Yes, no and maybe for Australian ventures

14 February 2012

Legal actions concerning uranium projects in South Australia have concluded with very different outcomes for the two projects concerned. Meanwhile, the government of New South Wales is taking steps to allow uranium exploration in the state.

Exploration at Four Mile (Image: Quasar)

Alliance Resources has announced that litigation before the South Australian Supreme Court concerning the native title agreement for the Four Mile Project has been settled. The terms of the settlement are confidential, the company said in a statement, but the Native Title Mining Agreement (NTMA) for the project has now been registered with the South Australian Mining Register. The NTMA, which sets out terms and conditions covering mining on Aboriginal lands, is a prerequisite for the granting of a mining licence, and the company says it anticipates a mining lease for the project to be issued "shortly".

Alliance holds 25% of Four Mile in a joint venture with Quasar Resources. Quasar applied for a mining lease for the project in 2008, but the native title issues and other legal disputes between Alliance, Quasar and Quasar's affiliate Heathgate Resources have resulted in long-term delays for the project.

Marathon takes the money

Marathon Resources has terminated its involvement with exploration at the Mount Gee uranium deposit in the Arkaroola region after accepting A$5 million ($5.4 million) in compensation from the South Australian state government. The state government announced its intention in July 2011 to ban mining in perpetuity in Arkaroola because of the area's unique character and sensitive environmental, cultural and heritage values.

The Mount Gee uranium deposit, which lies within the area affected by the ban and for which Marathon holds an exploration lease, has estimated indicated and inferred resources totalling over 31,000 tonnes U3O8 (26,300 tU). Marathon launched legal proceedings against the state government in November 2011 after negotiations on compensation failed to make progress.

On accepting the state's "goodwill" payment, Marathon is discontinuing its action against the South Australian government. The company has removed all operating assets from the Mount Gee site and rehabilitated the area covered by its exploration activities.

State minister for mineral resources and energy Tom Koutsantonis said the payment acknowledged the exploration expenses incurred by Marathon in the affected area but noted that there was no legal obligation to compensate the company as a result of the Arkaroola ban. "Under State law, a right to explore does not automatically confer a right to mine," he said. Marathon chairman Peter Williams said the settlement went "some way" towards recognising shareholder value lost as a result of the ban.

New South Wales opens door

New South Wales state premier Barry O'Farrell has promised that a likely reversal on a state uranium exploration ban does not equate to a go-ahead to mine. Australian media, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, have reported a decision by the state cabinet to overturn the 25-year-old ban, although the necessary legislation will still need to be approved in parliament.

O'Farrell reassured his Twitter followers that any future decisions on uranium mining in the state would be made "on facts, not ideology - which is why we've decided to assess what, if any, deposits exist in NSW."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News