URANIUM explorer Toro Energy created WA history in early April, receiving final environmental approval from the Federal Government for its Wiluna uranium project in the state’s Mid West.
The project is the first of its kind in WA and just the sixth in Australia, with an estimated worth of $269 million.
The prospective mine comprises two deposits, Lake Way and Centipede, 30km south of the town of Wiluna. Centipede, adjacent to Toro’s on-site processing plant, will be the first site to be developed, with first production anticipated by the end of 2015.
The mine is expected to process 1.3 million tonnes per annum, producing approximately 780t of uranium oxide concentrate, based on up to 14 years of mine life.
Toro managing director Dr Vanessa Guthrie expressed enthusiasm after the long-awaited announcement.
“This work has been on hold since the Federal Minister initially deferred his decision on the project in November last year, and then [again after he] initiated a second deferral in December,” Dr Guthrie said.
“Completion of the environmental approvals delivers Toro the regulatory certainty needed to fully underpin our negotiating capacity and to now advance commercial financing arrangements and product off-take agreements with potential partners.
“It also provides a clear pathway to complete detailed engineering design, infrastructure and cost estimates for Wiluna.”
Federal Environment minister Tony Burke gave the final environmental go ahead, stipulating 36 strict approval conditions including a specific emphasis on protection of local groundwater from radiation, and to ensure the area is left safe for humans and animals once the mine is closed.
Toro is reportedly in talks with seven potential partners in various Asian locations, including Japan, South Korea and China. As part of a supply agreement, the venture is expected to give Toro an offer stake ranging between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the mine.
Subject to successful finalisation of financing and marketing arrangements, as well as design and cost work, first production from the Wiluna mine is expected by the end of 2015 – just in time to benefit from a looming supply deficit.
“We’re seeing a supply shortfall from 2016 onwards starting to drive potential partners and customers to look to secure supply,” Dr Guthrie told Bloomberg News.
“For new uranium projects, there are very few that are going to start in that window.” Mined concentrate is planned to be shipped out to global targets via infrastructure in the Northern Territory and South Australia, using an existing rail between the two states.