Yeelirrie uranium project

The Yeelirrie uranium project is a uranium deposit located approximately 70 km southwest of Wiluna, in the Mid West region of Western Australia.[1] The name Yeelirrie is taken from the local sheep station.

Yeelirrie uranium project
Yeelirrie uranium project
StateWestern Australia
Coordinates27°10′41″S 119°54′47″E
CompanyCameco Corporation
WebsiteCameco website
Year of acquisition2012

There are proposals to mine other uranium deposits in the Wiluna area: the Lake Maitland, Centipede, Millipede and Lake Way uranium projects.[2][3]


The Yeelirrie uranium deposit was discovered in mid-1971 by WMC Resources.[4] WMC reached an agreement with Esso and the German Urangesellschaft Australia Pty Ltd in 1978 to co-finance the project, which was then scheduled for production by 1984.[1]

Work on the mine development was underway by 1980 and trial mining was carried out. A pilot processing plant was established at Kalgoorlie in late 1980 and detailed metallurgical studies were undertaken from 1980 to 1982. A feasibility study for production at the rate of 2,500 tonnes (5.5 million pounds) of U3O8 per year was completed in August 1982. There was also potential for 1,000 tonnes per year of vanadium oxide by-product.[1]

The succession of the Australian Labor Party to the federal government and that party's "Three mine policy" put a stop to the project by 1983. Yeelirrie was placed in care and maintenance.[1] Site rehabilitation was completed in 2003.[5]

The project was acquired by BHP Billiton in 2005 when it acquired WMC.[6] BHP reactivated the project after the strongest uranium market in over 25 years and a 2008 change in government policy.[1] The company planned to start mining at Yeelirrie by 2014, producing approximately 80 tonnes (0.18 million pounds) of uranium oxide per week. The mine was expected to have a life of 20–40 years. Ore would be treated on site and then transported by road to Kalgoorlie, from where it would be railed to either South Australia or the Northern Territory, where there are established facilities to store and export uranium oxides.[5]

BHP scaled back the production of the proposed mine in early 2010, from 5,000 tonnes (11 million pounds) per annum to 3,500 tonnes (7.7 million pounds) of U3O8, in part because a proposed additional acid heap leach circuit was deemed uneconomic due to high acid consumption.[7]

The project came under criticism at BHP's 2010 annual general meeting from local Aboriginal groups regarding their concerns which included the employment of indigenous residents near BHP’s mines in WA, and the need for reassurance from BHP that there would be minimal impact on the surrounding land at the planned mine. The local Wongutha people considered Yeelirrie as a "place of death", and that needed to be explored in heritage surveys.[8]

In August 2012, BHP sold the project to Canadian mining company Cameco for US$430 million. At that time Yeelirrie had a measured and indicated mineral resource of 63,000 tonnes (139 million pounds) of U3O8, with an average grade of 0.13% U3O8, and an inferred resource of 2,300 tonnes (5 million pounds) at 0.10% U3O8.[9][10]

At 31 December 2018 Cameco announced measured and indicated mineral resources of 58,100 tonnes (128.1 million pounds) of U3O8, with an average grade of 0.15% U3O8.[11]


  1. Needham, Stewart (24 November 2009). "Yeelirrie uranium deposit in Western Australia". Parliamentary Library. Canberra: Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  2. "Wiluna Uranium Project" (pdf). ASX. Toro Energy Limited. 8 March 2017. p. 7. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  3. "Toro gets approval for uranium project". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 January 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  4. Cameron, Eric (1991). "Discovery of the Yeelirrie Uranium Deposit". In Hollister, Victor F. (ed.). Case Histories of Mineral Discoveries Vol. 3: Porphyry copper, molybdenum , and gold deposits, volcanogenic deposits (massive sulfides), and deposits in layered rock. Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. pp. 223–231. ISBN 978-0873350945.
  5. Yeelirrie Project Overview BHP Billiton website, published: June 2009, accessed: 17 February 2011
  6. "Yeelirrie". Cameco Australia. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
  7. Chambers, Matt (9 February 2010). "BHP cuts Yeelirrie uranium estimate". The Australian. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  8. Lawson, Rebecca (16 November 2010). "BHP bosses grilled at AGM in Perth". Sunday Times. Perth, WA. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  9. "Cameco Acquires Yeelirrie Uranium Project In Western Australia". Cameco News Archive. Saskatoon, Canada: Cameco. 26 August 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  10. Jamasmie, Cecilia (27 August 2012). "BHP sells Australia's mammoth uranium deposit". Vancouver BC. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  11. "Reserves & Resources". Cameco Corporation. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
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