Major uses for uranium (U) are as fuel in nuclear power reactors for electricity generation, in the manufacture of radioisotopes for medical applications and in nuclear science research using neutron fluxes.
At the start of 2013 there were 435 operable commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries that produced approximately 11% of the world’s electricity in 2012 (this number includes 48 plants in Japan that are still off-line pending restart approvals by Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority). At the start of 2013 there were 65 reactors (with total generating capacity of 65 gigawatts) under construction in 14 countries. In addition there were a total of 167 in the planned category, which, coupled with the 65 under construction, represents a higher number than immediately prior to the Fukushima incident in March 2011 (Source: World Nuclear Association).
China continues to lead the growth with 29 reactors under construction. In late 2012, China resumed approval of new reactor constructions after completion of safety reviews. India, the Russian Federation and South Korea are expanding their nuclear generating capacity, and several non-nuclear countries are moving ahead with reactor construction programs, or are considering building nuclear power plants in the future. The United Arab Emirates recently commenced its first nuclear power plant. Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Poland, Turkey and Belarus are proposing to proceed with nuclear power development1.
Although the Fukushima incident has affected nuclear power projects and policies in some countries, nuclear power remains a key part of the global electricity mix. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the latest edition of the Red Book2 stated:
By the year 2035, world nuclear capacity, taking into account the current understanding of policies announced by some countries (e.g. Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland) following the Fukushima accident is projected to grow to between about 540 GWe nett in the low demand case and 746 GWe nett in the high demand case, increases of 44% and 99% respectively. Accordingly, world annual reactor related uranium requirements are projected to rise to between 97 600 and 136 400 tonnes a year by 2035.
During 2010, spot market prices were bolstered by China’s plans to expand its number of reactors. Prices peaked at US$72 per pound (lb) U3O8 in January 2011. In March 2011, the impacts of the Fukushima incident caused spot market prices to fall. Continuing uncertainty in uranium markets resulted in spot prices falling to around US$35/lb by August 2013. During 2012, prices ranged from US$52/lb at the start of the year to US$44/lb by the end of December3.The spot market has been adversely affected by the sales of uranium inventories by Japanese nuclear power companies, which has been further exacerbated by an increase in sales of uranium inventory by the United States Department of Energy4.
Geoscience Australia prepares estimates of Australia’s uranium resources within categories defined by the NEA and the IAEA. The resource categories within this NEA/IAEA scheme reflect total costs of mining and milling uranium ore.
In recent years, the cost of mining and milling uranium ores has increased in Australia as a result of the mining boom. Capital costs have risen and labour costs have increased more quickly than the national average5 . Because of increasing costs, some deposits/projects are now assigned to a higher cost category.The estimates in each category are for resources of recoverable uranium after losses resulting from mining and milling have been deducted (Tables 1 and 2).
|National Scheme||NEA/IAEA Scheme||Tonnes U recoverable|
|Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR)||Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) recoverable at less than US$130/kilogram (kg) U||1 174 000|
|Paramarginal Demonstrated Resources||RAR recoverable at US$130–260/kg U||34 000|
|Submarginal Demonstrated Resources||RAR recoverable at greater than US$260/kg U||0|
|Inferred Resources||Inferred Resources recoverable at less than US$130/kg U||532 000|
|Inferred Resources recoverable at US$130–260/kg U||58 000|
Australia’s RAR of uranium which could be produced at costs of less than US$130/kg6 at December 2012 were estimated to be 1174 kilotonnes (kt), a decrease of 2% on the estimates for December 2011. Although there are 30 deposits with RAR of uranium recoverable at costs of less than US$130/kg, the vast majority of these resources are within the following four deposits:
Australia had an additional 532 000 tonnes of uranium in Inferred Resources recoverable at costs of less than US$130/kg. These Inferred Resources are mainly in the southeast area of the Olympic Dam deposit.
