PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Federal Resource Minister Martin Ferguson has called on the Queensland state government to remove its ban on uranium mining, citing the expected upsurge in demand.
In an address to the AusIMM International Uranium Conference, in Adelaide, South Australia, Ferguson said that the state already permitted uranium exploration, and was estimated to host at least 37 000 t of uranium resource.
Ferguson’s comments come in the wake of the New South Wales government lifting its ban on uranium during March, and Western Australia approving the development of its first uranium mine.
The South Australian and federal governments have also approved the expansion of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine, which, if given board approval, had the potential to become the world’s largest uranium mine.
“The increased activity in uranium projects across Australia will significantly increase national production over the next few decades,” Ferguson told delegates.
The country’s identified uranium resources have more than doubled during the past two decades, and nearly A$100-million was spent on uranium exploration in Western Australia alone during 2010/11, after its ban on uranium mining was lifted in 2008, said Ferguson.
During the same timeframe, Australia exported some A$610-million worth of uranium, making it the world’s third-largest uranium producer. Ferguson said that uranium exports were expected to climb above 7 000 t this year, and estimations from the Australian Energy Resource Assessment predicted that uranium exports would more than triple by 2030, to 25 000 t.
“We are a trusted supplier to regions such as the US, South Korea and the European Union,” Ferguson said on Wednesday, adding that the country was also moving into new markets such as China, Russia and potentially India.
“The Australian government is working to improve access to international markets in line with these opportunities. Trade will occur with countries with which we have concluded strong bilateral safeguard agreements, providing the necessary assurances that our uranium will only be used for civil power generation.”
The Minister noted that Australia currently had 22 bilateral safeguard agreements in place, covering 40 countries, the most recent of which were negotiated with China and Russia.
Australia was also finalising a bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which could possibly open a new uranium market, said Ferguson. The UAE was planning to have its first nuclear reactor come on line in 2017, with three more operational by 2020.
Ferguson pointed out that the federal government was also considering implementing a policy change to allow uranium exports to India.
“The Indian government has declared that nuclear power will play an important role in promoting its national economic growth and reducing its carbon emissions. More than 400-million of its citizens were without access to electricity in 2007,” Ferguson said.
“Subject to Australia’s stringent uranium safeguard requirements, Australia will do its part to help India meet its growing energy needs.”