Australia is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of uranium. Uranium is an important low emission base load source of electricity generation internationally. Australia has the world's largest uranium reserves with 33 per cent of the world's reasonably assured resources recoverable at less than US$130/kg U.
In 2010–11, Australia exported 6950 tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8) valued at $610 million. Australian policy states that Australian uranium can only be sold to countries with which Australia has a nuclear cooperation agreement, to make sure that countries are committed to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. They must also have safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including an Additional Protocol.
As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Australia has a leadership role in ensuring the sustainable development and responsible use of this globally important energy resource. Consequently, the Australian Government’s policy is that uranium exploration and mining will only be approved subject to stringent environmental and safety requirements in line with world’s best practice.
South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia allow the exploration and mining of uranium. Queensland and New South Wales permit exploration only. Victoria does not permit uranium exploration or mining. The States and Territories regulate the day to day operations of uranium mines in their jurisdictions and provide mining licence approvals.
Australia has four mines in operation from which all production is exported:
The Ranger open pit mine in the Northern Territory which is owned and operated by Energy Resources of Australia (majority owned by Rio Tinto), and employs around 500 personnel.
The Olympic Dam underground polymetallic mine in South Australia, of which BHP Billiton is the owner and operator. It is the world’s largest known uranium deposit, employing around 3500 to 4000 personnel for the entire mining operation.
The Beverley In situ Recovery (ISR) mine in South Australia, of which Heathgate Resources is the owner and operator, and employs 140 personnel.
- The Honeymoon ISR mine, also in South Australia, is the country’s newest uranium mine, having commenced production in late 2011.
The uranium industry in Western Australia has seen a significant resurgence in development following the lifting of the ban on uranium mining in 2008. The most advanced uranium projects are Yeelirie, Lake Maitland, Lake Way/Wiluna, Mulga Rock and Kintyre. Some of these projects are well into the environmental assessment process, and may commence production as early as 2013.
The Uranium Council, formerly known as the Uranium Industry Framework, contributes to national wellbeing through the progressive and sustainable development of the Australian uranium exploration, mining, milling and exporting industry in line with world’s best practice standards.
The Uranium Council’s work consists of four themes: Competitiveness, Sustainability, Stewardship and Indigenous Communication and Economic Development. The terms of reference are available from the Uranium Council page.
Export permits for uranium and other controlled ores
Under Regulation 9 of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 export of goods listed in Schedule 7 of the Regulations is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the Minister for Resources and Energy or an authorised person. This includes minerals, ores and concentrates containing more than 500 parts per million (ppm) of uranium and thorium combined. The Uranium and Controlled Ores Export Permissions contains further information on permit application requirements.
A review of the Controlled Ores Policy commenced in 2011. There have been an increasing number of exports containing uranium and thorium above the 500 ppm threshold, and the department is working to minimise disruption to companies while achieving adequate safeguards.
For more information about Australia's uranium industry contact the Uranium Industry Section via e-mail at email@example.com or see the Uranium Industry Fact Sheet (see Related documents).