Floodplains are no place for radioactive mine tailings: EPA urged to reject Wiluna uranium proposal

MEDIA RELEASE: Monday 8th February 2016

Western Australian and national environment organisations have urged the state EPA not to approve uranium hopeful Toro Energy’s application for an expanded uranium project in the Wiluna region.

Public comment on the plan closes today. More than 2,400 individual expressions of opposition have been sent to the EPA. The detailed submission from environment groups exposes serious data deficiencies and unproven assumptions in Toro’s application.

The company’s paperwork does not adequately address several critical issues, including the environmental impact of water extraction and the secure management of large volumes of long lived radioactive waste mine tailings in a floodplain.

“Toro’s application is based on flawed computer modelling, weak assumptions and empty promises,” said CCWA campaigner Mia Pepper. “There is no shortage of company assurances but there is a disturbing lack of credible proof to back Toro’s claims.

“The company’s previous approval is subject to 35 conditions applied by the Federal Environment Minister following the inadequate State EPA process. The EPA needs to lift its environmental assessment standards – particularly when this project involves plans to store fifty million tonnes of radioactive mine waste on a floodplain. This dangerously deficient plan should not pass go.”

Environment groups have urged the state EPA not to approve the application but to instead require Toro to re-submit a cohesive application that details the full range of impacts of the company’s plans to exploit a series of uranium deposits in the region.

“Toro Energy is seeking staged approvals for what it says is a unified project,” said Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney. “Bit-by-bit approvals might suit Toro, but they compromise environmental certainty and protection. You can’t get room-by-room building approval for a house and you definitely shouldn’t get rolling partial approvals for a uranium mine.”

Toro continues to face major hurdles to its plans in the Wiluna region.  It lacks the capital required to progress its mining plans and has only conditional approval – which explicitly precludes mining activities – for the Lake Way and Centipede deposits.  Uranium mining in WA, including the Wiluna project is actively contested by trade union, public health, environment and community groups. The global uranium market remains depressed nearly five years after the Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima disaster and there is no bi-partisan political support for uranium mining in WA.

The environment groups’ detailed submission can be downloaded here.