Opportunities for Australian uranium as demand increases

With world energy demands increasing, Resource Minister Gary Gray said the uranium industry in Australia needs to ramp up.

Speaking to the Australian Uranium Association(AUA),Gray said with the demand for uranium set to rise, Australia was in the perfect position to supply them more of the precious metal.

"This year these power generators will need more than 66,000 tonnes of uranium but current global mine production is at only 55,000 tonnes," Gray said.

Gray said 66 nuclear power generators were under construction – two-thirds in Asia and many more were planned or proposed over the next 15 years and China and India had a total 226 in that category.

"The significance of China and India cannot be overlooked," Gray said.

"As an example, by 2034 demand for power in China will have growth by more than the current demand of the United States and Japan combined."

Gray also spoke of the emissions benefits associated with using uranium as a power source.

“…the Australian Academy of Science estimated that 10,000 tonnes of exported Australian uranium replaces other power sources generating 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide,” Gray said.

“To put this in perspective, Australia's total CO2 emissions in 2012 were roughly 550 million tonnes.”

Gary said Australia’s stringent bilateral safeguards agreements with other countries meant that Australian uranium, and nuclear material derived from it, must be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

“These agreements ensure that countries to which Australia sells uranium are committed to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and international nuclear security standards,” he said.

“Under these agreements, countries receiving uranium must also report on their use of Australian nuclear material, and seek Australian consent for any enrichment, reprocessing, or third-party transfer.”

Australia has the world's largest uranium reserves, with 33 per cent of the world's recoverable uranium resources.

 In 2012, production from Australian mines rose more than 17 per cent to top 8000 tonnes. However, the level is well below the period between 2003 and 2009 when it was 9000 to 11,000 tonnes.

The AUA predicts that if the uranium industry was able to reach its full potential, exports would increase from 9,000 tonnes a year to 28, 500 tonnes a year. This would equate to between a $14.2 billion to $17.4 billion net value to the Australian GDP. 

Currently the mining of uranium is only allowed in the Northern Territory, South Australia and more recently in Western Australia.

Addressing the fear of the uranium industry was the central theme of a uranium conference held in Adelaide last month, with industry leaders speaking out against campaigns that they say have choked the development of industry.

AUA chief executive Michael Angwin said the local industry has been politically choked by fear.

"I think there has been a political fear there will be a public backlash party if there is any support for the uranium industry," Angwin said.

"A lot of this fear has been sparked by non-government organisations running scare campaigns in the media.

Angwin said Australians were becoming less fearful as the industry better told its story, adding that best practice regulatory framework meant the industry had proved its ability to satisfy the most rigorous environmental assessments.

Angwin also pointed out public misperceptions regarding radiation incidents – saying that over 2009, 2010 and 2011, there had not been a singular reportable radiation incident at any Australian uranium mine yet there had been more than 100 such incidents each year in the areas of diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.

“Australian opinion on uranium mining shows a halving in opposition to it  in the past six years with only a small impact from Fukushima but new support coming from the realisation of its jobs, export, and clean energy credentials,” Angwin said.

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