MAC: Mines and Communities

Ozzie Uprising

Published by MAC on 2006-05-06

Ozzie Uprising

by The Australian

6th May 2006

It's all go for uranium in Australia, the world's biggest source of yellowcake, where a fourth mine may soon come on stream (violating a national policy that dates back to the 1980s).

WWF Australia is now also backing uranium mining. Little wonder, since WWF's CEO is Greg Bourne, who recently moved from a stint as head of BP Australia (which financed the start-up of the huge Roxby Downs copper-uranium mine, now owned by BHPBilliton).

Although such renegade action goes against WWF International's anti-nuclear stance, it's being backed by Paul Gilding, now an "environmental consultant", but formerly Greenpeace International’s executive secretary.

As if this weren't enough, a senator from Queensland is urging the mining of Antarctica. Given the nature of Australian resource politics, this crazy proposal may not remain in "la-la" land for long.

Aussies make push to cash in on nuclear revival


Special to The Globe and Mail, Canada

5th May 2006

SYDNEY -- Surging global demand for uranium as countries turn increasingly to nuclear power has spurred potential for a modern-day gold rush in Australia, where the dusty red Outback contains the world's largest known reserves of yellowcake.

This month's deal to supply China with the nuclear fuel caused shares in mining and exploration companies to skyrocket, and is intensifying pressure on state governments across Australia to lift a ban on new uranium mines.

A ban on new mines, in force since 1984, has held back the industry and allowed Canada to outpace Australia in global production, despite having substantially smaller reserves.

"Uranium mining in terms of exploration, production and processing should be treated no differently from any other mineral," said Mitchell Hooke, head of the Minerals Council of Australia, an industry lobby group.

Worldwide demand for nuclear fuel is growing, pushed by rising oil prices and pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China, Russia, Finland, France and India are just some of the countries expanding their nuclear capacity, said Mr. Hooke, whose council estimates that some 60 new reactors are planned worldwide -- which would increase current levels of nuclear generation by 17 per cent.

Uranium is the key raw material. Its atoms are split in a reactor, creating a controlled fission reaction. The resulting heat is tremendous and is used to make steam, which spins turbines and thus generates electricity.

Australia holds 30 per cent of the world's known recoverable reserves of uranium and accounts for 22 per cent of the world's production. The European Union, Japan, South Korea and the United States are Australia's biggest customers. Canada holds 12 per cent of the world's reserves, yet produces 30 per cent of world mine output, according to the Uranium Information Centre, an industry body in Australia.

Ian Hore-Lacy, general manager of the centre, said China's demand for uranium was expected to rise from 1,500 tonnes a year to 8,000 tonnes by 2020, which alone could absorb all of Australia's present exports.
Yet despite the massive global demand -- which has driven up prices for uranium ore by 40 per cent to more than $40 (U.S.) a pound in the past 12 months -- producers cannot simply turn a tap to increase supply.

There are only three uranium mining operations in Australia: the giant Olympic Dam mine controlled by BHP Billiton Ltd. in South Australia, the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory run by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. and General Atomics' Beverley mine in South Australia.

Olympic Dam produces 4,500 tonnes of uranium a year. The company is considering a major expansion that could see output more than triple to 15,000 tonnes annually, although not for several years.

The Ranger mine produces 5,500 tonnes a year and needs approval from the local aboriginal population, which holds land rights, before a proposed extension can go ahead. Beverley produces 1,180 tonnes a year.

Currently, the most likely source of new uranium is the Honeymoon mine in South Australia, owned by Toronto-listed company SXR Uranium One Inc.

Despite the mining moratorium, there are no political impediments to Honeymoon going into operation, as a 21-year mining lease was granted in 2002 when the Liberal Party controlled the South Australian government.

An updated feasibility study is expected to go next month to the company's board, which will then decide whether to proceed to commercial production.

A feasibility study completed in October, 2004, estimated it would cost $30-million for Honeymoon to go into production at an overall cash operating cost of about $13 a pound. The mine is expected to produce 400 tonnes of uranium oxide a year for up to eight years, based on the current known resource on the mining lease.

"China is a massive emerging market in addition to the rest of the Western world market, which is currently experiencing a shortage in supply," said Leigh Curyer, the company's vice-president of corporate development in Australia and Asia.

While the uranium industry promotes nuclear power as a clean form of energy, environmentalists warn there are hidden costs to extracting more uranium.
Gavin Mudd, an expert in environmental engineering at Monash University, said the mining, milling and enrichment of uranium ore causes substantial carbon dioxide emissions.

"The C0{-2} emissions, the consumption of water and the build up of radioactive waste for every tonne of uranium taken from the ground is all adding to the environmental cost," he said.

The power Down Under

Almost half the world's uranium for nuclear generation comes from weapons stockpiles, while the rest is mined. Backers of Australia's uranium industry hope the lifting of a mining moratorium will boost the country's share of world production from 22 per cent.

