Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie

COMMONWEALTH environment minister Melissa Price was busy in the days before the federal election was called, approving two controversial mining projects: the groundwater plan for the politically-charged Adani coal mine in Queensland and Cameco’s Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia.
Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie Price approves Cameco's Yeelirrie

Cameco owns the destocked Yeelirrie pastoral station.

Haydn Black

Reporter

Price signed off on the environmental approval for Yeelirrie the day before prime minister Scott Morrison called the poll, despite previously saying she would wait until after the election.
 
Yeelirrie sits about 70 km south-west of Wiluna, within Price's electorate of Durack, and is fiercely opposed by anti-nuclear and environmental campaigners, and some traditional owners.
 
Cameco Australia general manager Simon Williamson said while he was happy to have the approval in place "current market conditions are challenging and we expect them to remain so in the near term".
 
He said it had come after a rigorous and extensive environmental assessment process with the Department of Environment and Energy.
 
"We have worked with the department over the two-year process to demonstrate how we will reduce and manage any environmental risks," he said.
 
The approval follows the decision by WA government in 2017.
 
Both the state and federal approvals include comprehensive conditions to ensure that people and the environment remain protected and the project is responsibly managed, Williamson said
 
Price told the Kalgoorlie Miner last October, shortly after becoming environment minister during the political coup that removed former PM Malcolm Turnbull, that she would not consider Yeelirrie until after the WA Supreme Court handed down its ruling in a case against the state approvals brought by The Conservation Council of WA and Tjiwarl traditional owners.
 
Former state minister Albert Jacob approved the mine prior to the last state election, against Environmental Protection Authority warnings that it could mean to 11 species of shrimp-like creatures living in underground aquifers extinct, as groundwater levels would fall 50cm and take 200 years to recover.
 
Jacob at the time said he considered both the economic and social considerations as well as the environment, and considered that the risks were worth an estimated 1200 jobs and a A$5 billion investment in the state.
 
CCWA lost an initial challenge in February, and has launched a second appeal.
 
The court heard arguments last month, but is yet to announce its decision.
 
CCWA has called Price's approval "premature and highly political".
 
The Commonwealth said the decision was in line with normal practice, and was subject to 32 strict conditions, including the requirement that Cameco take steps to protect the stygofauna and prepare a groundwater management plan.
 
The mine would be 9km long and 1.5km wide and would require the clearing of some 2400 hectares of vegetation. If developed it could produce up to 7500t of yellowcake over 15 years, and would generate around 36Mt of radioactive waste, which would be stored at the site.
 
Uranium mining was banned in WA until 2008 when the Barnett government changed the policy.
 
WA Labor has pledged to honour existing approvals for Yeelirrie and Kintyre, Toro Energy's Wiluna and Vimy Resources' Mulga Rock projects, but not approve any other mines.
 
The Minerals Council of Australia has welcomed the approval, painting it as a win for a transition to a lower carbon economy, but saying the length of the process highlighted the need for streamlined laws to remove "complex and duplicative" assessments, which act as a barrier to investment.
 
Uranium was first discovered at Yeelirrie in 1972 by Western Mining Corporation. Trial mining was conducted and a development planned, but it was halted by the introduction of Labor's three mines policy.
 
Cameco has been in Australia since 1996 and has a number of projects across the country, including one of Australia's other largest undeveloped uranium deposits, Kintyre, also in WA.
 
It acquired Yeelirrie from BHP for $430 million in 2012.