WA missing out on billion-dollar uranium windfall

A 12-month inquiry by CCIWA has recommended Western Australia overturn its ban on uranium mining for export to unlock significant economic benefits for the state.

In the comprehensive examination of WA’s uranium industry, CCIWA points to the increasing value of uranium, driven by demand from countries in Asia and Europe who are increasing their investment in nuclear power to help them meet carbon emissions reduction targets.

South Australia currently allows uranium to be mined and exported and the Northern Territory is rapidly expanding its exploration efforts, proving the industry is safe and sustainable.

Last year, South Australia produced around 5,469 tonnes of uranium, worth more than $878 million.

WA has capacity to produce an estimated 8,000 tonnes annually.

CCIWA Chief Economist Aaron Morey said WA’s uranium industry could easily exceed $1 billion a year.

“Uranium spot prices have skyrocketed over the past year or so, largely because of a global shift towards nuclear power in countries like China, France, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the UK,” he said.

“Other states and countries have been able to capitalise on this demand, but WA has missed out – despite having some of the largest uranium deposits in the country.

“Based on current prices, WA has the potential to export around $1 billion worth of uranium each year, creating around 9,000 direct and indirect jobs in WA,” he said.

“WA has the technical skills and know-how to reignite the uranium mining industry as well as the export infrastructure to get it to market.”

Mr Morey said the uranium debate drew strong reactions in the past, but attitudes were changing thanks to advances in technology and an understanding of the role nuclear energy could play in reducing global emissions.

“The ban on new uranium mines in WA was driven by environmental, health and safety concerns, but these concerns are not significantly different to those faced by any mining operation,” he said.

“WA is a mining state with a reputation for safety and world’s best practice. We have a strong regulatory framework, existing infrastructure and all the skills needed to safely mine and export uranium.

“Uranium exports are also bound by detailed Commonwealth legislation to ensure they are only used for energy production and not in the development of nuclear weapons.

“If South Australia and the Northern Territory can do it, there’s no reason why WA can’t.”

Mr Morey said WA is well-positioned to capitalise on the shift towards nuclear power in the Northern hemisphere, where access to renewable energy is more limited than in Australia.

“At the recent COP28 Summit there was a commitment to triple nuclear production, so the demand will continue to be high,” he said.

“At the same time, uranium supply has been unable to keep pace and supply constraints look set to worsen.”

Mr Morey said allowing uranium mining would simply harness an opportunity to supply WA’s uranium to countries that are already using it.

“If they don’t buy uranium from WA, they’ll simply buy it elsewhere,” he said.

“We know uranium can be mined and transported safely because they’re doing it in South Australia and the Northern Territory, so it’s hard to see why the State Government would want WA to miss out on this economic opportunity.

“WA isn’t getting a piece of the action.”

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