|RAR recoverable at <US$130/kg U
|Inferred Resources recoverable at <US$130/kg U
|Percentage of Australia’s Total Resources|
|South Australia||954 000||416 600||1 370 600||80%|
|Northern Territory||120 400||54 500||175 000||10%|
|Western Australia||63 300||40 700||103 900||6%|
|Queensland||36 200||20 300||56 500||4%|
|New South Wales||0||0||0||-|
|1 173 900
(1 174 000)
|1 706 000
(1 706 000)
Approximately 6% of uranium in RAR at less than US$130/kg is inaccessible for mining. In previous years, all uranium deposits in Queensland (Qld) were inaccessible because State Government policy at the time prohibited uranium mining, but in October 2012, the government lifted its ban on uranium mining so that Qld deposits became accessible. As a result, the level of inaccessible uranium resources has decrease markedly from 10% in 2011 to 6% at December 2012.In the NT, inaccessible resources include the Jabiluka deposit, where the traditional Aboriginal land owners have not granted approval to mine the deposit, and the Koongarra deposit, which was added to the Kakadu World Heritage Area by the World Heritage Committee on 27 June 2011. In SA, the Mount Gee deposit is within the Arkaroola Protection Area, which was established by the State Government in July 2011, prohibiting exploration and mining within this area.
Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) Code reserves comprise total uranium in Proved and Probable Ore Reserves as defined in the JORC Code. At December 2012, JORC Code reserves of 373 000 tonnes recoverable uranium accounted for approximately 34% of accessible Reasonably Assured Resources.
Australia has the world’s largest resources of uranium with an estimated 1174 kt in RAR recoverable at costs of less than US$130/kg. Based on the latest estimates7 for other countries, this represents approximately 34% of world resources in this category. Other countries with large resources in this cost category include Niger with 10%, Canada 9%, Kazakhstan 9%, Namibia 7% and the United States of America 6%.Australia’s Inferred Resources of uranium recoverable at costs of less than US$130/kg are the world’s largest resources in this category.
Uranium exploration expenditure in 2012 was $98.3 million8, which was almost 50% less than the expenditure in 2011 ($189.6 million). The majority of expenditure in 2012 was in WA (54%), followed by SA (approx. 17%), the NT (12%) and Qld (more than 6%).
The decline in exploration was the result of:
In 2011, Geoscience Australia and the South Australian Department of Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy (DMITRE) released the results of a regional airborne electromagnetic (AEM) survey over the Frome Embayment (SA) and northern portion of the Murray Basin9. The survey was one of the largest ever flown and covered an area of 95 000 square kilometres. The AEM data were used to map palaeochannels within the sedimentary succession which contained channel sands saturated by saline groundwaters. The release of these data has resulted in increased activity in uranium exploration over the Frome Embayment by several companies.
Quasar Resources continued exploration for sandstone-hosted deposits in the Frome Embayment in the company’s Beverley North mineral lease, north of the Beverley Mine. Pepegoona and Pannikan deposits, which are 10 and 8 kilometres (km) north of Beverley mine respectively, are within the Beverley North lease.
The Junction Dam project is 10 km east of the Honeymoon uranium mine and 50 km west of Broken Hill. The project covers the eastern extension of the Yarramba Palaeochannel which hosts the Honeymoon uranium deposit. Drilling programs were carried out in 2011 and 2012. Three zones of mineralisation (Saffron, Bridget and Yolanda prospects) have been outlined along approximately 15 km of palaeochannel.
Uranium mineralisation occurs in two sand layers within the Eyre Formation - basal and upper layers. The basal layer averages 437 parts per million (ppm) eU3O810 and the upper layer averages 248 ppm eU3O8. The average thickness of mineralised intersections is 2.57 metres for the basal and 1.07 metres for the upper layers. Marmota has reported11 Inferred Resource for the Saffron deposit as being 1510 tonnes of contained U3O8.
Cauldron Energy discovered uranium mineralisation in palaeochannel sands to the north of Mount Babbage Inlier at the MacDonnell Creek prospect.Core Exploration intersected high grade uranium-copper mineralisation at the Scott Lee prospect (Fitton project) SA. The prospect occurs in Radium Creek metamorphics (Proterozoic) within the northern portion of the Mount Painter Inlier. Mineralisation occurs in sheared doleritic schist within a broad shear zone in Proterozoic granite. Exploration drilling is in progress to test for continuations of the mineralisation along the structure and at greater depths.
