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‘Uranium riches beckon’

Tuesday, 9th August, 2011

PAYDIRT: Geologist Mike Raetz believes uranium exploration just over the border in SA should be repeated near BH. PAYDIRT: Geologist Mike Raetz believes uranium exploration just over the border in SA should be repeated near BH.

By John Casey

Broken Hill should be considered for special State government legislation to allow uranium exploration and mining to take place in the region.

Experienced BH-based mining industry consultant Mike Raetz says a push from federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson to lift the uranium ban in NSW makes a lot of sense and could provide a huge economic benefit for the city.

“Technically it is a no-brainer to at least start exploration,” Mr Raetz, a veteran of almost 30 years’ experience with BHP, said yesterday.

“The palaeo-channels that host the uranium currently being mined in South Australia most certainly pass below the border fence.

“In fact, about one-third of the favourable Callabonna sub-basin (or Frome Embayment as it is also called) resides in NSW under the Mundi Mundi Plains,” Mr Raetz added.

A consulting geologist and director of junior exploration company Callabonna Uranium Ltd, Mr Raetz said it was “a bit illogical” to have an artificial boundary - like the SA/NSW border fence - running through a geological unit.

“The area is all part of the same basin and when compared with what is happening on the SA side, it is clear that areas around Broken Hill are under-drilled and under-explored,” Mr Raetz said.

“There is not much downside to at least drilling some exploration holes in the Mundi Mundi Plains area, but it is very difficult to get informed public debate on the mining of uranium.

“It seems the general public are happy to accept we need nuclear medicine, but have a real phobia about the supply of nuclear energy.”

Earlier this year federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson called on NSW and Victoria to re-think their long-term bans on uranium mining and exploration.

The WA Premier, Colin Barnett, overturned that state’s ban on uranium exploration and mining soon after seizing power in 2008 and estimates it would raise $28 million a year by 2014-15 with a five per-cent royalty on production.

It has been reported that NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, has met with Australian Uranium Association CEO Michael Angwin to discuss overturning the ban.

Under the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act of 1986, uranium mining and exploration are prohibited in NSW.

But given the abundant resources just over the SA border at locations such as the Honeymoon mine the potential for uranium deposits to exist in NSW are obvious.

SA has three uranium mines, including the BHP-Billiton owned Olympic Dam project which is the world’s largest uranium resource and Beverley, owned by Heathgate Resources.

“Australian mining companies are good explorers and if we were to find another deposit like the Honeymoon site (75km north-west of BH) that would have huge economic benefits,” Mr Raetz said.

“There is a lot of fear surrounding uranium, but people have to understand it is no different to most other mining exploration.

“You drill a small diameter hole, put down a probe and hope to get lucky.

“Yellowcake has been safely handled for decades all over the world and science and engineering can reasonably deal with the health and safety issues associated with the exploration, mining and export of uranium.”

Mr Reatz said that if exploration was successful, the export of uranium would almost certainly be through SA because “it is already set up for that process”.

“They wouldn’t be trucking Yellowcake across New South Wales when the necessary processes are available just over the border,” he said.


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