SYDNEY Oct 22 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,
esitmated 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 UX-U3O8-SPT, 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.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Richard Pullin)