Western Arnhem Land was a focus for uranium exploration in the NT during 2012. Cameco Australia continued exploration drilling at the Angularli prospect in western Arnhem Land (discovered in 2011). Unconformity related uranium mineralisation was intersected in both the basement rocks and the overlying Kombolgie Sandstone12. The mineralisation is within a major breccia zone which post-dates the Kombolgie Sandstones. Basement rocks comprise meta-sediments and felsic to intermediate magmatic rocks of the Nimbuwah Domain. Uraninite and pitchblende form veins, stringers and breccia matrix infill. The best intersections at the Angularli prospect to date have been 12.2 metres averaging 1.1% U3O8 followed by 20.2 metres averaging 5.2% U3O8 within drill hole WRD0084.
Exploration drilling by Alligator Exploration Ltd intersected high grade mineralisation at the Caramal and South Horn prospects within the Myra Inlier in western Arnhem Land. Uranium mineralisation is associated with intensely altered quartz-chlorite schists and breccias. The breccias are associated with a northeast trending, northwest dipping structural zone from South Horn to Caramel and beyond over a strike length of 10 km. Best intersections to date were 14 metres averaging 7072 ppm U3O8, and 14 metres averaging 6991 ppm U3O813.
During 2012, Energy Resources of Australia continued exploration drilling in the Ranger project area north of Ranger 3 open pit. Significant mineralisation was intersected at the Ranger 19 prospect. The company continued a major exploration drilling program at the Ranger 3 Deeps deposit located east of the open cut.
At Thunderball deposit near Hayes Creek 140 km southeast of Darwin, unconformity related mineralisation occurs in sheared carbonaceous shales, cherts and tuffaceous siltstones of the Pine Creek Orogen. Thundelarra Ltd discovered new zones of uranium mineralisation near Thunderball from exploration programs in recent years but there was no exploration carried out in 2012 because of depressed prices for uranium.
Thundellara completed a drilling program at Cliff South prospect, 30 km northeast of Pine Creek. Drill holes intersected significant uranium mineralisation in carbonaceous shales adjacent to the contact with Allamber granite14.
Several companies explored the northern margins of the Ngalia Basin (Mount Eclipse Sandstone) including Energy Metals, which, in a joint venture with Paladin Energy, continued regional exploration in the northern portion of the Basin between 180 km and 350 km northwest of Alice Springs. Bigrlyi is the main deposit in this area and other zones of mineralisation include Walbiri and Malawiri. Geophysical surveys were carried out and exploration drilling was undertaken in 2012 and 2013 to explore for extensions of the Bigrlyi deposit (Anomaly 15 and Anomaly 4) and the Camel Flat prospect in Mount Eclipse Sandstone 35 km southeast of Bigrlyi.In 2012, Toro Energy completed an airborne electromagnetic (AEM) survey in the Wiso Basin to explore for sandstone-hosted uranium mineralisation. The company reported that initial processing and analysis of the data showed a number of promising drill targets for uranium.
Paladin Energy Ltd continued exploration in an area extending from 10 km to 110 km north of Mount Isa in northwest Qld. Exploration tenements are held in a joint venture with Summit Resources Ltd (82% owned by Paladin Energy) and Fusion Mineral Resources. There are more than 14 uranium deposits within these tenements, 10 of which have significant resources. They are the Valhalla, Skal, Odin, Bikini, Andersons, Watta, Warwai, Mirioola, Duke-Batman and Honey Pot deposits. During 2012 and 2013, exploration drilling, evaluation of resources and metallurgical investigations continued at many of these deposits. The uranium resources for each are listed in Paladin Energy’s 2013 annual report. The largest of these is the Valhalla deposit, which has total Measured+Indicated+Inferred Resources of 34 600 tonnes U3O8 with an average grade of 800 ppm U3O8.
