Former Mary Kathleen Uranium MineContentTimely project approvals

While commodity prices remain low, there are signs the uranium market is slowly improving. The recent deal made by the Australian Government to sell uranium to India, and China’s determined focus to introduce clean energy, all but ensures a positive long term outlook for this resource.

In Australia, Queensland has recently lifted its ban on uranium mining, and the New South Wales Government has recently extended an invitation for the application of uranium exploration licences. This has renewed the opportunity for uranium miners in these states. While in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory uranium mining has been allowed for some time, there are many opportunities for further development.

The changing political and regulatory environments demonstrate the growing support for the industry and opens opportunities to establish new operations. Further development of Australia’s uranium industry will create new jobs and other economic opportunities during the mine planning, approvals, development and operational phases.

Companies looking to progress uranium projects should start planning for project approvals early. Considering the contentious nature of uranium mining, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) process that proactively manages community and stakeholder engagement is a necessity. An environmental impact statement that is based on a thorough ESIA process will provide certainty to the government and the community that your company has undertaken a comprehensive assessment and clarity about how any potential adverse impacts will be managed.The result: timely project approval.

Your project approval – key challenges

While policies and processes in most states are now in place to guide the industry in obtaining the approvals needed for uranium mining to commence, gaining project approval can be complex. More so than other mining operations, uranium has legacy perception issues driven by old practices, fears of nuclear warfare and safety concerns. While these perception issues can be managed, they have the ability to provoke community outrage and delay your project. For this reason, the concerns of community groups and stakeholders must be addressed in the early planning stage of your ESIA, and managed throughout the process. Your EIS document must also be backed by robust and scientific environmental information.

Another important element that should be incorporated into your stakeholder management plan is social media. In today’s digital age, social media has transformed the way community groups operate. As a result, small issues could become a major stakeholder engagement challenge for your project. As such, this needs to be factored into your strategy and managed effectively.

There is also additional complexity when it comes to legislation for uranium projects. Uranium explorers and operators must comply with both Federal Government and state or territory legislation. And depending on the location, your project may fall under multiple acts. The Federal Government is responsible for a number of acts relating to the mining and export of uranium, as well as the possession, transport and storage of nuclear material. The regulatory agencies for the EIS assessment and approval, as well as for operational workplace health and safety, fall under state jurisdiction. The Federal Government also has involvement in the EIS assessment. This is because uranium mining triggers the ‘nuclear action’ assessment under the Federal Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act.

As part of the EIS, uranium miners must also assess potential radiological impacts affecting the public and the broader environment, and provide management measures and rehabilitation plans to reduce these. Developing these strategies can be complex and take some time, particularly managing the potentially long-term residual impacts from radioactive decay to water and land resources. It’s important that these issues are planned for to avoid project delays.

Moving your project forward

From a stakeholder engagement perspective, we believe in adopting a value-based management strategy. This involves the early identification of stakeholders and community representatives, and developing a working plan to engage with these groups to gain an understanding of what values they place on the social and biophysical environment. The intent is to gain social acceptance for your project as early in the process as possible, by developing a thorough understanding of stakeholders and responding appropriately to their requirements.

As part of your stakeholder engagement strategy, it’s also vital that the communication channels are open and transparent. To achieve this, regular one-on-one meetings should be established and a project communications plan developed. Regular updates on all key information as it becomes available should be communicated.

Approval and public acceptance of a uranium mine is achievable. This has been demonstrated by the recent approval of the Wiluna Uranium Project in Western Australia – but it takes time.

Be realistic regarding your expectations. There will be many requests for information from various government departments. It’s important to demonstrate that you’re following the relevant guidelines and that you strive to deliver industry best practice.

How we can help

We have extensive mining project experience covering more than 250 mines and mineral prospects in Australia, the Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Collectively, these projects have involved all the elements of the project life cycle including strategy and scoping; mine planning; site investigations, training and localisation; public consultation and engagement; environmental and social impact assessment preparation and reporting; pre-construction monitoring baselines; operations management; performance reporting; and decommissioning and closure. This enables Coffey to develop a detailed understanding of the environmental, social, health and safety aspects associated with mining projects.

Our experience with uranium projects ranges from mineral resource and ore reserve estimates, mine processing and environmental approvals, through to feasibility, tailings design and mine closure. This includes work on the Honeymoon Uranium Mine and the Mt Gee Uranium projects both in South Australia, the Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine in Queensland, and the Ranger Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory.

Our team of specialists can help you navigate both state and federal environmental legislation, policy and best practice guidelines. We can prepare an environmental approvals strategy and ensure that your EIS documentation is robust and technically sufficient to help you minimise delays and avoid additional costs associated with project approval.

We can help you to develop a stakeholder engagement strategy to ensure there is open and transparent communication and information sharing with the community and stakeholders.

A quality EIS and consultation process will assist in gaining acceptance from the community and in the longer term, it will provide the groundwork to protect the environment and public from potential impacts.

If you would like more information about how we can help you, please contact Anna Dennis on +61 7 3002 0400 or via email at anna.dennis@coffey.com