Australia approves Cameco’s controversial uranium mine

The uranium project is located on Yeelirrie Pastoral Station (owned by Cameco) which is currently destocked. (Image courtesy of Cameco Australia.)

Australia’s federal government has given the go ahead to Cameco’s (TSX:CCO, NYSE:CCJ) vast Yeelirrie uranium project, located 500 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

The country’s Department of Environment and Energy environmental nod follows the state’s approval of the proposed mine in 2017. That ruling, however, is still being fought in WA’s Supreme Court by members of the Tjiwarl traditional owners, particularly after the state Environment Protection Authority recommended blocking the development due to the risks to groundwater species.

Cameco is in no rush to develop Western Australia’s Yeelirrie uranium deposit. It said a decision to advance it would depend on market conditions

“We welcome this decision,” Simon Williamson, General Manager of Cameco Australia, said in a statement. “This has been a rigorous and extensive environmental assessment process, and we have worked with the Department over the two-year process to demonstrate how we will reduce and manage any environmental risks.”

Cameco, the world’s largest uranium producer, is seeking to develop what is considered one of Australia’s biggest undeveloped uranium deposits in the Mid-West region of Western Australia.

The miner, however, is in no rush to develop it. It has said that a decision to advance any of its projects in Western Australia would depend on market conditions, which it currently considers “challenging and uncertain”.

Yeelirrie, which in the local native language means “place of death”, would cover an area 9 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide and would involve clearing up to 2,422 hectares of native vegetation.

It would also cause groundwater levels to drop by 50cm, and they would not completely recover for 200 years, according to the company’s environmental reports.

The federal nod has ignited fresh controversy as it came the day before the federal election was called, on April 10, as first reported by ABC. However,  it was publicly announced only 14 days later in both the environment department and Cameco’s websites.

The Canadian uranium giant acquired the Yeelirrie project from BHP in 2012. More than 10,000 historical and recent drill holes have been completed by prior owners.