During 2012, several companies continued exploration for sandstone-hosted uranium deposits in Cenozoic (Eocene) sands and lignite of the Gunbarrel Basin overlying the eastern margins of the Yilgarn Craton. Energy and Minerals Australia Ltd (EMA) continued exploration drilling in areas adjacent to its Mulga Rock deposit, 250 km east-northeast of Kalgoorlie. In mid-2012, EMA reported the discovery of a new uranium deposit, the Princess deposit, within the Mulga Rock project area. The Princess deposit is a tabular body 1.4 km long and ranges from 100 to 500 metres wide. It contains mineralised intervals up to 8.22 metres thick with the top of the mineralisation 40 metres below the surface. The best intersection to date is 8.33 metres averaging 1360 ppm U3O8 at a depth of 38.4 metres. The mineralisation is hosted by carbonaceous sandstone, siltstone and minor peat layers, and is immediately below the boundary between oxidised and reduced sediments. This boundary corresponds approximately with the water table. The Mulga Rock project comprises four separate uranium deposits, including the Princess deposit, which have total Inferred Resources of 27 100 tonnes of contained U3O8 with an average grade of 490 ppm U3O8.
Manhattan Corporation Limited continued drilling at its Ponton project 180 km northeast of Kalgoorlie and 40 km southwest of Mulga Rock. The Double 8 deposit and the Stallion South, Highway South and Ponton prospects are within palaeochannel sands. The palaeochannel sands which host uranium deposits connect to the sands which host the Mulga Rock deposits to the northeast in the Gunbarrel Basin.
Toro Energy Limited continued exploration at the Theseus prospect, in the Lake Mackay region in northeast WA adjacent to the NT border. Drilling intersected significant mineralisation in Cainozoic palaeochannel sands and silts about 100 to 120 metres below the surface and adjacent to uranium rich rocks of the Amadeus Basin. Theseus was discovered by Toro Energy in 2009 using reconnaissance aircore drilling. Significant uranium mineralisation was intersected in 2012 including: 3.44 metres at 0.13% eU3O8 from 111.4 metres in hole LM00052.Energy Metals Limited continued exploration drilling and evaluation drilling at the Ankatell, Lake Mason and Mopoke Well calcrete-hosted deposits southwest of Wiluna.
Australia’s mine production for 2012 was 7009 tonnes U (8265 tonnes U3O8), which was 17% more than production in 2011. Australia had four operating uranium mines in 2012, Olympic Dam, Beverley/Beverley North and Honeymoon in SA and Ranger in the NT.
Ranger produced 3146 tonnes U (3710 tonnes U3O8) in 2012, which was 40% more than for 2011. For 2012, ore was processed by the main metallurgical plant, which processed 2.4 million tonnes (Mt) and the laterite treatment plant, which treated 0.24 Mt.
Olympic Dam production for 2012 was 3386 tonnes U (3993 tonnes U3O8) which was virtually unchanged from the previous year.
Production from Beverley/Beverley North in situ recovery (ISR) operation for 2012 was 358 tonnes U (422 tonnes U3O8) which was 2% higher than during 2011.
Pilot production at Honeymoon ISR mine commenced in September 2011 and commissioning of the plant continued through 2012. In its first full year of operation in 2012, Honeymoon produced 119 tonnes U (140 tonnes U3O8).Total world production in 2012 was 58 394 tonnes U (68 864 tonnes U3O8), an increase of 9% on 201115. Most of the increase in production in 2012 is attributable to growth in Kazakhstan’s output, which rose 10% to 21 317 tonnes U in 2012, and to increased production from Australia. The world’s uranium requirement for nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was 67 990 tonnes U16, which exceeded production by more than 9596 tonnes U.
Exports in 2012 were 6969 tonnes U (8218 tonnes U3O8) valued at $696 million17. Exports of Australian uranium are controlled by stringent nuclear safeguards with other countries. Those safeguards specify that Australian uranium must be used exclusively for peaceful purposes in civilian nuclear fuel cycles. The material is also protected in accordance with internationally agreed standards for physical security. These agreements ensure that countries to which Australia sells uranium are committed to IAEA safeguards and international nuclear security standards.
Australian mining companies supply uranium under long-term contracts to electricity utilities in the USA, Japan, China, South Korea and Canada as well as members of the European Union, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Finland.
