Published on Monday May 21 2012 (AEST)
The first uranium mine in Western Australia is a step closer after the Environmental Protection Authority gave the project the go-ahead. South Australian miner Toro Energy is seeking to develop the mine at Wiluna, about 550 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie.
The proposal has been in the pipeline since the WA Government overturned a ban on the practice in 2008. Toro's managing director Greg Hall says his company has consulted widely with the community. "The process with traditional owners has been quite a long one," he said.
The mine is expected to operate for 14 years and produce up to two million tonnes of mineralised ore and 1,200 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate each year. The EPA's chairman Paul Vogel says there will be little risk to those living nearby. "The exposure to radiation for those communities near Wiluna is very, very low," he said.
Dr Vogel says the uranium will be trucked in sealed containers to the South Australian border, past Kalgoorlie, and shipped out from Port Adelaide. "We paid particular attention to that knowing that the community was particularly concerned about that," he said.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlum says the authority's decision suggests it has failed in its role. "If creating a permanent carcinogenic hotspot in the north-east Goldfields that will still be carcinogenic thousands of years in the future, then something has gone wrong with the EPA," he said. Dr Vogel says the Toro project will be subject to the most rigorous monitoring program possible, overseen by the radiological council and the Department of Health. "My understanding is there will be financial assurances required, there will be monitoring requirements to meet the trigger levels," he said. "And, if those trigger levels are exceeded, then the Department of Mines and Petroleum will ensure those standards are met over time." Senator Ludlum says he expects Toro to face an uphill battle to get the project up and running. "I think given the state of the world market that is still trying to work out the consequences of the ongoing disaster in Japan where all nuclear reactors are currently closed, I don't think Toro has a chance in hell of bringing this project to market," he said.
The Opposition's Bill Johnston says WA Labor remains opposed to uranium mining but, if Toro is granted final approval before the election, it will not stand in the way of its development. "The Labor Party's decision is that if final approval has been given to a mine before the election then we would honour those final commitments," he said.
The mine is expected to generate 350 jobs during the construction phase and 170 once it is operational. Mr Hall says he hopes Toro can make a final investment decision by the end of the year. "We now will await the decision by the Western Australian Minister," he said.
"The recommendation is open for appeal for a two week period and the Minister will decide on a course of action beyond that." Toro's application now needs to be approved by the state's Environment Minister Bill Marmion before being passed on to the Commonwealth for federal approval. .
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