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Uranium mining a step closer in Queensland

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The recommencement of uranium mining in Queensland is a step closer after Mines Minister Andrew Cripps released the government's uranium strategy action plan.

The plan covers the implementation of best practice regulatory framework for uranium mining in the state, encompassing environmental standards, safety and health, economic and community development, indigenous opportunities and native title.

Cripps said uranium exports had the potential to generate significant revenue for Queensland over the next two decades with uranium deposits in the state worth an estimated $10 billion.

 “The government’s focus is to ensure all the uranium-specific regulatory guidelines and protocols are in place to begin assessing applications from mid-July 2014,” Cripps said.

The Queensland Government announced in October that uranium mining would recommence in the state, overturning a ban which has lasted since 1982.

At the time Premier Campbell Newman said the success of the industry in Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia in terms of jobs and economic benefits was a driving factor in the decision.

While operational mines may be a few years off, the action plan will be supported by a Uranium Mining Oversight Committee which will be established to review and monitor progress against the plan.

“The strategy is designed to deliver a considered framework containing necessary policy guidelines for assessing applications for uranium mining, transport and export,” the report said.

The report stated that “environmental issues arising from uranium mining are similar to other forms of metalliferous mining”, meaning that the majority of existing “principles and basis of the State’s legislative framework applicable to mining can be suitable applied to uranium activities”.

Cripps said commercial demand for uranium would determine when uranium mining would recommence in Queensland.

“There are a number of factors that will influence the timing of uranium mining operations and it is ultimately a commercial decision for industry proponents," he said. 

“These factors include the world market price for uranium, supply and demand in that market, and mining costs.”

The spot price for uranium remains sluggish and in early June fell below $40 a pound for the first time since 2009, to $39.87 a pound.

However with 66 nuclear plants under construction around the world, and 266 planned or proposed over the next 15 years, demand is set to outstrip supply.

Predictions are that the market will rebound by 2016-2017 and with no new mines set to come into production before then, Queensland could be well-placed to supply the shortfall expected.

Chief of uranium explorer Energy and Minerals Australia, Julian Tapp, said when the price does rebound it will be significant.

Tapp said with the impending uranium shortfall predicted, the uranium market is set to become "iron ore on steroids".

Opposition to the mining of uranium is set to be strong, with conservationists opposed to the sector.

"The Queensland government's action plan is ill-considered and inadequate," Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney said.

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