BHP Billiton's announcement that the world class Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold mine could get the green light for a major expansion next year has further whetted the appetite of investors in Australia.
Richard Yeeles, corporate affairs manager for BHP Billiton Uranium, was quoted as saying the planned expansion - which many thought had been pigeonholed by the global recession - now required the nod of approval for its multi-million dollar environmental impact statement.
This had to come from the South Australian government, the Federal government and also the Northern Territory government, for the plan was to ship concentrates through the port of Darwin.
Before the market meltdown the plan to create a massive open cut mine at Olympic Dam was seen as a project that could cost at least US$8bn, primarily because up to 300 metres of sterile cover of what is now a large underground mine would have to be removed - an exercise that would create some manmade mountains in the flat terrain of far northern South Australia.
But the fact Yeeles cited the port of Darwin for shipping concentrates indicate BHPB still plans to ship concentrates to customers that undoubtedly would contain copper and uranium which would be a hurdle to be jumped for both commodity and political reasons.
Olympic Dam contains about one-third of the world's uranium resources but that means BHPB will have to be winning massive new copper metal sales as well as U308. When concentration shipments were mentioned two years ago as part of the Olympic Dam expansion, which caused political nervousness and ratcheted up the anti-uranium brigade that questioned how the current strict security on Australian uranium sales could be maintained.
Yeeles also raised the issue of BHPB being keen to get the Yeelirrie uranium deposit in Western Australia developed - a political gate opened when Colin Barnett was elected premier last year, ousting the anti-uranium Labour Premier Alan Carpenter.
Yeelirrie was discovered more than three decades ago by WMC Resources (developer of Olympic Dam which was taken over by BHPB) and it is one of a large number of projects that were blocked until last year when incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd overturned the Labor Party's restricted policy that limited the country to three mines. In the mid 1970s Australia had found more than 26% of global resources but political shackles on development saw the global market handed to Canada.
Other developments this week included:
An Adelaide conference being told the Four Mile uranium mine - due to come on stream next January - may evolve into the first in the world to be powered by a renewable energy source. Patrick Mutz, managing director of 25% partner Alliance Resources Ltd (ASX: AGS) said partner Heathgate Resources (which operates the nearby Beverley in-situ recovery uranium mine) was negotiating to use energy from a hot rock pilot plant from Petrotherm Ltd's Paralana geothermal project, only five kilometres away.
At the same conference UraniumSA Ltd (ASX: USA) disclosed a maiden JORC code resource for its Blackbush discovery, only 20km from SA's industrial city of Whyalla. The inferred resource of 2 700 tonnes of U308 is seen as opening up a new uranium province.
New uranium explorer Uranio Ltd (ASX: UNO) raised eyebrows and saw its share price virtually double to an A18c /share range, after revealing a maiden resource at its Double 8 prospect at Ponton in remote country east of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. This took in a resource of 10.9m lbs of U308 at a 200 ppm cut-off.
There are major blueprints in various stages of development for uranium mines in SA, the NT and WA, and one of the biggest is Kintyre in WA's Kimberleys for the joint venture of Cameco and Mitsubishi Corporation who bought this major find from Rio Tinto for US$495m, at a time when uranium mining was banned in the State.DISCLOSURE: A member of the writer's family holds Alliance Resources shares.