PERTH (miningweekly.com) –Uranium exploration in South Australia has increased since the end of the global economic crisis, Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway said this week.
Speaking at the Paydirt Uranium Conference, in Adelaide, Holloway said that uranium exploration expenditure in South Australia had increased to A$25,2-million in the September 2009 quarter.
“The last time we had over A$25-million a quarter was back in June 2008, when the state recorded a uranium exploration spend of A$27,1-million,” he said.
Uranium exploration activity in South Australia continues to grow with over 300 uranium-focused mineral exploration licences and over 100 mineral enterprise licence agreements registered as at September 2009.
Holloway noted that one common independent indicator of exploration activity was the month-by-month assessments and approvals of mineral exploration drilling work programmes. In the July to September 2009 period, the Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia (Pirsa) experienced an increase in drilling work proposals, which appear to be trending back towards the consistently higher levels of 2008.
“Access Economics reinforced this message in October 2009 stating that South Australia is set to become the world's next energy export powerhouse through its uranium reserves, signalling strong potential for further uranium exploration expenditure in 2010,” said Holloway.
South Australia is hosting some 38% of the world's known low-cost uranium reserves, he added.
Diversified miner BHP Billiton owns one of the largest uranium projects within the state. Holloway noted that the South Australian Government has also been working hard to facilitate the expansion of the Olympic Dam copper/gold/uranium mine.
BHP Billiton is proposing the creation of an openpit mine, which would deliver a sixfold increase in production.
“According to information provided in the draft environmental impact statements (EIS), the planned expansion would make Olympic Dam the world’s largest uranium mine and the world’s third-biggest copper mine, ” said Holloway.
The impact of the expansion on the state’s economy would be significant, he added. BHP Billiton estimates that the mine’s contribution to gross state product would increase by A$6,9-billion a year when the Olympic Dam reaches full operating capacity.
BHP Billiton also indicates in the EIS that the expansion will create up to 7 700 construction and short-term jobs during the 11-year period before full production is reached. The operations workforce at Olympic Dam will also double to more than 8 000.
“In response to the complexity of the expansion the Rann-led government has allocated A$6,2-million over seven years to 2012/13 to the Olympic Dam task force.”
The role of the task force is to facilitate the project, coordinate all regulatory matters, ensure that there are opportunities for local industry to participate in the project, and to maximise job opportunities. It also had to ensure that indigenous economic development opportunities arose from the project.
“The South Australian government is navigating its way through the world’s largest mine expansion with one very clear goal, ensuring the development of one of the world’s great mines with a commitment to world’s best mining practice,” Holloway said.
Despite a slight drop in volume, the value of Australian uranium exports exceeded A$1-billion for the first time during 2008/9.
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