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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Annual Report 2000-2001

Beverley Uranium Mine

On 21 February 2001 the Beverley uranium minein South Australia, owned by Heathgate Resources, was officially opened. Heathgate Resources is an affiliate of General Atomics of the USA. Beverley has a capacity of about 1,000 tonnes per year, compared to about 5,000 tonnes per year each for the Ranger and Olympic Dam mines.

From a miningtechnology perspective, the Beverley mine is a first-of-type for Australia. Whereas the other uranium sites are open pit and underground mines, Beverley uses the in- situ leach (ISL) process. This process can only be used for deposits contained in porous host rock confined between impervious layers. Boreholes are drilled through which a mildly acidic, oxidising solution is fed into the ore body. This solution dissolves the uranium which is and is then pumped up another borehole to the processing plant. The uranium is extracted from the solution and processed for sale. The stripped solution is rejuvenated and returned to the ore body. By maintaining a lower pressure at the extraction well than at the feed wells the solution can be controlled so it does not spread into the surrounding rock. Although this is a new process for Australia it is used elsewhere and a variation (using basic rather than acidic solutions) is the main process used in the USA for mining uranium. There are other deposits in Australia that could, potentially, be mined using this process. The most advanced of these is Honeymoon, also in South Australia.

Although a permitunder the Safeguards Act had been granted covering a small field leach trial at Beverley, Heathgate Resources required a new permit for full scale mining. The Ministerfor Foreign Affairs granted this on 4 September 2000. This followed approval for the project by the Minister for the Environment and South Australian State authorities. A permit was also granted for transport of the uranium to port along a route identified as optimum in the environmental approval process.

As a condition of the permit, Heathgate Resources is required to established accounting and security systems at the mine. The permit specifies criteria for these systems. There are also requirements on the operator to make notifications and reports to ASNO covering a variety of events and data. The permit covering transport also contains security conditions. As there had not been a new mine in Australia for many years the permit format was reviewed and updated.

ASNO inspected the Beverley site in 1998 and again in 2000, by which time, the trial had been completed. Security arrangements for the stockpile of uranium left over from the trial were checked. The new processing plant was under construction at the time and this construction site was also inspected to check it matched the plans provided to ASNO. In February 2001 ASNO visited the mine for the official opening. ASNO will inspect both the security and accountancy arrangements each year. In between visits, ASNO maintains regular communication with Heathgate Resources relating to uranium shipments and general permit compliance.

The first shipment of uranium from Beverley took place on 22 March 2001, and there were four shipments from Beverley in the period ending June 2001. All exports from Beverley are subject to the same safeguards conditions applied at Australias other mines. Specifically, the uranium can only be supplied and transferred to countries within Australias network of bilateral safeguards agreements. ASNO had previously advised its counterpart agencies in bilateral partner states of the possibility the mine would commence in 2001. All systems were therefore in place to track shipments from Beverley when they commenced.

The market for uranium is currently depressed. However this mine has production costs low enough to be competitive even at current prices. The capital costs in particular are smaller for ISL mines than other types of uranium mines. Heathgate Resources is also looking to the longer term when prices are expected to improve. Beverley is helping Australia remain a reliable supplier of an important world energy source.

Figure 8 View of Beverley uranium minephotograph courtesy Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade