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South Australia is recognised for its high prospectivity for uranium and proven track record of uranium mining

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About uranium

  • 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 is 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 is  processed into uranium oxide concentrate (UOC) which contains uranium oxide as either U3O8, or as UO4
  • UOC is 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

Minerals Council of Australia, Uranium Information

Uranium in South Australia

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 largest uranium deposit in the world, containing more than 2 million tonnes of uranium oxide.
  • South Australia produced and exported 5493 t (valued at $499 million) of uranium oxide in 2016 (Government of South Australia resource production statistics 2016). This is 63% of Australia’s mined uranium oxide production of 6946 t in 2016 (Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS) 2016), which is around 10% 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 (2007–2016) uranium mining has contributed more than $3.5 billion in export revenue to the South Australian economy, and $141 million in royalties to South Australians.
  • South Australia hosts four of Australia’s six approved uranium mines

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South Australian major uranium mines, uranium projects and mineral exploration tenements under exploration for uranium

South Australia's advantage

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 port (Port Adelaide) of only two Australian ports approved for uranium exports (Darwin in the Northern Territory hosts the other Australian port).
  • South Australia has a royalty rate of 2% for new mines. After the first 5 years the royalty rate is 5% for mineral ores and concentrates (including uranium).
  • Despite having 23% of the world’s uranium resources, South Australia produces around 10% 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.

Supportive Government

  • 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.

Regulatory framework

Uranium exploration and mining in South Australia is governed by:

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 South Australian Government Mineral Resources Division 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.

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Nuclear fuel cycle royal commission

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The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) 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
  • Undertaking of further processing of minerals and manufacture of materials containing radioactive substances
  • Use of nuclear fuels for electricity generation
  • Storage and disposal of radioactive and nuclear waste

This inquiry process provided all interested participants with an opportunity to contribute to the outcome and have their say on this important issue.

The NFCRC's final report into South Australia's further participation into the nuclear fuel cycle was released on 9 May 2016.

Premier Jay Weatherill delivered the South Australian Government's formal response to the NFCRC's report to State Parliament on 15 November 2016.

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Supply and demand

  • 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. (DIIS 2015)

Exports

  • 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 production

Uranium is one of the state’s major mineral commodities produced, with total sales value of $499 million (5493 t) in 2016.

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 and 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 2000-2016

South Australian uranium production, 2000 to 2016 (source: Resource production statistics)

Operating mines

Company released resource estimates and production statistics for South Australia's major operating and approved mines are summarised in South Australia's major operating/approved mines: resource estimates and production statistics (PDF, updated regularly).

Olympic Dam

BHP-Billiton

  • Multi-commodity underground mine producing copper, gold, uranium oxide and silver.
  • World’s largest uranium deposit, producing 3813 t of U3O8 in 2016.
  • Total resource — 10,400 Mt at 0.77%Cu, 0.25 kg/t U3O8
  • Ore reserve — 505 Mt at 1.96%Cu, 0.58 kg/t U3O8, 0.71 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.

More information regarding the mining operation, compliance reporting and approvals

Four Mile

  • 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.

More information regarding the mining operation, compliance reporting and approvals


Beverley and Beverley North


  • 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.

More information regarding the mining operations, compliance reporting and approvals


Honeymoon


  • 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.

More information regarding the mining operation, compliance reporting and approvals


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Developing projects

Major developing uranium projects in South Australia are listed below. Company websites contain up to date reporting regarding these projects.


204436_uranium_tables2


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Exploration


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.


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Exploration Licence holders, currently listing uranium as a commodity they are exploring for, can be found by searching the online map based database SARIG.


Launch SARIG


More on searching the list of all explorers and the commodities


RB201300022-1Summaries of significant company work on uranium prospects over the past
year can be found in Mineral Exploration in South Australia Publication, Uranium chapter p.90.


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Geological environments

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

Sandstone-hosted

The Gawler Craton and central Curnamona Province were eroded by widespread major river systems during the Cenozoic. Uranium has been deposited in reduced lithologies within these channel systems. At the Honeymoon deposit, the damming of the river systems and subsequent precipitation of uranium appears to be controlled by minor movements along small-scale faults within underlying basement. Cenozoic palaeochannnels have been explored and remain targets for uranium exploration, e.g. Kingoonya, Wynbring, Narlaby, Wanilla, Garford etc.

Unconformity-related

Much of the upper part of the Gawler Range Volcanics was eroded and redeposited in the ~1400 Ma Mesoproterozoic Cariewerloo Basin. Potential targets are at the base adjacent to graphitic schists within Palaeoproterozoic metasediments or within this extensive, poorly explored basin adjacent to reduced lithologies. Ongoing investigations into the uranium potential of the Cariewerloo Basin are being undertaken by the Geological Survey of South Australia.

Magmatic-related Uranium Mineral System

In the Crocker Well area, uranium primarily occurs as thorian-brannerite mineralisation as a disseminated accessory mineral or in fractures, breccias or quartz veins in sodic, plagioclase-rich granitoids and gneisses. Uranium in the form of davidite occurs in the east of the deposit and at the Mt Victoria Deposit.

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:

Tania Wilson
Senior Geologist
Geological Survey of South Australia
Phone: +61 8 8463 3075
tania.wilson@sa.gov.au

Daniel Radulovic
Team Leader Mining Compliance and Regulation
Mineral Resources Division
Government of South Australia
Phone: +61 8 8463 3311
daniel.radulovic@sa.gov.au
Peta Abbot
Principal Mineral Industry Analyst

+61 8 8463 3066
peta.abbot@sa.gov.au