Polluting, premature, and under investigation – Western Australia’s Toro uranium mining projects

Toro uranium expansion plan: premature and polluting   http://www.ecovoice.com.au/toro-uranium-expansion-plan-premature-and-polluting/    | April 7, 2014 Western Australia’s peak environmental group has condemned a move by uranium mining hopeful Toro Energy to expand their unrealised Wiluna mine plan into a much larger uranium mining precinct spanning 100km and two ecologically sensitive lake systems in the East Murchison region.

The state EPA has released details of the expansion plan while the company is under investigation by the Australian Securities Exchange for a second time over claims they have released misleading information to shareholders and the market. (See background below).

“Toro have never successfully mined anything before and have a long way to go to get their original single-mine project approved – let alone any new expansion,” said CCWA Nuclear Free campaigner, Mia Pepper.

“Contrary to their statements to shareholders, the company needs to complete additional environmental management , mine closure, tailings management and transport plans for assessment before any mining can commence at the Wiluna site.”

The company has struggled to find investors and currently needs $300 million in start-up costs and a further $300 million in upfront bonds.

“This new plan to attract investors is likely to draw further scrutiny from both regulators and the wider community who will be looking at the cumulative impacts of a regional uranium precinct covering 100km and two arid zone Lake Systems.”

“Toro plans to double its water consumption and store radioactive mine waste from several mine sites in a Lake bed. This idea lacks credibility and the company lacks capacity, experience and financial backing.”

Toro’s new plan involves four deposits over one hundred kilometres – Lake Way, Centipede, Millipede and Lake Maitland, with the company’s long term plans including mining an additional three deposits Nowthanna, Dawson Hinkler and Firestrike – covering a hundred kilometres in the other direction.

Also in the region is WA’s largest uranium deposit – Yeelirrie, which is now owned by Cameco. Traditional Owners have consistently opposed this project for forty years.

CCWA is partnering with a range of public health, union and faith groups to call for a public inquiry into the Toro mine plan.

ASX investigation

The Mineral Policy Institute and the Conservation Council of WA received formal notification that the Australian Securities Exchange is investigating Toro Energy for the second time over the release of potentially misleading information.

On Friday 21st February 2014 Toro energy released an ASX announcement about the referral of two newly acquired uranium deposits to the West Australian EPA, stating:

“Toro already has the necessary approvals from both the Western Australian and Federal Governments to establish a processing facility at Centipede and commence mining Wiluna’s Centipede and Lake Way deposits.”- Toro ASX release.

Whilst Toro would dearly love this to be the case, it simply is not. As part of the 35 conditions made on the federal environmental approval for the Wiluna uranium project Toro must submit a complete Environmental Management Plan which includes management plans for groundwater, surface water, mine closure, rehabilitation, Aboriginal heritage and more. These must be submitted to and approved by the Federal Environment Minister before any works, land clearing or construction can begin at the site.

The conditional approval granted in April, 2013 by then federal environment Minister Tony Burke   explicitly states that until these management plans are submitted, assessed and approved by the Federal Minister Toro cannot carry out any “preparatory works undertaken as part of the action including clearing of vegetation and use of heavy equipment for breaking ground for mining and infrastructure”.

This conditional federal environmental approval explicitly precludes Toro from doing any preparatory works let alone permitting it to ‘establish a processing facility’ or ‘commence mining.’

EPA review

On the 24th of February Toro Energy referred two additional deposits as an extension to the Wiluna uranium proposal. The deposits are known as Millipede and Lake Maitland.

The new proposal includes plans to mine uranium ore from Lake Maitland and Millipede and to process and store the radioactive mine waste in the Lake bed of Lake Way.

On 25th March 2014 the WA EPA made the Toro Wiluna uranium expansion project open for public review. This comment period is happening whilst the project proponent is the subject of an active ASX investigation.

Wiluna community response

The Central Desert Native Title service released a statement on the Wiluna Martu response to the uranium project. It is interesting to note some comments within the release:

“The Wiluna Martu People’s previous experience with uranium exploration in the Wiluna region has left them with serious and genuine concerns about the health effects of radiation. It also raised questions for the about the government’s capacity to properly regulate uranium exploration and mining on their traditional lands.”

“The issue of uranium mining is not something that Martu have invited. Rather under the current policy and state regulatory environment it is something they are forced to confront in order to ensure that their traditional lands and their people are sufficiently recognised and protected.”

The statement goes on to say:

“The Senior Lawmen acknowledge that there are divergent views about uranium mining within the wider Martu community and these divergent views have to be accommodated in this negotiation.”

Toro is experiencing significant and sustained financial and capacity constraints in relation to the Wiluna project and it is welcome that the company’s public representation of its project approval status is again the focus of public, market and regulatory scrutiny and attention.

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