Australia

Map of Australia

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Electricity generation in Australia

Energy demand

Australia is rich in natural resources with significant petroleum, natural gas and coal reserves.
Australia’s energy consumption is dominated by coal, which fuels most of the country’s power generation. Petroleum accounts for a large share of energy consumption, but due to declining output, Australia is facing a growing dependence on petroleum imports. Over the past two decades, Australia has steadily consumed increasing amounts of natural gas, which is likely to continue over the medium term.
Australia is one of the few countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that is a significant net energy exporter.
(source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/Australia/Background.htmlpower)

Nuclear

There are no NPPs operating in Australias, but several uranium mines.

  • Australia uses no nuclear power, but with carbon constraints on electricity generation likely, it remains a strong possibility.
  • Australia's uranium reserves are the world's largest, with 23% of the total. Production and exports average about 10,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (8500 tU) per year.
  • Only three mines are currently operating. More are proposed.
  • In the five years to mid 2007 Australia exported over 50,000 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate with a value of almost A$ 3 billion.

Developments in the nuclear sector

1930s: Radium mining for medical purposes

In the 1930s ores were mined at Radium Hill and Mount Painter in SA to recover radium for medical purposes. As a result a few hundred kilograms of uranium were also produced.

1950s – 1971: Uranium for weapons programs and electricity production

Uranium ores as such were mined and treated in Australia from the 1950s until 1971. Radium Hill, SA, Rum Jungle, NT, and Mary Kathleen, Queensland, were the largest producers of uranium (as yellowcake). Production ceased either when ore reserves were exhausted or contracts were filled. Sales were to supply material primarily intended for USA and UK weapons programs at that time. However, much of it was used for electricity production.
The development of civil nuclear power stimulated a second wave of exploration activity in the late 1960s.
Mary Kathleen began recommissioning its mine and mill in 1974. Other developments were deferred pending the findings of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, and its decision in the light of these. Mary Kathleen recommenced production in 1976.

1977: New uranium mining

The Commonwealth Government announced in 1977 that new uranium mining was to proceed, commencing with the Ranger project in the Northern Territory. This mine opened in 1981.
In 1979, Queensland Mines opened Nabarlek in the same region of Northern Territory. The orebody was mined out in one dry season and the ore stockpiled for treatment from 1980. The mine site is now rehabilitated.
At the end of 1982 the Mary Kathleen mine was depleted and finally closed down.
(source: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Australia_Mines/fmines.html#radium)
Australia has huge uranium ressources. Uranium mining is the most polluting part of the so called fuel cycle. Even without any severe accidents radioactive dust and seapage from mines, tailings and mills pollute the environment and uranium mining often takes place on indigineous people's land.

The Mines

1981: Ranger

Ranger opened in 1981 at a production rate of approximately 3300 tonnes per year of uranium oxide and has since been expanded to 5500 t/yr capacity. Sales are to Japan, South Korea, France, Spain, Sweden, UK, Canada & USA. Ranger is owned by Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA), now a subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

1988: Olympic Dam

During 1988 the Olympic Dam project, then a joint venture of Western Mining Corporation and BP Minerals, commenced operations. This is a large underground mine in central South Australia, producing copper, gold and uranium. Annual production capacity for uranium oxide has been expanded from 1800 to 4600 tonnes, with sales to USA, Canada, Sweden, UK, Belgium, France, Finland, South Korea and Japan. It is now owned by BHP Billiton, following its 2005 takeover of WMC Resources.
Both Ranger and the now-closed and rehhabilitated Nabarlek mines are on aboriginal land in the Alligator Rivers region of the Northern Territory, close to the Kakadu National Park (in fact the Ranger leases are surrounded by the National Park). Ranger is served by the township of Jabiru, constructed largely for that purpose. During the operation of Nabarlek mine, employees were based in Darwin and commuted by air.
Aboriginal people receive royalties of 4.25% on sales of uranium from Northern Territory mines. The total received simply from Ranger is now over $207 million, and $14 million came from Nabarlek.
The Olympic Dam mine is on formerly pastoral land in the middle of South Australia. A town to accommodate 3500 people was built at Roxby Downs to service the mine.

1996: Beverly

With the 1996 change in government, the Beverley project was brought forward and the mine started operation late in 2000.  It is Australia's first in situ leach (ISL) mine and was licensed to produce 1180 t/yr U3O8 (1000 tU), and reached this level in 2004.  It is owned and operated by Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd, an associate of General Atomics in the USA.

Prospective mines and expansion

The 1996 change in government policy also brought forward: 

  • Jabiluka, NT, which is effectively to be an extension of the Ranger operation, but awaits Aboriginal approval for development,
  • Honeymoon, SA, another small in situ leach (ISL) operation.

Jabiluka

The Jabiluka  uranium deposit in the Northern Territory was discovered in 1971-73, 20 kilometres north of Ranger.  It is surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, but the mine lease area is excluded from the National Park and adjoins the Ranger lease.  It has resources of over 130 000 tonnes of uranium oxide, and is one of the world's larger high grade uranium deposits.  A mining lease was granted in 1982 but development was stalled due to disagreements with the Aboriginal traditional owners, then with the Australian Labor Party coming to power in the 1983 federal election, Commonwealth approval was withdrawn and development ceased.  In 1991 Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), the operator of the adjacent Ranger mine, bought the Jabiluka lease from Pancontinental for A $125 million. 
Following the 1996 change of government and further approvals, development of the underground mine proceeded with an 1150 metre access decline and a further 700 metres of excavation around the orebody.  However, mining was deferred until agreement could be reached regarding treatment of Jabiluka ore at the Ranger mill.  ERA (whose parent company is Rio Tinto) will not proceed with the mine until there is agreement from the local Mirrar Aboriginal people. 

Honeymoon

Honeymoon received government approval to proceed with ISL mine development in November 2001 but reassessed its ore reserves and finally moved to development in 2007.  This was then suspended while its owner, Uranium One Inc of Canada, focused attention on new mines in South Africa, USA and Kazakhstan.  In 2008 Mitsui agreed to join the project as 49% joint venture partner, and a construction contract was then let, to allow production to commence by mid 2010.  Early in 2009, a 20% share in Uranium One was taken by three Japanese companies, giving 59% Japanese equity in Honeymoon.

2008: Four Mile

In May 2008 Quasar Resources, an affiliate of Heathgate Resources, applied for a mining licence for its Four Mile  deposit.  The first stage of in situ leach (ISL) mining is to commence as soon as a lease is granted, probably late 2009. Initial production is envisaged as 680 t/yr U3O8, rising to 2000 t/yr by stage 3.  Two possibilities for uranium recovery are piping the loaded solution six kilometres to the Beverley plant for recovery, or having an ion exchange plant at Four Mile and trucking the loaded resin to Beverley for stripping (elution) and precipitation, as is done at two US mines.  Alliance Resources Ltd is a 25% free-carried joint venture partner. 
BHP Billiton is undertaking a major feasibility study on greatly expanding the Olympic Dam mine.  This would be likely to result in production of up to 16,000 t/yr U3O8, with about 3000t of it actually being separated in China.  Instead of treating all the copper concentrate on site, about two thirds would be exported, still containing a little of the uranium co-product.
(source: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Australia_Mines/fmines.html#radium)

Sites With Nuclear Facilities

siteplantreactor typconstruction startoperation startshut down
BeverleyBeverleyUranium mine
JabilukaJabilukaUranium mine
Lucas HeightsLucas HeightsRR
Olympic DamOlympic DamUranium mine
RangerRangerUranium mine
WoomeraWoomeraLLW Storage