* BHP says seeking ways to improve economics of Australian
* Yeelirrie is Australia's second biggest uranium deposit
* Japan nuclear disaster raised doubts over need for more
By James Regan
SYDNEY, June 20 BHP Billiton
sought to quell speculation over the future of its giant
Yeelirrie uranium project in Australia on Monday, saying
deferral of a key review had not derailed its commitment to the
BHP Billiton last month postponed indefinitely an
environmental review and management programme for the project
until it was deemed to meet internal standards, fueling
concerns BHP Billiton was losing interest amid uncertainty over
future uranium demand.
"BHP Billiton remains committed to developing the Yeelirrie
deposit and is continuing to progress the project with a focus
on developments in technologies to improve the project's
environmental and economic outcomes," the company said in a
statement emailed to Reuters.
The deposit in Western Australia state is the country's
second-biggest uranium deposit after Rio Tinto's
mothballed Jabiluka lode in the Northern Territory.
BHP wants to mine 90,000 tonnes of uranium from Yeelirrie
over a span of 30 years but has yet to break any ground.
BHP also owns the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state,
where it is planning a massive expansion to 19,000 tonnes a year
from 4,000 tonnes now, but cannot say when that will proceed or
how much it will cost.
Australia, with no nuclear power plants of its own, is one
of the world's top exporters of uranium, along with Kazakhstan
But plans for nuclear reactors have been put on hold
worldwide in the wake of Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis,
blurring the short term outlook for uranium.
(Editing by Balazs Koranyi)