The company developing Western Australia’s first uranium mine says it has beaten a deadline set by the state government to begin operations.
- Mulga Rock was one of four proposed uranium mines given approval by WA’s former Liberal-National government
- Environmental approvals gave Vimy Resources five years from December 16, 2016 to begin work at the site
- The company expects to make a final investment decision next year and is targeting 2025 for first uranium production
In December 2016, the former Liberal-National government granted environmental approval for the Mulga Rock project in the eastern Goldfields, 300 kilometres north-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
The approvals only last five years and have been further complicated by the current Labor government’s decision to reinstate a ban on uranium mining.
While a final investment decision on the $393 million Mulga Rock project is not anticipated until the second half of next year, Vimy Resources claims that the clearing of 143 hectares that cover the proposed open pit and the presence of an accommodation village ticks the box for the start of operations.
The company has been progressing early site works since September, which also includes the refurbishment of an airstrip.
Vimy Resources told the stock market today it has submitted documents notifying the Department of Water and Environment Regulation of “substantial commencement”.
Vimy’s interim chief executive Steven Michael said the company had invested more than $20 million on the development of Mulga Rock over the past five years, with a further $8 million of expenditure approved as part of the early works program which is scheduled to be completed by the end of January.
He said the mine would directly employ 550 personnel during construction and 350 workers once in production, generating more than $200 million in state royalties over its 15-year life.
“The foundations are now in place to build a long-life, strategic resource project for Western Australia, and the board of Vimy is focused on rapidly advancing Mulga Rock to its next development milestone,” Mr Michael said in a statement.
“Vimy will continue to work cooperatively with the various state and federal government departments to obtain the approvals required to ensure Mulga Rock delivers first uranium production in 2025.
‘Can’t retrospectively cancel approvals’
Minister for Mines Bill Johnston was asked on Wednesday about the upcoming December 16 deadline.
“I can’t comment on the progress of their project. That’s a decision for them,” he said.
Mr Johnston said government policy is clear in opposing uranium mining.
“We can’t retrospectively cancel approvals,” he said
“Now, whether they’ve complied with their approvals, that’s a legal question. I’m not able to answer that, and at the relevant time the authorities will have to examine those and make that decision.”
Toro Energy’s Wiluna project in the northern Goldfields and the Kintyre and Yeelirrie projects, both owned by Canadian giant Cameco, are the other WA uranium projects granted environmental approval by the former government.
Work ‘deeply irresponsible’: campaigner
Conservation Council of WA nuclear-free campaigner Mia Pepper said the Mulga Rock project still required a range of federal nuclear safety permits and licences before they can begin mining.
“What’s worse, the company does not have the necessary financial capacity and so has not made a final investment decision to develop the mine,” she said.
According to company documents, it had $21.9 million in the bank as of September 30.
“At the end of the day, the project’s economics simply do not stack up.
“In a clumsy attempt to prove ‘substantial commencement’ and without any clear plan or financial capacity, Vimy has begun recklessly clearing land, native vegetation and precious habitat for endangered species in the vague hope of beating their December deadline.”
Today’s announcement by Vimy Resources comes after the company last week rejected a proposed merger with Perth-based company Deep Yellow, which is developing a uranium mine in Namibia.