The West

Toro still faces uranium hurdles
Toro still faces uranium hurdles

While the decision of Environment Minister Bill Marmion to grant environmental approval to Toro Energy's proposed uranium mine at Wiluna is one of the most significant steps in the development of the industry in WA in decades, it will be some time before the first shipments of uranium leave the State.

Toro is still to win Federal approval, with a decision expected from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke by the end of the year. And it must also satisfy other State Government conditions, including support for its mining plan from the Department of Mines and Petroleum, and for approval to transport uranium oxide from Wiluna to South Australia.

Knowing that other projects are in the wings, green groups are promising to fight the proposal every step of the way. The Anti Nuclear Alliance of WA launched a campaign in the marginal Liberal held seat of Riverton at the weekend, and is promising to take the fight to the regional electorates through which Toro's trucks will carry uranium oxide.

Last week, the Australian Conservation Foundation's Dave Sweeney told _WestBusiness _ that he believed community concern about the proposal would grow, and that "far more than the usual suspects" had expressed opposition to mining at Wiluna through contact with anti-uranium groups and at public forums.

"That level of concern will grow once papers are signed and movement is made, because people react more to a project than a possibility," he said.

That's a suggestion rejected last week by Mr Marmion, who said he believed there would be little political fallout for the Government.

"I think the general public will support our Government in approving uranium, providing we make sure there are strict conditions. And if you meet world's best practice, I think that's sufficient," Mr Marmion said.

Mr Hall said he believed opposition to the company's shipments had been overstated.

"We haven't felt the opposition that is claimed to be there. Certainly there are people who are very interested and want to be informed about how we will transport it - but let's make it clear. What we're taking about is a low volume product. We're talking about 820 tonnes a year - that's one shipment a month. One shipment of two trucks, with four containers, once a month. So realistically the shipment will be in the vicinity of towns for about 10 minutes a month," he said.

There are another four major WA uranium projects waiting in the wings, and Mr Marmion said he expected Toro's experience to act as a "blueprint" for other approvals.

"I don't get involved in the EPA process, but if there's a bit more experience gained by officers in the EPA, and the EPA board, one could assume there's some transfer of knowledge. It could be a blueprint for other companies that are wishing to mine uranium, I think that's a fair comment."

Canada's Cameco now has two of those projects, after moving to add the former BHP Billiton project at Yeelirrie to its portfolio for $430 million in August. That acquisition is still to close, however, and the company has said it will take some time to review BHP's data feasibility and approval work before the project can be put on the formal development track.

In July, Cameco said it would need to do more work at Kintyre in the State's north before the project would be economic.

Drilling work has continued in an attempt to build the project's resource base, and on Friday the company signed a land use agreement with the Martu people.

A recent Department of Mines and Petroleum report said the environmental review and management program for the pro- ject was "being finalised and moving towards the public review stage".

The two other major projects - Mega Uranium's Lake Maitland and Energy and Minerals Australia's Mulga Rocks - are at much earlier stages.

The West Australian

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