Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element found in trace amounts in rocks, soil, water and air.

Please view the Uranium mining policy for more information.

Uranium mining in Western Australia

Uranium is the world's heaviest, naturally occurring element and is found in soil, rocks, human tissue, food, water and the ocean. Enriched uranium is used primarily as fuel for nuclear power stations.  In its natural state, uranium is only weakly radioactive and needs to be enriched before it can be used as a nuclear fuel.

Uranium ore is extracted at the mine and refined into uranium oxide before being exported. Processing mined ore into uranium oxide (sometimes called yellowcake) is usually done at the mine site.  It involves crushing the ore and separating the waste rock.  Chemical processes are then used to extract the uranium.

Current projects

The State Government has implemented a ‘no uranium’ condition on future mining leases. Four uranium projects that received State Ministerial approval under the former Liberal National Government will be allowed to progress.

Toro Energy – Wiluna Project

This project is located south of Wiluna. The original Toro Energy Wiluna Uranium Mining project (Lake Way and Centipede) received WA State environmental approval in October 2012. Following this, Toro Energy acquired additional  resources from Mega Uranium. Four deposits within the Wiluna Project regional resource  make up the current economic mine plan: Lake Way, Millipede, Centipede and Lake Maitland. The life of mine is estimated to be approximately sixteen years. Uranium oxide concentrate would be shipped through Port Adelaide. The WA Minister for Environment provided environmental approval for the expanded Wiluna Uranium Project on 9 January 2017.

Cameco Australia Kintyre Uranium Project

This project is located in the East Pilbara. The Environmental Protection Authority released EPA Report 1522 on 28 July 2014 recommending  environmental approval. The WA Minister for Environment provided environmental approval in March 2015.

The estimate life of mine is 12 years. Uranium oxide concentrate would be shipped through Port Adelaide. Cameco have since indicated that a development decision would be made when market conditions  are more favourable.

Vimy Resources Mulga Rock Project

This project is located in the Shire of Menzies, 240km east-northeast of Kalgoorlie. Mining is proposed to take place through open pit methods in four separate deposits – Princess, Ambassador, Emperor and Shogun. The ore would be processed onsite over a period of approximately 16 years. Uranium oxide concentrate would be shipped through Port Adelaide. The proposal was referred to the WA EPA in August 2013. The WA Minister for the Environment provided environment approval on 19 December 2016. Vimy Resources have indicated a definitive feasibility study will be completed in 3Q 2017 and a financial investment decision made thereafter.

Cameco Australia Yeelirrie Uranium Project

This State Agreement project is located 75 kms south west of Wiluna. On 19 December 2012 Cameco acquired the Yeelirrie Uranium Project from (BHP Billiton) BHPB. Discovered in the early 1970s, it is the largest known uranium deposit in WA. Referred to the EPA by Western Mining Corporation and subsequently BHPB in 2009, this project proposal was re-evaluated by the EPA and set a Public Environmental Review (PER) assessment level on 15 December 2014. A multi-agency site visit was conducted in November 2015 and an EPA Board visit was conducted in May 2016.

The EPA Report and Recommendations, released 3 August 2016, recommended the project not be implemented due to the risk of extinction of several species of subterranean fauna. Upon considering the broader social and economic benefits of the project, the WA Minister for Environment decided to grant environmental approval on 16 January 2017. Cameco have indicated that a development decision would be made when market conditions were more favourable.

The ore would be processed onsite over a period of approximately 22 years. Uranium oxide concentrate would be shipped through Port Adelaide.

Uranium mining and production

Australia is the third largest uranium producer in the world.  In 2014-15, Australia exported 5,515 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate valued at $532 million. The majority of Australia’s uranium is produced in South Australia, which accounted for 3,893 tonnes of U3O8 in 2014-15.

As of February 2014, Western Australia has known deposits of about 226,000 tonnes of uranium.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) had published a Guide to Uranium in Western Australia that explains uranium deposit types, mining and production methods in more detail. Geoscience Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Industry and Science also have useful information about uranium and radioactive waste management on their websites.

Guide to Uranium in Western Australia

Safety and uranium mining

WA regulators and the mining industry have been managing the safe mining, transportation and export of radioactive material for 40 years. Not only do stringent State and Federal regulations apply, the uranium sector is also subject to rigorous international standards and regulations.

Uranium regulation

Mining radiation safety in Western Australia is regulated by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) and the Radiological Council, which adopts radiation protection standards formed at the highest international levels.

WA regulators have been regulating radioactive materials for more than four decades. Uranium exploration and mining operations are subject to a broad range of safety regulations, protocols and practices, and a more rigorous health monitoring regime, than most other mining operations.

Some of these measures include radiation management plans, which are assessed by the DMIRS and the Radiological Council, and the appointment of a specialised radiation safety officer.

DMP and the Radiological Council have a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the regulation of radiation safety for mining operations in Western Australia.

Transporting uranium

Once in production in Western Australia, uranium oxide will most likely be transported by road from the producing mine to existing container port facilities in South Australia or the Northern Territory for shipment to international customers.

The transport and export of uranium oxide is regulated by State and Federal Government agencies. In the case of uranium, there are also international standards that must be followed.

The risk to the public of transporting uranium oxide is very low. While new for Western Australia, uranium oxide has been shipped from other Australian States for more than 30 years. During this time there have been no major transport incidents or radiological damage to people or the environment.

In Western Australia the risks of public exposure to radiation as a result of uranium mining are negligible as there is extremely thorough regulation of uranium mining and the transport of radioactive material by DMP and the Radiological Council. The low levels of radiation of uranium oxide and the strict packaging requirements mean that any radiation exposure to the public from a passing truck carrying uranium oxide is negligible.

DMP and the Radiological Council have published a fact sheet containing further information on the safe transport of uranium oxide.

Environmental impacts

Protecting Western Australia’s environment is one of the State Government’s highest priorities. As with all resources projects in Western Australia, a strict, multi-agency approval process is in place to ensure the environmental impacts of uranium mining are managed and minimised.

Before any exploration or mining approvals are granted, a company must demonstrate that it will manage the environment to the highest standard.

Companies are expected to avoid environmental damage wherever possible but, where this is not practicable, they must demonstrate how they will monitor and minimise the impact and rehabilitate the disturbance.

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