WA Supreme Court dismisses conservationist appeal against uranium project

The Supreme Court of Western Australia has released a judgement dismissing an appeal to stop development of Canadian operator Cameco’s Yeelirrie uranium project in the state’s Northern Goldfields.

The appeal was put forward by the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) and three members of the Tjiwarl community, which holds Native Title to the land on which the project is to be developed.

Former Minister for Environment, Heritage, Albert Jacob, approved the building of the mine in January 2017 despite an EPA report’s advice on the potential damage the project could cause to local fauna.

According to the judgement: “New and additional information provided by the proponent suggested the level of impact to some stygofauna species may be reduced or avoided from what was considered in the EPA’s report, but is not considered sufficient to meet the EPA’s objectives for subterranean fauna.

“As such, it appears the basis for the EPA’s conclusions in respect to subterranean fauna remains valid. It follows that the Minister determined to dismiss the proponent’s appeal in respect to subterranean fauna.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report covered nine key environmental factors; it was found that while eight of these nine factors could be met, the sole remaining contention stemmed from a suggested risk to subterranean animals, including unique types of stygofauna. It was this point that formed the basis of the applicants’ appeal against the mine’s approval.

CCWA director Piers Verstegen expressed disappointment with the court’s decision, citing state environmental rules as inadequate. The next stage for Cameco will now turn to federal government approval.

There are currently no uranium mines in WA, though there is one in operation in Northern Territory and two in South Australia, including the world’s largest uranium deposit, Olympic Dam. Another SA plant, Honeymoon, is currently in the process of reopening.

In WA, along with Yeelirrie, three other uranium projects are currently in various stages of development; Vimy’s Mulga Rock project, Toro Energy’s Wiluna project, and Cameco’s own Kintyre project.

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