Australian State Says Uranium Prospects Attracting China, India

Chinese and Indian companies are eager to invest in potential uranium resources in New South Wales as the Asian nations add nuclear power plants, said the energy minister of Australia’s most populous state.

“The Chinese are very keen, as are the Indians,” Chris Hartcher, the New South Wales state resources minister, said today in an interview in Sydney. “They want access to the resource. We think there’s huge potential.”

The New South Wales government announced plans last month to overturn a ban on uranium exploration, saying it wants to join the mining boom that’s spurring the economies of Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia states. The exploration ban hasn’t allowed New South Wales to evaluate the size of the potential uranium resource, Hartcher said today.

Olympic Dam, BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP)’s uranium, copper and gold mine in South Australia, “is just over the border” with New South Wales, Hartcher said. “That’s the largest uranium deposit in the world, and we’ve got the same geological structure. Uranium doesn’t stop at the border.”

Australia’s governing Labor Party in December lifted a ban on exports to India to tap energy demand in the country. Australia, holder of the world’s biggest uranium reserves, will begin talks this year to export the nuclear fuel to India, opening a new market for producers such as BHP, the nation’s Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said in December.

Safety Review

China halted new nuclear projects after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March last year caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Approval of the projects is “very likely” to resume this year as the government completes a safety review, Sun Qin, president of China National Nuclear Corp., said this month.

India, whose nuclear plants comprise about 3 percent of its electricity capacity, is adding safeguards to its atomic program after the Japan accident knocked out power equipment and cooling systems at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. India plans to increase its nuclear-generation capacity 13-fold to 60 gigawatts by 2030, according to the Planning Commission.

Uranium exploration and mining is allowed in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, according to the Australian Uranium Association’s website. While companies can explore in Queensland, uranium mining is prohibited.

Since exploration hasn’t been permitted in New South Wales or Victoria states, “the extent of resources there is not known,” the uranium industry group says on its website.

Coal-Seam Gas Permits

The New South Wales government plans to begin a process of granting and renewing coal-seam gas exploration licenses in June after keeping them on hold to review the environmental and safety impact of the industry, Hartcher said today.

Some environmental groups and politicians are concerned the projects will damage aquifers, contaminate and deplete water supplies, and diminish the capacity of food-producing land, Deutsche Bank AG said in a report this month.

“The problem with water is if you contaminate it, it’s almost impossible to fix,” the energy minister said. “We have to make sure the process is going to protect underground water, and that’s why a cautious approach is justified.”

To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney at jpaton4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net

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