South Australia is recognised for its high prospectivity for uranium and proven track record of uranium mining
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- A naturally occurring, mildly radioactive element, widely distributed in the Earth’s crust, rivers and oceans
- About as common as tin; more abundant than gold, silver or mercury
- Traces also found in the human body and in food
- Uranium ore mined in open-cut or underground operations (sometimes with other metals such as gold or copper) or through in-situ recovery from wells drilled into the deposit
- Ore processed into uranium oxide concentrate (UOC) which contains uranium oxide as either U3O8, or as UO4
- UOC commonly termed yellowcake and exported in this powder form
- UOC is chemically and physically stable and cannot itself sustain a nuclear chain reaction - significant additional processing (conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication) is required before it can be used to generate power
- Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes as a fuel for civilian nuclear power and to produce medical and industrial isotopes
South Australia is a major exporter of uranium oxide to the world and currently attracts many companies (including global majors) exploring, developing and mining uranium in the state.
- South Australia hosts vast resources of uranium
- approximately 80% of Australia’s economic demonstrated resources of uranium
- approximately 23% of the world’s uranium resources.
- The Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia is the single largest uranium deposit in the world, containing more than 2 million tonnes of uranium oxide.
- South Australia produced and exported 3826 t (valued at $406 million) of uranium oxide in 2015 (DSD 2015). This is 63% of Australia’s mined uranium oxide production of 6668 t in 2015 (BREE 2015), which is around 6% of world production.
- This amount of uranium can fuel 22 by 1GW commissioned reactors, powering almost 20 million homes for a year.
- In the past decade (2005–2015) uranium mining has contributed more than $3.2 billion in export revenue to the South Australian economy, and $128 million in royalties to South Australians.
- South Australia hosts four of Australia’s six approved uranium mines (Olympic Dam, Beverley/Beverley North, Four Mile and Honeymoon in South Australia, Ranger in the Northern Territory and Wiluna in Western Australia). Two South Australian uranium mines are currently operating (Olympic Dam and Four Mile).
South Australian mines, developing projects and mineral exploration tenements under exploration for uranium
South Australia has demonstrated experience with technologies for processing uranium ore, developed from the state’s uranium mines using different ore beneficiation processes.
- Proven safe uranium handling and transportation systems (>30 year record).
- South Australia hosts one of only two Australian ports approved for uranium exports; Port Adelaide in South Australia, the other being the port of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
- South Australia has a royalty rate of 2% for new mines. After the first 5 years the rate then reverts to 5% for mineral ores and concentrates (including uranium).
- Despite having 23% of the world’s uranium resources, South Australia produces around 6% of the world’s uranium, indicating there is significant potential for long term production and expansion.
- South Australia has the demonstrated geology with high potential for further discoveries.
- The South Australian Government has made clear that it openly and actively supports exploration for uranium in South Australia.
- The South Australian Government has streamlined the project approvals process, improving transparency and boosting industry and community confidence that regulatory processes are effective, and promoting efficiency in mining operations while effectively ensuring the safety and protection of all South Australians and the environment.
- Mining Act 1971 and Mining Regulations 2011 made under the Act
- Radiation Protection and Control Act 1982
- Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwth)
The Act and the Regulations require licences for both exploration and mining for both exploration and mining prior to any work being commissioned. Considerations must be included for each approval type.
South Australia requires companies to submit a PEPR (program for environment protection and rehabilitation) before any mining commences (not just uranium mines) and this must be approved before any mining can commence. This stringent documentation comprehensively addresses many criteria including environmental concerns.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for the administration of the Environment Protection Act 1993 and the Radiation Protection and Control Act 1982. The Department of State Development has an MoU with the EPA to support the consistent and efficient environmental regulation of mineral resources.
The South Australian government works with the Commonwealth in ensuring adherence to the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).
The Australian regulatory framework for the uranium industry is widely recognised as being effective and representing world’s best practice. Export licences are granted under strict Commonwealth legislation that ensures that uranium is used solely for the generation of electricity.
The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) examines foreign investment proposals to ensure the investment is in Australia’s interest.
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was established by the South Australian Government on Thursday, 19 March 2015 to undertake an independent and comprehensive investigation into South Australia’s participation in four areas of activity that form part of the nuclear fuel cycle.
- Those activities relate to the potential for the expansion of exploration and extraction of minerals, and
- Undertaking of further processing of minerals and manufacture of materials containing radioactive substances,
- Use of nuclear fuels for electricity generation and
- Storage and disposal of radioactive and nuclear waste.
This inquiry process will provide all interested participants with an opportunity to contribute to the outcome and have their say on this important issue.
The Commission is required to report no later than 6 May 2016.
- World energy demands are continually rising, particularly for low emissions energy sources such as nuclear.
- Total world uranium consumption is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 5% to total around 100 000 t in 2020.
- Driving this increase in consumption will be 71 new reactors currently under construction, with a combined capacity of over 76 Gigawatt-electric. (DIS 2015)
- South Australia exports all uranium oxide concentrate that is produced.
- No enrichment is undertaken in Australia. Australia does not have any nuclear power stations.
- Uranium oxide concentrate from the State’s operating uranium mines is exported exclusively for the generation of electricity in civil nuclear reactors. Contracts are in place with the United Kingdom, France, China, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, the United States and Spain.
Uranium is one of the state’s major mineral commodities produced, with total sales value of $370 million (4530 t) in 2014.