Who has it

Tonnes, percentage of world recoverable resources:
South Africa
Russian Federation
United States
World total

Who uses it:

Percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power:
over 75%
over 30%
over 30%
over 30%
United States
over 17%
less than 17%
less than 17%

Green group accepts uranium mines

Amanda Hodge, The Australian

4th May 2006

ONE of the nation's largest environment groups, WWF Australia, has accepted the federal Government's push to expand uranium mining and exports.

WWF chief executive Greg Bourne, former boss of BP Australasia, told The Australian yesterday the nation was "destined under all governments to be mining uranium and exporting it to a growing world market".

"We have been mining uranium and exporting it for many years and we're doing more because demand is going up, whether people like it or not," he said. "The key issues are if we're going to be a nation exporting uranium, we have to know absolutely it's only being used for peaceful purposes and waste products are being stored safely."

The move is likely to drive a wedge through the environment movement, which is fighting to make the Government's planned uranium exports to China - and the nuclear power debate - a federal election issue next year.

Former Greenpeace International executive director Paul Gilding, who is now an environmental consultant, yesterday defended WWF's uranium position.

"I think it's rational to say: we oppose nuclear power, but given there is nuclear power let's make sure we make it as safe as possible," he said. "The risk to anybody in this area is it's such a highly ideological, almost religious, debate."

Mr Gilding said WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, had "always been the one closest to the corporate conservative side, and good luck to them. Someone needs to be."

Mr Bourne's comments come just weeks after John Howard signed a uranium export deal with China under which billions of dollars of Australian uranium could be shipped to the Asian powerhouse to fuel as many as 40 new nuclear power plants.

As a condition of the deal, China has agreed not to use Australian uranium in nuclear weapons. Environment groups argue there are insufficient monitoring and safety procedures in place to prevent that occurring.

Labor is reconsidering its long-held opposition to expanding uranium mining. While resources spokesman Martin Ferguson has called for Labor to ditch the policy, environment spokesman Anthony Albanese, from the Left, is fiercely opposed to change.

Mr Bourne said all Australians should demand transparency in any uranium export deals to ensure the mineral was being used for peaceful purposes only. But his position has provoked a furious response from Wilderness Society leader Alec Marr, who called last night for the WWF chief to consider going "back to industry where he came from".

"Uranium mining, anywhere, any time, is an immoral act and the job of all environment groups should be to stop every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining," Mr Marr said.

"WWF should do something other than simply tread the footsteps of the Liberal Party when it comes to uranium."

Mr Marr claimed Mr Bourne was out of step with WWF International's anti-nuclear power policy and called for him to "either toe the line or leave".

WWF International opposes nuclear power as a clean-energy alternative to greenhouse intensive coal-fired power, citing contamination risks, waste problems and security concerns.

But as head of WWF Australia, Mr Bourne has publicly acknowledged nuclear power will play a role in the world's move towards clean energy, while maintaining Australia has no need for nuclear power because of its abundance of renewable energy resources.

He told The Australian yesterday that the current nuclear debate in Australia was a "red herring" drawing attention from the need to stem climate change.

"We don't believe nuclear power is the solution to global warming," he said. "(But) there are something like 440 nuclear power stations around the world and 20 more on the books.

"Others might wish the Pandora's box had never been opened, but we have the honesty to recognise there are some big issues and as the world seeks ... to move away from a global-warming catastrophe, (it's) going to explore all sorts of things."

The comments are unlikely to improve relations between WWF and other environmental groups in Australia, which view with suspicion its close relationship with the federal Government.

Last year, the Australia Institute claimed the WWF's federal funding had gone up in direct proportion to its increased support for commonwealth policy

Mine Antarctica, says Joyce


1st May 2006

CONTROVERSIAL Queensland Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce says Australia should mine Antarctica before another country gets in first.

He says if Australia doesn't start exploiting the mineral wealth of Antarctica soon, then other countries will extract minerals from the pristine frozen continent.

Mining is banned on the continent under the Antarctic Treaty.

Australia was one of 12 nations that in 1959 signed the treaty which came into force on 23 June 1961.

Senator Joyce has just returned from a month-long trip, as a member of Parliament's External Territories Committee, to the Antarctic.

He says he's been fascinated with the frozen wilderness since childhood and when he collected stamps from the Australian Antarctic Territory.

During his trip, Senator Joyce kept a video diary, filming himself and his impressions of life on Casey Station and Macquarie Island, and his thoughts on Antarctica's future.

He told Australian Story, broadcast on ABC Television tonight, Australia may have no choice but to allow some form of development in Antarctica.

"We claim 42 per cent of the Antarctic but that claim is not recognised by quite a large number of countries," Senator Joyce said.

"There's minerals there, there's gold, there's iron ore, there's coal, there's huge fish resources and what you have to ask is: 'Do I turn my head and allow another country to exploit my resource ... or do I position myself in such a way as I'm going to exploit it myself before they get there'."

Australia did not have the power to keep the Antarctic in a pristine state and should look at exploiting the region in a sustainable way, he said.

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