The government of Western Australia on 16 January granted environmental approval to Cameco Australia's proposed Yeelirrie uranium project, subject to conditions that include measures to mitigate risks to underground fauna.

The approval came following an environmental assessment process, public consultation, and agreement between Western Australia's environment minister Albert Jacob and the state's ministers for water, mines and petroleum, Aboriginal affairs and state development. It was issued as a 25-page ministerial statement by the Western Australia Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

EPA had recommended in August 2016 that the project should not be allowed to proceed because it lacked adequate protection for subterranean fauna. All of the other key environmental factors assessed in the EPA's environmental impact assessment, including potential impacts to flora, vegetation and human health, as well as rehabilitation and decommissioning, met required objectives.

Cameco had previously identified 73 species of stygofauna, which occur below the water table in the project area, some of which are only known to occur in the project area. However, in January, Jacob said the government had considered broader economic and social matters, as well as environmental factors in its decision to approve the project. "Further surveys may identify that the species currently only found within the project area are more widespread. I have therefore mandated as part of this approval further survey work and investment in research," he said.

Conditions attached to the ministerial approval include a requirement that Cameco carry out a detailed survey of subterranean fauna and that it must prepare, and implement, a research plan to develop a better understanding of the fauna and how to support it. These conditions must be met before any "ground disturbance activities" commence.

Yeelirrie, 100% owned by Cameco Corporation subsidiary Cameco Australia, has 127.3 million pounds U3O8 (49,000 tU) of measured and indicated uranium resources, with an average grade of 0.16% U3O8. The approval requires Cameco Australia to commence "substantial" implementation of the project within five years.

Cameco Australia managing director Brian Reilly said the company was "advancing" Yeelirrie through the environmental assessment process to be ready to respond "when the market signals a need for more uranium". Cameco plans to mine the ore from a shallow open pit, about 10 metres deep, over a 22-year operational life. 

Photo: Yeelirie project (Credit: Cameco Australia)