* Australia expects to boost spending on uranium exploration
* Sees strong demand for yellowcake despite Japan's nuclear
* Says world still needs growing nuclear power sources
By James Regan
SYDNEY, June 9 Australia said the Fukushima
nuclear disaster in Japan would not curb the world's appetite
for uranium and predicted its exports will continue to rise as
its develops more mines.
Spending on exploration in Australia to find more uranium is
expected to rise by more than third this year, Australia's
minister for mines, Martin Ferguson, said in a speech to
geologists on Thursday.
Ferguson also said Australia was in discussions with the
United Arab Emirates on a bilateral nuclear safeguards agreement
that could potentially open up a new market for Australia's
"What Fukushima will not do is change the fundamental
drivers, increasing population and increasing demand for energy,
behind the desire by some nations for more nuclear power,"
Australia, with no nuclear power plants of its own, is one of
the world's top exporters of uranium, along with Kazakhstan and
Ferguson said he was "confident the recent expansion we have
seen in uranium mining, driven by increased global demand, will
Plans for nuclear reactors have been put on hold worldwide
in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis, blurring the short term
outlook for uranium, but the need for low-carbon energy supplies
should keep demand for the metal burning for a long time.
"Let's not forget that there are over 400 reactors worldwide
and while some of these have been shut down in recent months,
the vast majority continue to operate," he said.
Uranium prices have fallen below $60 a pound since the
March 11 earthquake and tsunami, losing a fifth from January's
price of nearly $75, itself nearly half an all-time of $136 in
Government ministers and officials from nearly 30 nuclear
energy producing countries this week called for safety tests on
all reactors, after the disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant
sparked concerns. [ID:nLDE7561K6]
The Fukushima disaster has driven nuclear energy up the
political agenda especially in Europe, where public concern over
the dangers of reactors is surging.
Countries within the European Union have already agreed to
proceed with stress tests on the region's 143 reactors and the
bloc has called for them to be carried out worldwide.
Germany's government decided last month to phase out all of
the country's nuclear reactors by 2022 due to public opposition.
"Nuclear has always faced a tougher challenge than other
energy sources, particularly when it comes to public perception
and maintaining society's confidence to operate," Ferguson said
Despite its endowment in uranium, Australia holds barely a
fifth of the global market, a legacy of the 1990s when political
opposition and plunging prices combined to freeze exploration.
Even though the political climate for uranium mining has
thawed, with the ruling Labor Party now no longer opposed to new
uranium mines in states with existing mines, the industry
remains a sensitive topic and still faces opposition from the
influential Greens party at home.
BHP Billiton , Cameco , Rio Tinto
and others are taking steps to dig new mines and expand old ones
in hopes of capturing a forecast 20 percent leap in uranium
consumption by 2015.
Meanwhile, places like Kazakhstan and parts of Africa are
also racing to dig new lodes -- Kazakhstan's output alone is
forecast to grow 10 percent next year, the same as Australia,
according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource
Economics and Sciences.
BHP's Yeelirrie deposit in northwest Australia is the
country's second-biggest unmined 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 30 years but has yet to break any ground.
BHP also owns the Olympic Dam mine in neighbouring South
Australia, 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.
Cameco has set a tentative start date sometime in 2015 for
its Kintyre uranium mine, according to an invitation for public
comment lodged with the Department of the Environment.
Nearby, Energy and Minerals Australia owns the Mulga Rock
deposit, holding enough uranium to light up Tokyo for 30 years.
(Editing by Ed Davies)