A project by Canadian mining company Cameco is hotly criticized in Australia’s largest state, Western Australia. The Saskatoon-based company wants to mine the Yeelirrie deposit bought from Australia’s BHP Billiton for $ 430 million in 2012.
An indigenous activist in the region, Kado Muir, continues the struggle of his ancestors who have been fighting against the exploitation of uranium on the territory of Yeelirrie for forty years.
Muir chairs a nuclear coalition that is organizing a 300-kilometer walk through the desert every year to assert the traditional rights of its people and the environmental risks of uranium in the long run.
This week, the coalition won the support of some members of the Labor Party, the official opposition in Western Australia.
We hunt, we harvest our food on these lands. We travel on these lands, that’s where we live. Mining operations would have a negative impact on these traditional activities.
Kado Muir, Aboriginal activist
Potential impacts on the subterranean fauna of the region
The group is now awaiting a decision from the Western Australia Department of Environment regarding Cameco’s Yeelirrie project. The ministry must decide on the recommendations of the State Environmental Protection Authority.
In a report released in August, the independent organization concludes that the company’s proposal does not respect one of the nine environmental factors studied, the impact on the subterranean fauna of the region.
The report of the independent body indicates that the company’s proposal threatens certain species living in the groundwater.
Proposal may have a direct impact on ground fauna due to habitat removal
Report of the Western Australia Environmental Protection Authority
The authors also point out that surface disturbances could affect some nutrient inputs to water, lead to chemical spills, and changes in levels and quality of water.
The Environmental Protection Authority’s recommendations have been appealed by Cameco. “We believe that with more sampling and research, we can reduce several issues around underground wildlife,” says company spokeswoman Carey Hyndman.
She stressed that the plan is not necessarily to change the project submitted to the Environmental Protection Authority, but to do more research to “better understand microscopic organisms, because it is an inexact science”, according to her.
She also submits that the company is working closely with Aboriginal groups in the field, although she has not reached a formal agreement with them for the Yeelirrie project, as is the case for example for another group. project in the region, the Kintyre project.
A long-term business opportunity, according to an expert
Cameco does not intend to go ahead with the production until the uranium market regains strength. “We want to make sure [the project] is ready when the market gets stronger,” says Hyndman. She adds that, in the current context, the company prefers to rely on mines already in production, including those of McArthur River and Cigar Lake, located in Saskatchewan.
Faculty professor in the Department of Management of Laval University, Yan Cimon, stresses that the Australian deposit could prove profitable in a few years, even if the average price achieved by Cameco at this time may seem unattractive compared to the trends of the courses uranium.
When you look at the potential growth in electricity demand and the growth of nuclear power plants, there are great opportunities for Cameco in the future.
Yan Cimon, Professor, Department of Management, Université Laval
Mr Cimon said Australia has closer and closer economic ties with China, which is setting up some 20 additional nuclear reactors on its territory.
Rhonda Speechley is a seasoned journalist with nearly 12 years under her belt. While studying journalism at University of Melbourne, Rhonda found a passion for finding local stories. As a contributor to News Australia Today, Rhonda mostly covers human interest pieces.