Australia gives environmental approval to new uranium mine

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Tuesday gave environmental approval to a new uranium mine in the nation's resource-rich west, with 36 conditions to guard against negative impacts from radiation and other factors.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said he was giving the go-ahead for Toro Energy's Wiluna uranium project, which will entail two open pits and a processing plant, after a "rigorous environmental assessment".

"Expert agencies provided advice to ensure that the proposal meets world's best practice environmental standards for uranium mining, and that the risks to the environment, including risks from radiation and to groundwater and surface water, can be acceptably managed," he said.

The project will be the first uranium mine in Western Australia, a key exporter of iron ore and gas.

Burke said he had considered public comments made during the assessment for the mine, which will be 30 kilometres southeast of the goldfields town of Wiluna, some 733 kilometres east of the state capital Perth.

Australia does not use nuclear power but it is the world's third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada, exporting 6,888 tonnes of oxide concentrate in 2010, worth more than Aus$600 million (S$776.48 million).

Japan, the United States and European Union account for the majority of Canberra's exports of the nuclear fuel, with smaller shipments to South Korea, China, Canada and Taiwan.

Canberra's overturning of a uranium export ban to India in 2011 and subsequent talks about kick-starting the trade have boosted interest in the nuclear fuel. The Western Australian government approved Wiluna in 2012.

Burke said he was satisfied that the strict conditions would ensure the project could go ahead without unacceptable impacts on the environment both during mining operations and beyond the life of the mine.

"The 36 strict conditions I have put in place will guard against any negative impacts from radiation or to groundwater and surface water, and include precautions to ensure that once the mine is closed, the site is safe for humans and animals, and is non-polluting," he said.

"The measures that the company will use to achieve these requirements must all be detailed in an extensive and thorough environmental management plan which I must be satisfied with and approve before substantial works on the project can begin," he added.

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