The WA state Labor government announced on June 20 that it will not obstruct the construction of the four uranium mines in the state that have already received environmental approval. But it says it will block future proposals.
Toro Energy's Wiluna project, Vimy Resources' Mulga Rock project, and Cameco's Kintyre and Yeelirrie projects were all approved before Labor won the March election. Environmental approval for Yeelirrie was initially denied amid fears several species of subterranean fauna would be made extinct, but it eventually got the nod anyway.
The proposal for the Yeelirrie mine was approved by Barnett Liberal National Party government only two weeks before it went into caretaker mode before the election, while Mulga Rock got the green light a month earlier. In the election, the Barnett government was decisively booted out over widespread community anger at its economic, environmental and energy policies.
Despite state Labor’s official anti-uranium stance, the McGowan government is claiming it cannot legally prevent these projects going ahead, citing potential damages claims by the mining companies.
Piers Verstegen from the Conservation Council of WA has challenged the validity of the approval process and called on WA Labor to take up the challenge to stop these projects from going ahead.
He said: "Environmental standards went out the window under the Barnett government. We believe there are serious legal flaws in the way these approvals were granted ... and we will continue to contest them at every stage of the process, including through pursuing legal options."
At present, with the global market price for uranium being below the cost of production, it is unlikely that these four mines will become immediately operational, but it leaves the door open to a nuclear industry that energetically presents itself as a viable replacement for coal and gas.
Already the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy natural resource manager Kane Moyle has called for a complete repeal of the state “ban” on uranium mining.
With this decision from the government, it is unclear how many more allowances WA Labor will make to the mining sector. Whether it is a question of these four projects alone or a further deterioration in favour of nuclear interests, campaigning against uranium mining is fast presenting as one of the key battle grounds around which local environmentalists will mobilise.