Wiluna

The Wiluna uranium deposits − Lake Way and Centipede − are located 45 kms from Wiluna in the WA Goldfields on Martu country. The deposits, discovered in 1972,  are estimated to contain 11,000 tonnes of uranium

Uranium exploration in the Wiluna region in the 1980s left a legacy of pollution and contamination. Radiation levels more than 100 times normal background readings have been recorded despite the area being ‘cleaned’ a decade ago. Even after the ‘clean up’, the site was left with rusting drums containing uranium ore, and a sign reading “Danger − low level radiation ore exposed” was found lying face down in bushes.

Greens parliamentarian Robin Chapple said in 2000 that: “We found corroded drums of radioactive ore, piles of uranium ore and remnants of wire netting and fence posts. We found some of the most toxic material just being left to blow in the breeze.”

In August 2000, coordinator of the Wiluna-based Marruwayura Aboriginal Corporation Steve Syred said that until about 1993, 100−150 people were living at an old mission three kilometres from the spot where high radiation levels were recorded. Mr. Syred told the Kalgoorlie Miner that the Aboriginal community had unsuccessfully resisted uranium exploration in the area in the early 1980s. Since then many people had lived in the area while the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Corporation was based near the site. Elders still hunted in the area.

Above: A radiation warning sign left after uranium exploration in the 1980s.

Below: A corroding drum left after uranium exploration in the 1980s.

The video below discusses the health effects of low-level radiation exposure and elevated radiation levels at Wiluna (Lake Way) as a result of uranium exploration in the 1980s.

Recent developments

Toro Energy has submitted a draft Environmental Review Management Plan to the WA EPA − it was released for public comment in mid-2011. There were over 2060 submissions made to the EPA in opposition to the proposed mine. The ERMP was incomplete on release to the public yet was still approved by the EPA − as of July 2012, formal appeals to the EPA approval had yet to be resolved (and further state and federal approvals are required beyond EPA approval).

One of the nine appeals was lodged by Aboriginal elder and Wiluna resident Glen Cooke. Mr Cooke said: “Toro Energy they only talk to a few people, always the same people. It’s not right, the people from Bondini sometimes they don’t know about meetings, or their not invited to meetings or they can’t get to meetings. This is not right.” (Bondini is the community closest to the proposed mine.)

There is opposition to this project from the community in Wiluna just 17 kms away from the proposed mine who are concerned about background levels of radiation and water consumption.

Toro is buying up tenements close to Wiluna and plans to develop those sites, so the Wiluna site could be the catalyst for a network of small mines around Wiluna. Toro is also exploring other sites further afield in WA, including the Birrindudu site in a joint venture with Cameco, Kintore on the WA/ NT border, and Lake McKay in north-east WA. Toro also has exploration projects in the NT at Reynolds Range, Armadeus, Wiso and Tanami. Toro also has several uranium exploration mines in Namibia.

Toro promotes dangerous radiation junk science

Toro has become embroiled in a controversy over its repeated promotion of scientifically-unsupported claims that low-level radiation is beneficial to health. In 2012, a joint letter signed by 45 Australian medical doctors called on Toro to stop promoting dangerous junk science; not a single doctor or radiation scientist came to Toro’s defence. As of July 2012, neither the WA nor federal governments had taken action against Toro for promoting dangerous junk science. Toro claimed that it has promoted a range of views on the radiation/health debate but there appears to be no publicly available evidence to support the claim and Toro has declined repeated requests to justify it.

Here is the text of the joint doctors’ statement:

Toro Energy is an Australian company involved in uranium exploration in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia and in Namibia, Africa. The company’s most advanced project is the proposed Wiluna uranium mine in the WA Goldfields.

Toro Energy has consistently promoted the fringe scientific view that exposure to low-level radiation is harmless. Toro Energy has sponsored at least three speaking visits to Australia by Canadian scientist Dr Doug Boreham, who argues that low-level radiation is actually beneficial to human health.

Those views are at odds with mainstream scientific evidence and expert assessment. For example:

  • A 2010 report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation states that “the current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation-associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates.”
  • The 2006 report of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR) of the US National Academy of Sciences states that “the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and … the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.” The report also concludes that claims that low-level radiation exposure may be beneficial to human health are “unwarrranted”.
  • A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US) in 2003 concluded that: “Given that it is supported by experimentally grounded, quantifiable, biophysical arguments, a linear extrapolation of cancer risks from intermediate to very low doses currently appears to be the most appropriate methodology.”

It is irresponsible for Toro Energy to consistently promote fringe scientific views and to ignore mainstream scientific evidence and expert assessment.

Even more alarming is that Toro Energy has sponsored “employee radiation training” by Dr Boreham. Recent scientific research has heightened concern about exposure to radon, the main source of radiation doses to uranium industry workers. In 2009, the International Commission on Radiological Protection concluded that radon gas delivers almost twice the radiation dose to humans as originally thought and the Commission is in the process of reassessing permissible levels. Previous dose estimates to miners need to be approximately doubled to accurately reflect the lung cancer hazard.

We call on Toro Energy to stop promoting fringe scientific views to uranium industry workers and to the public at large.

More information:

More information on the problems after uranium exploration in the 1980s:

[This webpage last updated July 2012]