Federal Minister wants NSW, Victorian uranium ban lifted

The Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has called on Victoria and New South Wales to rethink the bans on uranium mining.

BHP released its updated plans for uranium mining at Olympic Dam over the weekend, after the original draft plan released in 2009 received over 4000 submissions with concerns over the environmental impact.

The supplementary environmental impact statement showed changes to how the resources would be transported, the storage of wastes, supply of power and designs the associated desalination plant.

Numerous changes were made to the coastal sensitivities surrounding the desalination plant, which will need to be built hundreds of metres away so brine can be dumped further out at sea.

In Sydney yesterday, Ferguson welcomed the change to uranium policy in the last few years and said New South Wales and Victoria should make moves to catch up with the other states.

Speaking at the Austock uranium conference in Sydney today, Ferguson said knowledge of potential deposits in those states was limited because uranium exploration and mining has been banned for a long time in the two states.

”Uranium exploration and mining have long been banned in NSW and Victoria. This limits our knowledge of potential deposits in these states,” he said.

”The issue of uranium exploration and mining is something I believe the incoming governments in both NSW and Victoria will need to consider.”

But the Victorian Energy Minister, Michael O’Brien does not agree with the suggestions made by the federal minister, saying the state would not be relaxing its ban on uranium exploration or mining.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann has welcomed the expansion of Olympic Dam in the state but said it must pass the relevant environmental and social tests before its potential can be realised.

The expansion will see 10 000 jobs created for the duration of its life, which is expected to last decades.

It will also bring a new airport to the region, as well as better infrastructure and facilities for the growing area.

Changes to the management of radioactive tailings are included in the revised plan, but Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Noonan said they were not enough.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was angry at BHP for not spending more on a storage method that would ensure less leakage of radioactive liquids.

He wants the miner to consider lining the tailing cells and said the plans to cap the cells with hard rock are not adequate.

The amounts of renewable energy to be used when the mine is being developed have also been increased in the document, but the company says it will wait until details of the proposed carbon tax are released before giving information on the tax involved in its economic modelling for the project.

The final approvals for the mine expansions could be made within a year.

Penny Wong recently warned South Australia against becoming involved in nuclear enrichment.

The senior federal South Australian Minister and former climate change minister told ABC radio that enriching uranium or having power stations is “not the sort of vision I want for South Australia.”

Uranium mining is permitted in the Northern Territory and South Australia and in 2008 the new Western Australian government lifted a ban on uranium

Queensland allows exploration but not uranium mining.

"The issue of uranium exploration and mining is something I believe the incoming governments in both NSW and Victoria will need to consider," Ferguson said.

"There are identified deposits in Queensland and industry has expressed its interest in potentially developing these."

"I expect therefore that this is a policy issue that the Queensland government will continue to confront and I will continue to work closely with them to open up the industry, with commonwealth support."

Ferguson said the federal government is in support of the uranium sector and believe it is a key growth industry for the country.

"On top of its export potential, we see the uranium industry offering long-term economic benefits and jobs in regional Australia," he said.

“We (Australia) are already the world’s third-largest uranium producer, with nearly half of the world’s low-cost uranium reserves, and (there are) further opportunities on the horizon,” he said.

He went on to say Australia’s uranium output is expected to double in the next four years and quadruple within 20 years.

Image: The ABC

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