Over the past 25 years South Australia has produced and exported almost $4 billion (66 591 t) of uranium oxide concentrate from mines including Olympic Dam, Beverley/Beverley North, Four Mile, and Honeymoon.
Levels of uranium oxide production are expected to be maintained or increased as major mines continue to produce at near capacity and look at increasing run-rates and making productivity improvements.
South Australian uranium production, 1990-00 to 2013-14 (source: DSD Resource Production)
Production, resources, reserves and contained commodity can be found in the following table for South Australia’s uranium mines.
- Multi-commodity underground mine producing copper, gold, uranium oxide and silver.
- World’s largest uranium deposit, producing 3952 t of U3O8 in 2014.
- Total resource — 9550 Mt at 0.81%Cu, 0.26 kg/t U3O8
- Ore reserve — 518 Mt at 1.86%Cu, 0.57 kg/t U3O8, 0.72 g/t Au, 4.0g/t Ag
- Pitchblende is the dominant uranium mineral, with minor coffinite and brannerite.
- After ore goes through crushing and grinding, uranium is extracted in a solvent extraction plant, producing ammonium diuranate, which is subsequently calcined to produce uranium oxide concentrate and then packaged for export sales.
- Uranium oxide concentrate is exported to the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, the United States and Spain.
- Discovered in 2005 with assistance from the South Australian Government’s PACE collaborative drilling program. Considered one of the highest grade uranium deposits of this type discovered anywhere in the world in recent times.
- Production commenced in 2014 at the Four Mile East deposit which is connected to the Beverley North satellite plant for uranium recovery. The uranium-rich resin is trucked to the Beverley plant for processing.
- The Four Mile East deposit is Paleocene sandstone-hosted mineralisation; Four Mile West is hosted in Cretaceous strata.
- Production commenced in 1999 and at the time was one of the largest, and most advanced, in-situ recovery (ISR) mines in the world.
- Production is in standby and extraction has shifted to Four Mile – which utilises the processing facilities at Beverley/Beverley North.
- Total resource (at commencement of mining) — 7.7 Mt at 0.27% containing 21 000 t U3O8
- Mineralisation primarily coffinite with some uraninite.
- The Honeymoon uranium mine (an in-situ recovery mine) progressed to ‘care and maintenance’ from March 2014. The company announced the project closure as a result of low global uranium prices and production issues.
- Deposit occurs as five discrete mineralised sand packages, located near the confluence of a major tributary entering the Yarramba paleochannel.
Major developing uranium projects in South Australia are listed below. Company websites contain up to date reporting regarding these projects.
Over the past ten years mineral exploration companies have spent $453 million exploring for uranium in South Australia. This has led to discoveries including the Four Mile uranium deposits, currently in production.
Exploration Licence holders, currently listing uranium as a commodity they are exploring for, can be found by searching the online map based database SARIG.
South Australia remains one of the most prospective regions in the world for uranium discovery. Uranium mineralisation is widespread and found in most geological provinces throughout South Australia.
Uranium exploration has largely focused on three uranium mineral systems:
- Hybrid-uranium mineral system e.g. Olympic Dam, Acropolis, Emmie Bluff, Vulcan, Wirrda Well (breccia complex, iron– oxide–copper–gold±uranium (IOCG±U), i.e. ‘Olympic Dam’ style).
- Basin and Surface-related uranium mineral system e.g. Four Mile, Beverley, Beverley North, Billeroo, Honeymoon, Oban, Warrior, Yarramba Palaeochannels (sandstone-hosted) and Ranger, Jabiluka (unconformity-related).
- Magmatic-related uranium mineral system e.g. Crocker Well.
- Metamorphic-related uranium mineral system e.g. Curnamona Province, Radium Hill, the Mount Painter region and the Adelaide Geosyncline
Known uranium occurrences and significant geological parameters for each deposit type have been collated and represented spatially as ‘key ingredients’ maps.
The Geological Survey of the Department of State Development undertakes work to determine the interaction between deposit type and these parameters, to improve predictive modelling outcomes and delineate areas of interest for uranium exploration.
Hybrid-uranium mineral system
It is clear from the giant Olympic Dam deposit that the ca.1590 Ma Mesoproterozoic thermal event in South Australia introduced highly anomalous uranium throughout the crust. This event, coincident with emplacement of Hiltaba Suite granites and Gawler Range Volcanics and equivalents, affected all of the central and eastern Gawler Craton as well as the central and northern Curnamona Province.
The legacy for explorers is a very large region prospective for hard rock, IOCG±U deposits. The dense, hematite-rich mineralised systems are readily identified by detailed gravity survey data.
Basin and surface-related uranium mineral system
Magmatic-related Uranium Mineral System
Metamorphic-related uranium mineral system
Metamorphic-related uranium mineral systems involve deposition from either true metamorphic fluids, or fluids that have extensively reacted with metamorphic rocks at elevated temperatures. Metasomatic and some vein-style deposits are probably derived from a range of magmatic-hydrothermal to metamorphic fluids.
In South Australia, examples of metamorphic-related uranium systems occur in the Curnamona Province, Radium Hill, the Mount Painter region and the Adelaide Geosyncline.
For more information, contact:
Geological Survey of South Australia
Phone: +61 8 8463 3075
Team Leader Mining Compliance and Regulation
Department of State Development
Phone: +61 8 8463 3311
Principal Mineral Industry Analyst
+61 8 8463 3066