The Australian state of Queensland lifted a 23-year ban on mining uranium on Monday, following a push by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to reach an accord to export supplies to energy-hungry India.
Australia, with no nuclear power plants of its own, is already one of the world's top exporters of uranium mined in other states and territories.
The Australian and Indian prime ministers held talks last week for Australia to sell uranium to India after Australia signaled it will end its block on exports. India needs uranium for its expanding civil nuclear power programme
Queensland State Premier Campbell Newman said the decision to allow mining to resume in his state – a region the size of Alaska – followed public debate coupled with strong support for the uranium industry from the Federal Labor government. “The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just been in India selling the benefits of Australian-produced uranium to India, prompting many in the community to ask about the industry's potential in Queensland”, Newman said in a statement.
Australia, which mined 7,529 tonnes of uranium in fiscal 2011/12, worth A$782 million, according to government figures, has until now refused to sell nuclear material to India because it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Australia holds 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves but supplies only 20 percent of the global market. Sales to India would open up a new frontier at a time when the global nuclear industry is still reeling from the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan last year.
“The first thing we can expect is an increase in uranium exploration expenditure in Queensland, but mining is probably still a few years away yet because there has been no prospect of mining until today”, said Michael Angwin, president of the Australian Uranium Association.
The Queensland Resources Council, a mining lobby group, estimated the known uranium resource in Queensland, using projected prices and exchange rates, at A$18 billion. Uranium prices have fallen since the Fukushima disaster with some countries questioning the safety and viability of nuclear energy. Uranium sells for $43.50 a pound, compared with the February 2011 average spot price of $69.63.
The 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which includes Australia and the United States, waived a three-decade ban on exports to India in 2008 after agreeing assurances that New Delhi would not put any such nuclear trade to military use. Australia changed its policy against nuclear trade with India after assessing that the country had become a responsible nuclear power that would not proliferate atomic weapons.