Australia gives Cameco environmental approval to build uranium min
- 18 Jan 2017
- Saskatoon StarPhoenix
- ALEX MACPHERSON
Australia gives Cameco environmental approval to build uranium mine
Cameco Corp. is one step closer to building its proposed Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia, after the state’s government overturned an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recommendation that the project be halted.
It remains unclear, however, when the Saskatoon-based company — which operates two mines in Saskatchewan and an in situ recovery operation in Kazakhstan — will build the multibillion-dollar open-pit mine, 650 kilometres northeast of Perth.
“We are advancing Yeelirrie through the environmental assessment process so that we are ready to respond when the market signals a need for more uranium,” managing director of Cameco’s Australian subsidy Brian Reilly said in a statement.
Global uranium markets have been in free fall since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Cameco has responded by cutting costs: Last year alone it shuttered one mine, reduced production at others and slashed about nine per cent of its corporate workforce.
While the company maintains that a recovery is on the horizon as nuclear plants under construction in China, India and Korea come online, it has said work on projects like Yeelirrie has been scaled back to align with “market signals.”
The EPA said in August that Cameco’s proposal — which, according to local media reports, has long been opposed by indigenous activists in the region — should not proceed because it could endanger underground animals known as stygofauna and troglofauna.
The state government said this week that it considered “broader economic and social” factors in its decision to overrule the EPA, and that if Cameco proceeds, it will do so under “strict conditions” to protect the environment.
“Cameco Australia is committed to minimizing environmental impacts from its operations while at the same time maximizing benefits for nearby communities and the state,” Reilly said in the statement.
Cameco bought the Yeelirrie project from the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton for US$430 million in 2012. The Western Australian government said the mine will have operating and capital costs of around US$3.7 billion over its 18-year lifespan.
According to its corporate filings, Cameco must submit detailed construction and infrastructure plans for the mine to the Western Australian government by June 20, 2018, to retain the title to the property.
The Australian ruling comes the same day Cameco announced it plans to continue its cost-cutting program by eliminating about 120 jobs from its McArthur River, Cigar Lake and Key Lake operations in northern Saskatchewan beginning in April.
Cameco said the changes represent about 10 per cent of the workforce at its three major facilities in the province, and that the layoffs will be complete by the end of May.