Australia's mines supply nearly a fifth of world uranium

Australia’s three operating mines are Ranger, in the Northern Territory; Olympic Dam, in South Australia, and Beverley, also in South Australia.

Two further projects, Honeymoon and FourMile in South Australia, have the potential to begin production within a year to 18 months.

Several other significant deposits in Western Australia, such as Yeelirrie and Kintyre, are currently under development. Production is not likely to begin there before 2014.

Olympic Dam

Olympic Dam, owned by BHP Billiton, is the third largest uranium mine in the world, though with by far the largest single uranium resource in the world.

The mine is located in arid country near Roxby Downs, in northern South Australia

Olympic Dam is polymetallic – as well as uranium, the mine produces copper, silver and gold.

Mining at Olympic Dam is currently carried out by underground mining. BHPB has announced plans to expand the mine from its current 4,500 tonne annual uranium oxide production capacity to 19,000 tonnes a year by 2021.

The expanded operation would be an open cut mine, which would ultimately be the largest open mine pit in the world.

Ranger

The Ranger mine and associated town of Jabiru is about 260 kilometres east of Darwin, surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, a major tourist attraction. This is a monsoonal part of Australia, with pronounced wet season from December to April.

Energy Resources Australia Ltd, itself majority owned by Rio Tinto Ltd, owns and operates Ranger as an open pit mine.

Ranger is the largest producer of uranium in Australia. It produces around 11 per cent of the world’s annual uranium requirement and ships uranium oxide to power utilities in Asia, Europe and North America under strict international and Australian Government safeguards.

Ranger was the source of the first shipment of Australian uranium to China.

Ranger operates under strict Federal and Northern Territory regulation and its environmental management is supervised and audited by the Office of the Supervising Scientist.

Beverley

The Beverley operation, located 600 kilometres north or Adelaide in South Australia, is Australia’s only solution mining or in situ leach mine.

Solution mining works by pumping a solution into an underground aquifer, or clay-sealed uranium-bearing formation containing salty water and sand. The solution dissolves the uranium and leaves other substances behind. The uranium-rich solution is extracted and treated to remove and dry the uranium.

For some types of relatively small deposit, this technique has advantages in minimising the disturbance to the surface environment. The technique also produces relatively small amounts of mine waste.

The Federal Environment Minister has approved an extension of the Beverley mine, saying he had been advised that Beverley's operations represented world's best practice in management of mining fluids.

Many of the prospective new uranium mines currently under development in various parts of Australia are likely to be solution recovery operations.

Beverley is operated by Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd. a subsidiary of US company General Atomics.