The new Liberal-National government in Western Australia has formally lifted the ban on uranium mining in the state, which covers nearly one-third of the country. The new government took over from Labor in September, ending six years of ideologically-motivated stigma on uranium.
Mining leases will now be granted for all minerals, including uranium. However, there remains a question of amending some of the 1475 mining leases granted by the previous government. These specifically exclude uranium, and the government is looking at ways to amend them.
Major uranium projects are likely to be subject to State Agreement Acts, meaning that they will be dealt with individually by the Premier, Colin Barnett, as the Minister for State Development. They will contain strict provisions in line with those for uranium mining elsewhere in Australia and international best practice.
Following the September election, the Executive Director of the Australian Uranium Association (AUA), Michael Angwin, said: "A considerable amount of evaluation work has already been done on a number of prospective mines and the formation of the Barnett-Grylls government will deliver immediate stimulus to the development of the industry."
"A number of companies with good prospects in the West are likely to accelerate their efforts to get their projects into production," Angwin said. He added, "It is important now to ensure the policy and regulatory framework is in place so that the industry can grow quickly but with the application of the highest environmental and safety standards."
Based on a major independent survey published in May, the benefits to Western Australia, the nation and the world of developing uranium will be considerable between now and 2030:
- Western Australian uranium exports will avoid 1.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
- Uranium production will generate A$460 million ($300 million) in state revenue, including A$200 million ($130 million) in royalties.
- Western Australia's Gross State Product will increase by A$3.2 billion ($2.1 billion).
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that despite the previous Labor government's administrative ban on uranium mining, uranium companies during the June quarter spent nearly A$8 million ($5.2 million) on exploration. During 2007-08, Western Australian uranium exploration expenditure was nearly two-and-a-half times higher (A$26.8 million ($17.4 million)) than the previous year (A$11.2 million ($7.3 million)).
Angwin said that he would "expect to see this trend continue, with exploration activities continuing at a high level as companies work to prove up quickly the extent and value of the West's uranium endowment." However, "Despite the likely acceleration of work to bring prospects into production, developing uranium projects is complex and the first WA uranium mine is unlikely to be in production until 2011 or 2012."
BHP revives Yeelirrie
Following the Western Australian government's lifting of the uranium mining ban, BHP Billiton has infomed the state minister for mines and petroleum, Norman Moore, that the company has decided to reactivate the Yeelirrie Uranium Project. BHP Billiton said that it will first undertake a drilling programme to confirm the resource. The company is also assembling a project team to evaluate mining and processing options, and to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Yeelirrie project is estimated by Geoscience Australia to contain more than 40,000 tonnes of uranium oxide.
The AUA's Angwin commented: "BHP Billiton's decision to restart Yeelirrie is a tremendous expression of confidence in the future of uranium mining in Western Australia." He added, "This decision sends a strong signal and should greatly encourage other uranium companies in the West and those who support and invest in the industry there."