In November 2010, the Australia-Russian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement came into force, allowing Australian uranium to be used in Russian civilian nuclear facilities. A trial shipment of uranium to Russia was successfully undertaken in September 2012.
In July 2012, a nuclear cooperation agreement between Australia and the United Arab Emirates was signed to provide for the supply of Australian uranium for use in the UAE’s civil nuclear power program. The country plans for its first reactor to begin operation in 2017.
Australian uranium is exported to China and, in 2012, supplied around 22% of China’s requirements.Negotiations commenced with India in 2012 on a bilateral safeguards agreement. India represents an enormous market potential for Australian producers.
The effects of the Fukushima incident and the shutdown of other nuclear power plants in Japan as well as the global economic slowdown resulted in downward pressure on uranium prices from early 2011 through to mid-2013. During 2012 and 2013, spot prices remained below the level required to encourage investment in new mines. These impacts resulted in uranium mining companies worldwide delaying or cancelling uranium projects that had become uneconomic18. Companies decided to focus investment on advancing only those uranium projects which would result in highest return on capital investments.
In Australia, there has been a decrease in uranium exploration activities and consolidation of ownership of uranium resources since early 2011. Examples of consolidation in the resources ownership include:
Olympic Dam (SA): In August 2012, BHP Billiton announced19 that it would delay the Olympic Dam Expansion project and investigate an alternative, less capital-intensive design of the open-pit expansion involving new technologies, which would substantially improve the economics of the project. As a result, the company stated it would not be ready to approve the expansion before the Indenture Agreement deadline of 15 December 2012. Heap leach and other technological solutions are being studied20. Market conditions, including subdued commodity prices and higher capital costs, led to the decision to delay the project.
In November 2012, the South Australian Government granted a four year extension of the Indenture Agreement until 2016, which will allow the company to investigate the new designs for the expansion.
The proposed expansion has the potential to create one of the world’s largest uranium mining operation with development to progressively increase output up to annual production of 19 000 tonnes U3O8, 750 000 tonnes copper and 800 000 ounces of gold.
Ranger mine (NT): Pit 3 reached the end of its operational life in November 2012. This marked the completion of open cut mining at Ranger after 31 years. In recent years, very high rainfall caused flooding of the pit and disruptions to mine production. However in 2012, dewatering of the pit enabled access to the remaining ore in the bottom of the pit. Future production will be from existing stockpiles and a potential Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine.
Ranger 3 Deeps (NT): In May 2012, development of an underground decline commenced in order to access the Ranger 3 Deeps orebody. By 31 December 2012 the decline reached a distance of 57 metres and by June 2013 it was 1000 metres long. Underground exploration drilling of the Ranger 3 orebody and adjacent areas commenced from the decline in May 2013. Energy Resources of Australia reported that the Ranger 3 Deeps Mine feasibility study continued during 2012 and 2013 together with compilation of data for the environmental approvals process for the proposed underground mine.
In addition to the underground drilling of Ranger 3 Deeps, surface drilling in under-explored areas of the Ranger Project Area continued in 2012.
Beverley and Beverley North in situ recovery (ISR) mines (SA): Heathgate Resources operates the Beverley and Beverley North ISR mines between the North Flinders Ranges and Lake Frome, approximately 300 km northeast of Port Augusta.
ISR operations at the main Beverley deposit during 2012 continued to mine remnant resources. Over the past few years, production was partly from old well-fields which were re-opened after being shut down. The company continued exploration drilling within the Beverley leases during the year.
At Beverley North, satellite ISR operations commenced in 2011 at the Pepegoona deposit 12 km north of Beverley and at the Pannikan deposit 10 km northwest of Beverley. Uranium-bearing solutions from the well-fields are pumped to satellite ion exchange plants at each site. Uranium is captured on resins within ion exchange columns. The resin, which is loaded with uranium, is transferred to a road tanker and transported to the Beverley plant for elution and processing to recover uranium.
