco to undertake further studies and research to improve understanding of underground fauna and measures to minimise any impact on the species.

“Further surveys may identify that the species currently only found within the project area are more widespread. I have therefore mandated as part of this approval further survey work and investment in research,” Jacob said.

The approval of the Canadian company’s project is subject to 17 conditions, with the WA Government also planning to tighten conditions on flora and vegetation, offsets and the public availability of management plans.

Cameco Australia managing director Brian Reilly said the approval struck the right balance between strong environmental management and positive economic benefits.

“Cameco Australia is committed to minimising environmental impacts from its operations while at the same time maximising benefits for nearby communities and the state. The government’s approval of Yeelirrie recognises this commitment,” Reilly said.

“We believe that with further sampling, investigation and research as outlined in the project conditions, subterranean fauna can be appropriately managed at Yeelirrie.”

If WA’s four uranium projects proceed, they will create about 1500 jobs and potentially a $1 billion a year export market in the state based on prices rising to economic levels, according to the state government.