Page 793
Previous/Next Page
Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 11

I The Present Energy Economy

II Australian Energy Consumption

III Research And Development

IV Coal

V Oil And Natural Gas

VI Solar Energy

VII Nuclear Energy
i Production of uranium
ii Australian Atomic Energy Commission

VIII Bagasse Firewood And Other Biomass

IX Electric Power Generation And Distribution electric Power Generation And Distribution

X Manufactured Gas

XI Industrial Process Heat



Contact us

Production of uranium

In 1944, at the request of the UK and USA governments and as part of the war effort, the search for uranium was undertaken in Australia. The known deposits in South Australia were, however, found to be too small and low in grade for immediate development. In 1947, the Commonwealth government sought the co-operation of the State governments and rewards and tax incentives were offered to prospectors, together with guaranteed price schedules for any discoveries. The deposits at Rum Jungle, El Sherana and others in the Northern Territory and Mary Kathleen in Queensland were discovered and developed and about $225,000 was paid to 35 prospectors under the reward scheme. During 1954-71, Australia produced some 9,200 tonnes of yellow-cake (U3O8), the majority coming from Rum Jungle and Mary Kathleen. Capital investment amounted to about $50 million and export of the product earned some $164 million.

In the early 1960s, due to the accumulation of various stockpiles, the world price of uranium fell and production decreased as contracts expired and were not renewed. By the mid 1960s, however, nuclear power generation was becoming an established technology, with the prospect of being more economic than conventional coal stations. In 1967, the Australian government announced a new export policy for uranium, aimed at conserving resources for future nuclear stations that might be required by the State generating authorities, at the same time as encouraging exploration. In the latter part of 1970 significant discoveries were made in the Alligator Rivers area of the Northern Territory and near Lake Frome in South Australia, followed in 1972 by the Yeelirie deposit in Western Australia, and it became clear that Australia could become a major producer of yellow-cake, possessing about twenty per cent of the western world's readily recovered and high grade ore deposits.

Three companies, Mary Kathleen Uranium (MKU), Peko/EZ and Queensland Mines (QML) had in 1970-72 obtained contracts for the export of almost 11,000 tonnes U3O8 during the period 1976-86, and the Whitlam government decided that the AAEC in association with Ranger Uranium Mines Pty. Ltd. should develop the first of the new Northern Territory deposits. Before work commenced, however, the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry was instituted under the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, with Mr. Justice Fox as President. Because of these delays, the first exports were made from the AAEC stockpile and the Mary Kathleen mine in Queensland was re-commissioned. The first Fox Report was presented in October, 1976, and the second and final Report in May, 1977, recommending that mining should proceed at Ranger, but under very strict environmental controls. The Fraser government announced its decisions on 25 August, 1977, and with relatively few exceptions adopted the more than 100 recommendations of the Fox Inquiry.

In 1979, the Government announced that it would divest its interests in the Ranger Uranium Project and in 1980 the mine was taken over by a new company, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA). Mining of the ore body commenced during the 1981 dry season, with an ore treatment plant designed for an annual production of 3,000 tonnes U3O8 per annum. Another Northern Territory mine, Narbelek (owned by QML) fully extracted its remarkably high grade ore body in one year for subsequent production of yellow-cake and in its first year (to June, 1980) produced about 1400 tonnes uranium. As of 1987, other large deposits -Jabiluka in the N.T. (Pancontinental Mining Ltd) and Yeelirree in W.A. (Western Mining Corporation) have not proceeded beyond the investigation and research stage, but the large Roxby Downs deposits in South Australia are being developed (in association with their copper content).

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australia; Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (E.R.A.); Mary Kathleen Uranium (M.K.U.); Pancontinental Mining Ltd; Peko Wallsend Ltd; Queensland Mines (Q.M.L.); Ranger Uranium Mines Pty Ltd; Western Mining Corporation

Previous Page Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Next Page

© 1988 Print Edition pages 817 - 818, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher