Toro shares hit after delay in uranium plans

SHARES in Toro Energy could face headwinds on Wednesday after the company failed to win final approval to build Australia’s next uranium mine.

SHARES in Toro Energy could face headwinds on Wednesday after the company failed to win final approval to build Australia’s next uranium mine.

Market expectations of a swift approval for Toro’s Wiluna mine proposal were dashed late on Tuesday when federal Environment Minister Tony Burke sought an extension of time to make his decision.

While not a rejection, it is the second time Mr Burke has sought an extension, with the current deadline of December 18 being pushed out to March 31, 2013.

The delays at federal level come despite the fact West Australian regulators gave their blessings on October 10 to an approval process that was supposed to be run bilaterally between state and federal governments.

The saga comes just weeks after the Gillard government backed away from a pledge to streamline approvals for big projects by creating a single process run by the states.

Toro chief executive Greg Hall could barely contain his frustration, saying he was ‘‘very surprised and extremely disappointed’’ by this further delay.

‘‘There will be a gap of up to six months between the decisions of the two jurisdictions, when the bilateral agreement was meant to ensure a harmonisation of the process,’’ he said.

‘‘Toro was advised by the minister’s office and department on more than one occasion that it required no further information from Toro.’’

Mr Hall said it was not yet clear what extra information was being sought by Mr Burke.

‘‘We need to clarify that . . . once we find that out we will know for sure.’’

Shares in Toro began to rise mid session on Tuesday when Mr Burke gave his approval to another environmentally contentious project in Tasmania.

But they slumped by almost 9 per cent to 11¢ shortly before the close of trading, and could face more pressure when trading resumes on Wednesday morning.

But while the company and the market may not have expected a further delay for the Wiluna mine, environment groups had been confidently predicting for some time that Toro had not done enough to satisfy the approval conditions.

A recent consultant’s report commissioned by the Conservation Council of Western Australia predicted that certain measures around storage of tailings were not adequate to meet federal approval.

Council spokeswoman Mia Pepper said Mr Burke’s decision to seek more information was prudent and responsible.

‘‘The Toro project is illconceived,’’ she said.

Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney said Toro was a small company that would struggle to raise the funds needed to get the Wiluna project off the ground.

Mr Hall had been due to hand over the chief executive’s role to Dr Vanessa Guthrie on February 8, and the delay means he may depart that role without seeing the Wiluna mine approved.

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