Sydney: Australia’s mineral-rich Queensland state reversed a decades-long ban on uranium mining on Monday, citing rekindled interest in the nuclear fuel after Canberra gave the go-ahead to exports to India.
Uranium has not been dug in Queensland since the 1982 closure of the major Mary Kathleen mine, while mining for it was outlawed by the state government in 1989.
But Premier Campbell Newman said the national government’s overturning of an export ban to India last year and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent talks in the subcontinent about resuming the trade prompted a rethink.
Queensland’s known deposits of uranium, a key input in nuclear power generation, have been conservatively estimated as being worth Aus$10 billion (US$10.3 billion).
“The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just been in India selling the benefits of Australian-produced uranium to India, prompting many in the community to ask about the industry’s potential in Queensland,” Newman said.
“It’s been 30 years since there was uranium mining in this state, and in that time Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia have carved out successful uranium industries that deliver jobs and prosperity to their regions.”
Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said the policy shift would not extend to nuclear energy production or waste disposal.
Queensland is already a major coal mining region and has a burgeoning gas industry as well as significant deposits of lead, zinc and silver.
Australia does not use nuclear power but it is the world’s third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada, exporting 6,888 tonnes of oxide concentrate in 2010 worth more than Aus$600 million.
It also has the world’s largest uranium reserves, holding 31 percent of the global total, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Japan, the United States and European Union account for the majority of Canberra’s exports of the nuclear fuel, with smaller shipments to South Korea, China, Canada and Taiwan.
National Resources Minister Martin Ferguson last year described uranium as a “key industry” for Australia, estimating that total output would double within four years and quadruple within two decades.
Neighbouring New South Wales state overturned its quarter-century ban on uranium exploration in February. Victoria is now the only Australian state with a total ban on uranium mining or exploration.