Australia's mines supply nearly 12% of world uranium
Australia has the following operating uranium mines:
- ERA Ltd.’s Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, which began operating in 1980;
- BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam operation in South Australia, which began operating in 1988;
- Heathgate Resources’ Beverley mine in South Australia, which began operating in 2000; and
- Uranium One’s Honeymoon operation in South Australia, which began operating in 2011, is transitioning down to the care and maintenance phase over four or five months from November 2013.
Another project in South Australia, the Four Mile Project, has the potential to begin production within a year to 18 months. The Four Mile Project is located 550km north of Adelaide in South Australia; it is a joint venture between Quasar Resources (75%) and Alliance Resources (25%).
Olympic Dam, owned by BHP Billiton, is the third largest uranium mine in the world, though with by far the largest single uranium resource in the world.
The mine is located in arid country near Roxby Downs, in northern South Australia.
Olympic Dam is polymetallic – as well as uranium, the mine produces copper, silver and gold. It produces about 4,000 tonnes of uranium oxide annually.
Mining at Olympic Dam is currently carried out by underground mining.
BHPB recently announced plans to defer a proposed expansion of the mine. Should the expansion go ahead in the future, annual uranium oxide production capacity would increase to as much as 19,000 tonnes a year.
The expanded operation would be an open cut mine, which would ultimately be the largest open mine pit in the world.
Scroll down for further information on Olympic Dam.
The Ranger mine and associated town of Jabiru is about 260 kilometres east of Darwin, surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, a major tourist attraction. This is a monsoonal part of Australia, with pronounced wet season from December to April.
Energy Resources Australia Ltd, itself majority owned by Rio Tinto Ltd, owns and operates Ranger as an open pit mine.
Ranger is Australia's longest continually operating uranium mine and has historically been the largest producer of uranium in Australia. It ships uranium oxide to power utilities in Asia, Europe and North America under strict international and Australian Government safeguards.
Ranger was the source of the first shipment of Australian uranium to China.
Ranger operates under strict Federal and Northern Territory regulation and its environmental management is supervised and audited by the Office of the Supervising Scientist.
Ranger recently completed mining ore from its operating Pit 3 (November 2012), and is now processing ore from its stockpiles. ERA is now examining the feasibility of an underground operation at Ranger, known as Ranger 3 Deeps.
Scroll down for further information on Ranger and Ranger 3 Deeps.
The Beverley operation, located 600 kilometres north of Adelaide in South Australia, is an in-situ leach mine (also known as ISR).
The Beverley operation covers both the Beverley and Beverley North deposits. Beverley North is mined as a satellite mine to Beverley. This means initial extraction is undertaken at the Beverley North Deposits, then uranium-loaded resin is returned to Beverley for final processing, extraction of the uranium and regeneration of the resin for re-use in the satellite plants.
ISR mining works by pumping a solution into an underground aquifer, or clay-sealed, uranium-bearing formation containing salty water and sand. The solution dissolves the uranium and leaves other substances behind. The uranium-rich solution is extracted and treated to remove and dry the uranium.
For some types of relatively small deposits, this technique has advantages in minimising the disturbance to the surface environment. The technique also produces relatively small amounts of mine waste.
Many of the prospective new uranium mines currently under development in various parts of Australia are likely to be solution recovery operations.
Beverley is operated by Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd. a subsidiary of US company General Atomics.
Scroll down for further information on Beverley.
Australia’s newest uranium mine is Honeymoon in South Australia. Honeymoon is 100% owned by Uranium One. Honeymoon is also an in-situ recovery (ISR) mine.
Pilot production (commissioning) at the Honeymoon project commenced in September 2011. Commissioning will be completed when a pre-defined operating level, based on the design of the plant, is maintained.
The project has a design capacity of 880,000 lbs U3O8 (339 t U) per year.
Documents and reports on Honeymoon are available from the website of the South Australian government.
For information on Australia’s significant uranium deposits and potential for new mine development, please click here.