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Exploration and Production


Over the last decade (2005-2015), there has been well over a billion dollars spent in Australia on uranium exploration.  The major prospecting areas have been in South Australia and Western Australia with the Northern Territory and Queensland also being significant uranium exploration regions.  Considerable potential exists for additional uranium discoveries in Australia.

2005-06 0.0 0.0 0.0 30.3 0.2 0.0 7.6 56.1
2006-07 0.0 0.0 7.5 63.8 9.2 0.0 30.1 114.1
2007-08 0.0 0.0 34.1 118.0 13.0 0.0 48.7 231.5
2008-09 0.0 0.0 25.1 72.6 15.5 0.0 54.5 185.2
2009-10 0.0 0.0 5.6 52.7 55.4 0.0 38.6 169.1
2010-11 0.0 0.0 4.1 53.7 100.7 0.0 41.9 213.9
2011-12 0.0 0.0 5.7 33.1 78.3 0.0 29.0 153.6
2012-13 0.0 0.0 3.9 10.3 35.1 0.0 10.0 69.5
2013-14 0.0 0.0 6.4 1.4 22.6 0.0 8.6 43.9
2014-15 0.0 0.0 3.4 2.3 26.4 0.0 8.0 40.6
TTL 0.0 0.0 95.8 438.2 356.4 0.0 277.0 1277.5

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, series 8412.0


Australia has four uranium mines –

Ranger is owned by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA), a 68.39 per cent subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

The Ranger mine and associated town of Jabiru is about 230 kilometres east of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, a major tourist attraction. The mine opened in 1981 at a production rate of approximately 3300 tonnes per year of uranium oxide and has since been expanded to 5500 t/yr capacity. Mining of the second pit was 1997 to 2012, and this is now being backfilled. Treatment is conventional acid leach.

ERA has completed extensive work on planning for the eventual closure of the Ranger Project Area.  Since 2012 ERA has spent $392 million on rehabilitation and water management.

ERA's royalty payments are a major source of income for the Indigenous community and the Northern Territory Government. ERA makes royalty payments of 5.5 per cent of net sales revenue from Ranger mine production.

In 2013, the equivalent of 4.25 per cent of Ranger sales revenue was disbursed to Northern Territory based Aboriginal organisations, including the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation. A further 1.25 per cent of Ranger sales revenue paid to the Commonwealth is distributed to the Northern Territory Government. In 2013, ERA's royalties totalled $18.4 million (2012: $20.6 million).

Olympic Dam is owned 100 per cent by BHP Billiton (BHP).

During 1988 the Olympic Dam project, then a joint venture of Western Mining Corporation and BP Minerals, commenced operations about 560 km north of Adelaide, in an arid part of South Australia. The massive deposit is underground, some 350 metres below the surface, and is the largest known uranium orebody in the world. The large underground mine produces copper, with gold and uranium as major by-products. Annual production capacity for uranium oxide has been expanded from 1800 to 4600 tonnes U3O8. It is now owned by BHP Billiton, following its 2005 takeover of WMC Resources.

About 80 per cent of the uranium is recovered in conventional acid leach of the flotation tailings from copper recovery. Most of the remaining 20 per cent is from acid leach of the copper concentrate, but that concentrate then still contains up to 0.15 per cent uranium. The copper is smelted at site.

The Olympic Dam mine is on formerly pastoral land in the middle of South Australia. A town to accommodate 3500 people was built at Roxby Downs to service the mine. The 18,000 ha mine lease is managed as a nature reserve.

Beverley operations are owned 100 per cent by Heathgate Resources.

The small Beverley mine in South Australia started operation late in 2000, 520 kilometres north of Adelaide, on the plains north-west of Lake Frome. It was Australia's first in situ leach (ISL) mine, accessing a palaeochannel deposit in sand in a saline aquifer. It was licensed to produce 1180 t/yr U3O8 (1000 tU), and reached this level in 2004, though production has declined since. It is owned and operated by Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd, an associate of General Atomics in the USA.

In December 2010, the company received government approval to mine the Beverley North deposits.

In September 2013, the company received approval to mine the Four Mile deposit.  Mining commenced there in June 2014.

Honeymoon is owned by Boss Resources.

The Honeymoon ISL mine in South Australia commenced operation in 2011.  At the time it was owned by Uranium One. The mine received government approval to proceed with ISL mine development in November 2001 but reassessed its ore reserves and Uranium One, based in Toronto, finally moved to development in 2007. In 2008 Mitsui agreed to join the project as 49 per cent joint venture partner, and a construction contract was then let. Operations were ramping up to 400 t/yr.  Mitsui largely funded the development and commissioning, but then withdrew from the project in 2012. In November 2013 Uranium One closed the mine and put it on care and maintenance until uranium prices improved.

Toro Energy Limited (ASX: TOE) owns deposits around Wiluna in Western Australia.

In April 2013, Toro received final government environmental approvals to develop the Centipede and Lake Way deposits – two of the six deposits that make up the wholly-owned Wiluna Uranium Project located 960 kilometres north-east of Perth.

In February 2014, Toro initiated the government assessment and approval process to mine additional deposits at Millipede and Lake Maitland.

Cameco Australia is owned by Canadian-based Cameco (TSX: CCO).

In April 2015, Cameco Australia received federal government approval to mine the Kintyre deposit in the East Pilbara region of Western Australia.  Cameco Australia owns 70 per cent of the Kintyre project with Mitsubishi owning 30 per cent.

Cameco Australia also owns Yeelirrie; one of the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in Australia.  Cameco commenced the environmental approvals process for Yeelirrie in Q4 2014, so that we are well-placed to respond should the market signal a need for more uranium.  Cameco released the Public Environmental Review (PER) for Yeelirrie for public review in September 2015.

Vimy Resources (ASX: VMY) owns the Mulga Rocks deposit.

Vimy Resources released the Public Environmental Review (PER) for Mulga Rocks for public review in December 2015.

Source: Geoscience Australia