World to get more uranium from Down Under

Bans on new uranium mines in Australia should be lifted to make the most of the country's reserves as prices shoot up, a parliamentary committee report has said.

The parliamentary committee called the ban “illogical, inconsistent and anti-competitive,” and urged the Government to revise rules that currently limit uranium mining to three locations and ban the creation of new sites.

“State policies preventing development of new uranium mines should be lifted and legislative restrictions on uranium mining should be repealed,” he said in a statement,” said committee chairman Geoff Prosser, a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Party.

Despite holding the world’s biggest uranium reserves, accounting for 38% of the world’s total known reserves of the element, Australia only produces 23% of the uranium used to power the world’s nuclear power stations.

The element is becoming increasingly sought-after as oil and gas prices increase, causing uranium prices to rise almost fourfold in the last three years.

It is currently used as fuel in the production of 16% of the global electricity supply.

Many governments around the world promote nuclear power as a way of curbing greenhouse emissions, although environmental campaigners argue that electricity produced by atomic plants does not deserve the “low carbon” label as it produces more carbon emissions that gas-powered power stations.

Australian prime minister John Howard has embraced the low-carbon argument for nuclear, however, as has the US and – as it increasingly seems – Britain.

The Australian PM also sees nuclear as a way of reducing reliance on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world, and has re-ignited debate around the future of uranium mining in Australia.

The committee on uranium mining backed these claims, concluding that “there is now a growing recognition that nuclear power makes a significant contribution to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.”

“As a matter of energy justice, Australia shouldn’t deny countries that wish to use our nuclear power in a responsible manner the benefits from doing so,” said Geoff Prosser.

Australia recently signed a deal with China to supply uranium to help power the country’s energy-hungry economy. Exports should start within four years.

Reserves or Australian uranium amount to around 2m metric tonnes, worth over $200bn.

Goska Romanowicz

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