Honeymoon ISR mine SA): Honeymoon mine is approximately 75 km northwest of Broken Hill. Uranium-bearing solutions are processed using solvent extraction technology at the processing facility. Initial production at Honeymoon commenced in September 2011 and commissioning of the plant will continue until production reaches the design capacity of 340 tonnes U per year. In its first full year of operation in 2012, Honeymoon produced 119 tonnes U (140 tonnes U3O8). Drilling and installation of wellfields continued with four well-fields in operation by the end of 2012.
Four Mile ISR project (SA): Four Mile comprises two large sandstone-hosted uranium deposits, Four Mile West and Four Mile East. The project is 75% owned by Quasar Resources (affiliate of Heathgate Resources) and 25% owned by Alliance Resources.
On 26 April 2012, the joint venture was granted a 10 year mineral lease over the Four Mile project area by the South Australian Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy.
In October 2012, Alliance announced it would commence development of the Four Mile Project. The plan comprises:
In August 2013, the South Australian Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy approved the joint venture’s Program for Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation for mining at Four Mile East.
Four Mile East and Four Mile West have total Indicated and Inferred resources of 9.8 Mt averaging 0.33% U3O8 representing 32 000 tonnes contained U3O821.
Samphire project (SA): UraniumSA Limited continued evaluation drilling at Blackbush and Plumbush sandstone-hosted uranium deposits 20 km southwest of Whyalla on the eastern Eyre Peninsula. In 2011, uranium mineralisation was discovered in granite basement below the sediment-hosted uranium mineralisation and the granite basement became the focus of new exploration drilling within the tenements.
In 2012 infill drilling programs were carried out within the western zone of the Blackbush deposit. High grade mineralisation was intersected in a zone along the intersection between shallow east dipping mineralised structures in Proterozoic granite (Hiltaba suite) and the sub-horizontal unconformity surface22.
An evaluation of mining methods to optimise the recovery of uranium from the resources continued. This included consideration of open cut options in addition to an ongoing evaluation of in situ recovery methods.
Yeelirrie project (WA): The Yeelirrie deposit is 70 km southwest of Wiluna and is Australia’s second largest undeveloped uranium deposit. It occurs in calcretes within a palaeochannel and is at shallow depths down to 15 metres below the surface. In December 2012, Cameco Corporation purchased the Yeelirrie deposit from BHP Billiton for US$430 million. The latest estimates of mineral resources for the Yeelirrie deposit are in AIMR201223. Cameco proposes to review the gamma logs and the grade-radiometry relationship and recalculate the resources during 2013.
Wiluna project (WA): Operated by Toro Energy Limited, the project comprises two shallow (less than eight metres deep) calcrete-hosted deposits, Lake Way and Centipede, which are 15 km south and 30 km south of Wiluna respectively. Toro also owns three other calcrete-hosted deposits in the Wiluna region, the Millipede, Dawson Hinkler Well and Nowthanna deposits. At August 2013, total Measured+Indicated+Inferred Resources for Lake Way, Centipede and three deposits in the region amounted to 55.2 Mt averaging 441 ppm U3O8 (24 300 tonnes of contained U3O8).
In October 2012, Toro received environmental approval for the Wiluna Project from the Western Australian Minister for Environment and in April 2013, the Australian Government Minister for Environment formally granted environmental approval for the project. The company is completing detailed engineering design and commercial studies as part of a feasibility study for the project. The company proposes to produce uranium concentrates containing approximately 820 tonnes U3O8 a year.
Toro reported24 that drilling carried out in 2013 resulted in the discovery of a second zone of mineralisation at depths of between 15 and 20 metres below surface, well beneath the currently known resource. While the zone is commonly 0.5 to one metre thick and mainly of lower grade and less continuous than the overlying resource, in some areas, such as Dawson Hinkler, grades are greater than the mineralisation above.
Toro announced25 that it had acquired the Lake Maitland project from Mega Uranium Ltd. It is anticipated that the Lake Maitland resource could be mined and transported to the proposed Wiluna mill for processing.
Lake Maitland project (WA): This is a calcrete-hosted uranium deposit 100 km southeast of Wiluna. It occurs as a single horizontal layer one to three metres thick with the top of the mineralised zone one to two metres below the surface. Mega Uranium Ltd advanced its feasibility studies of the project and completed studies associated with two test pits which are each 34 metres long by 19 metres wide and 5 metres deep.
Uranium mineralisation is flat-lying and thin, averaging around 1.7 metres thick and lying beneath around 1.5 to two metres of sand, silt and other evaporates. The deposit has a large areal extent approximately 5 km long (N-S) and 2 km wide (E-W).
Environmental Review and Management Programme for the Lake Maitland is at an advanced stage of preparation and Toro propose to continue this process.
Kintyre project (WA): A prefeasibility study of Kintyre was completed and in July 2012 Cameco reported26 that the study “…..highlighted the project’s challenging economics caused by low uranium prices and escalating costs in Western Australia”. The prefeasibility study was based on a seven-year open pit mine to produce around six million pounds of U3O8 a year (2300 tonnes U). The study found that, to break even, the project would need an average realised uranium price of US$67/lb or 62 million pounds (23 850 tonnes U) of production over its seven year life, as opposed to 40 million pounds (15 380 tonnes U) in current resources.
The company plans to carry out further drilling aimed at discovering more resources at Kintyre and other projects in the region. Cameco stated that the project was unlikely to start construction in 2014 as previously envisaged.
Manyingee project (WA): Manyingee deposit, located 85 km inland from the coastal town of Onslow, is a sandstone-hosted deposit which is amenable to ISR methods. It is in palaeochannel sands (Cretaceous age) of the Carnarvon Basin. The deposit has Indicated Resources of 8080 tonnes contained U3O8 at a grade of 0.1% U3O8 and Inferred Resources of 2810 tonnes U3O8 at a grade of 0.05% U3O8. Paladin Energy carried out drilling in 2012 and completed 96 rotary mud drilling holes and a total of 242 metres of cored drilling, which confirmed estimates by the previous owner. A total of 35 water bores were installed and monitoring of chemical properties of groundwater continued. Pumping tests revealed that permeabilities in the main aquifer were sufficient for an ISR operation27. Water sampling was undertaken to obtain baseline data and hydrogeological modelling commenced in support of a future application for field leach trials.
Bigrlyi deposit (NT): Energy Metals completed a pre-feasibility study at the Bigrlyi project 300 km northwest of Alice Springs which investigated using a combination of open pit and underground mining. Results showed that the project would generate a positive cash flow for a mine life of eight years.28 However, the study concluded that a substantial increase in resources is required to improve the economics for the project. Geophysical surveys and exploration drilling were carried out in 2012 and 2013 to explore for extensions of deposits under shallow cover at Bigrlyi and at Camel Flat 50 km southeast of Bigrlyi.
The NSW Government passed the Mining Legislation Amendment (Uranium Exploration) Act 2012 on 4 April 2012 and it was proclaimed on 14 September 2012. This Act removes the ban on uranium exploration. The NSW Minister for Resources and Energy stated29 that while the 26 year ban on uranium exploration has been overturned, the ban on uranium mining remained.
Exploration will enable an assessment to be made of the State’s uranium resources, because there is very little knowledge currently about the extent and distribution of these resources in NSW.
The government called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from interested parties wishing to explore for uranium and 39 were received. The government formed an evaluation panel made up of senior technical officers from within the Department of Trade and Investment and an independent from Geoscience Australia to assess the EOIs. The panel will make recommendations to the Government about whether exploration licences should be granted30. The evaluation process commenced in early 2013 and successful applicants will be invited by the Minister to apply for an Exploration Licence.
The Queensland Government announced in October 2012 that uranium mining would be permitted and that an implementation committee to oversee the recommencement of mining had been established.
That committee considered, among other things, how to implement world's best practice environmental and safety standards, and delivered its report to the State Government in March 2013.
Queensland’s three most prospective uranium deposits are inland from Townsville, in the Mount Isa region, and in the Gulf of Carpentaria region near the Northern Territory border. These deposits have been studied and tested by various owners over a number of years.
Uranium mining has not occurred in Queensland since 1982 and has been effectively prohibited by the State Government since 1989. However, exploration for uranium has not been subject to the prohibition and there has been significant interest from the industry in exploring for uranium in the State.