Yeelirrie area Traditional Owners have welcomed the expiry of the environmental approval to mine uranium on their land.

The approval conditions for mining at Yeelirrie, near Wiluna in central Western Australia, required the proponent, Cameco, to substantially begin mining within five years. On 20 January 2022 the approval expired with that condition unmet.

Traditional Owners have fought against mining at Yeelirrie since the 1970s when the uranium deposit was first identified by Western Mining Corporation.

Kado Muir, Tjiwarl native title holder, Ngalia leader of Walkatjurra Walkabout and Chair of the West Australia Nuclear Free Alliance said that over the past five decades “our community got together, stood up strong and has fought off three major multinational corporations”.

“Today we celebrate that Cameco cannot mine at Yeelirrie,” he said.

Shirley Wonyabong, Tjupan elder and senior Tjiwarl native title holder said: “Our community has come together over this issue and we’ve been clear that mining at Yeelirrie will not happen.”

“That area is important and we have a responsibility to protect that country and keep the uranium where it is. When you stay together and united and you don’t let mining companies push you around you can protect country,” she said.

Mr Muir said Traditional Owners were calling on the state government to not extend approvals to mine at Yeelirrie and to withdraw the approvals entirely.

“Cameco don’t need another mine but our community needs certainty about the protection of this area.”

Lizzie Wonyabong, Tjupan elder and senior Tjiwarl native title holder said the community has “campaigned so long” to stop mining at Yeelirrie “because of the Seven Sisters, the importance of that area, because of the dangers of uranium when you dig it up and because of the risk of extinction of the stygofauna”.

“It’s time now to put an end to the mining threat at Yeelirrie. Withdraw the approval.”

Jeff Hryhoriw, Cameco Director of Government Relations and Communications, told the National Indigenous Times to secure approvals in 2017 for future uranium mining activity at Yeelirrie, Cameco was required to demonstrate “substantial commencement of the project by January 20, 2022, unless the state government provides an extension”.

“The weak market conditions that have persisted since the 2017 approval was granted did not justify the investment that would have been necessary to achieve this benchmark, and therefore it was not met.

“As is a right under the original approval, we have subsequently requested an extension, which is presently before the state government for consideration,” he said.

Federal level approval for the proposed Yeelirrie project was granted in 2019, before the Federal Election, without key protections repeatedly recommended by the Federal Government’s experts.

Mr Hryhoriw said Cameco “remains committed to Yeelirrie”, with the future development of the site contingent on “further improvement in the uranium market commensurate with the level of investment that would be required to advance the project”.

A spokesperson for Western Australian Minister for the Environment Reece Whitby confirmed on Tuesday that Cameco has applied to the Minister for an extension on the Yeelirrie uranium project and the Minister is waiting to receive a briefing.

By Giovanni Torre