Uranium Exports From AustraliaAustralian exports over the last five years have averaged just over 10,000 t/yr U3O8, and in 2009 provided 15.7% of world uranium supply from mines. Uranium comprises about 35% of the country's energy exports (4757 PJ in 2007-08) in thermal terms.
Australia's uranium is sold strictly for electrical power generation only, and safeguards are in place to ensure this. Australia is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. Its safeguards agreement under the NPT came into force in 1974 and it was the first country in the world to bring into force the Additional Protocol in relation to this - in 1997. In addition to these international arrangements Australia requires customer countries to have entered a bilateral safeguards treaty which is more rigorous than NPT arrangements.
The value of Australia's uranium oxide concentrate exports has been rising steadily and in 2008-09 they reached a value of over A$ 1 billion. ABARE’s March 2009 Quarter Commodities report forecasts a 38% increase in uranium export volumes by 2014 in response to increased demand, and an 86% increase in export revenues during the same period, reflecting higher long-term contract prices. However, production problems at Olympic Dam from late 2009 into 2010 set this back considerably over those two years.
The nations which currently purchase Australia's uranium are set out below. All have a large commitment to nuclear power:
The USA generates around 30% of the world's nuclear power. Much of its uranium comes from Canada, but Australia is a major source. Europe depends heavily on nuclear power and EU countries are also major customers. Japan, South Korea and now China are important customers due to their increasing dependence on nuclear energy.
In 2009, U3O8 sales were to North America (mainly USA) 3929 t (35.5%), Europe 3640 t (32.9%) and Asia 3491 t (31.6%).
Customer countries' contracted imports of Australian uranium oxide concentrate may be summarised as follows, (but see also the reactor table):
USA: c 4000 tonnes per year
EU: about 3500 tonnes per year, including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, UK.Japan: c 2500 tonnes per year
South Korea: up to c 1000 tonnes per year
China: c 500 tonnes per year
Taiwan: c 500 tonnes per year
Canada and South Africa: both are uranium producer countries with nuclear power plants and which buy a small amount from Australia occasionally.
Australia is a preferred uranium supplier to world, especially East Asian, markets where demand is growing most rapidly. In 2006 a bilateral agreement was concluded with China, enabling exports there, and in 2007 a similar agreement was signed with Russia, which came into force in 2010. Australia could readily increase its share of the world market because of its low cost resources and its political and economic stability.
As well as uranium sold to overseas customers (mainly utilities) by the four mining companies, Energy Metals Ltd, an exploration company with majority Chinese ownership, has an export permit. In December 2011 it announced the sale of 68 tonnes of U3O8 to its parent company, China Guangdong Nuclear Power, for shipment early in 2012.
Environmental aspects of uranium exports are notable: Shipping 7000 tonnes of U3O8 as in 2010 is the energy equivalent of shipping 140 million tonnes of thermal coal. Australia's present thermal coal exports are around 100 million tonnes, requiring between 3,000 and 4,000 voyages of bulk carriers through environmentally sensitive regions such as the Great Barrier Reef. Export coal also has an environmental impact through the provision of harbours and railways.
On the basis of December 2008 data Australia has 31% of the world's uranium resources (under US$ 130/kg). Nearly all of Australia's 1,176,000 tonnes of Reasonably Assured Resources of uranium in this price category are actually in the under $80/kg U category.
The following table shows Reasonably Assured plus Inferred Resources in the $130/kg cost category:
Known Recoverable Resources* of Uranium
|tonnes U||percentage of world|
|Rusian Fed|| |
|South Africa|| |
|World total|| |
* Reasonably Assured Resources plus Inferred Resources, to US$ 130/kg U, 1/1/09, from OECD NEA & IAEA, Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand ("Red Book").About 96% of Australia's Economically Demonstrated Resources (EDR = Reasonably Assured Resources to $80/kgU) are within six deposits: Olympic Dam (the world's largest known uranium deposit), Ranger, Jabiluka, Koongarra, Kintyre and Yeelirrie.
Despite restrictive state government policies and perhaps in anticipation of their disappearance, uranium exploration gathered pace during 2006, with more than 200 companies professing an interest, compared with 34 the previous year, and A$ 80 million being spent. Expenditure then more than doubled, to A$ 182 million in 2007, A$ 227 million in 2008, and A$ 180 million in 2009.
Uranium exploration has been illegal in Victoria and New South Wales, and remains so in Victoria. Uranium mining is not allowed in any of the eastern states.
12 months to 30 June each year
Australia' s Uranium | Uranium Mining in Australia