Cablegram 27 LONDON, 17 May 1944, 9.40 p.m.
Addressed to the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde.
Have had consultation with the Chancellor of Exchequer regarding
the urgent need for greatly increased production of uranium for
Empire and War purposes. The Chancellor gave me an aide-memoire
reading as follows:-
1. Although uranium bearing ores have been found in several
localities in Australia there are only two deposits which can be
considered at present to merit attention. These are located at
Mount Painter in the Northern Flinders Range and at Radium Hill
Olary both in Southern Australia.
2. Mount Painter deposits are mainly secondary alteration products
consisting of Torberite and Autunite and have so far only been
mined on a very small scale. The ore is of low grade and it is
unlikely that the mining and treatment of these would provide
uranium on a large scale. It is not believed that the reserves of
this secondary mineral ore are extensive, the last estimates
indicating the equivalent of only some 20 tons of uranium and the
concentration of the ore owing to its nature is difficult although
extraction of the uranium content by chemical treatment is
relatively easy. These deposits have so far only been explored to
a depth of about 100 feet. The geological occurrence however
indicates that there may be considerable reserves of primary ore
at greater depth and some evidence of this exists based on the
radon emanation from springs in the locality.
The deposits are situated some 380 miles North of Adelaide and are
at present somewhat inaccessible being 60 miles from the nearest
railway. Part of the intervening country is rugged and transport
is difficult, the first part being accomplished by car and the
remaining 10 miles by camel transport. This fact coupled with the
difficulty of concentration of the ore at the site has to some
extent contributed to the difficulty of working these deposits in
the past. It is however felt that should further prospecting show
the existence of primary ore deposits justifying development on a
large scale problems of transport could be overcome.
3. The deposits at Olary are situated 250 miles North East of
Adelaide and are in contrast easy to access from the railway. The
ore consists of complex titaniferrous iron ore containing uranium,
vanadium and other constituents. The ore can be concentrated up to
about 4% U3O8 but the chemical separation of the uranium from the
complex is difficult. The extent of these surface deposits appears
to be more extensive than those at Mount Painter but there is no
reason to suspect a primary ore at depth and the difficulty of the
extraction process makes them by comparison unattractive.
4. It is recommended therefore that first consideration should be
given to the thorough prospecting of the Mount Painter deposits
with a view to ascertaining the existence and extent of higher
grade ore at depth. This will entail a programme of drilling
operations and field prospecting which should be carried out on
such a scale as to furnish the maximum amount of information
within the next 6 months. Concurrently a comprehensive study
should be made of the extent of the available surface deposits at
both Mount Painter and at Radium Hill and a programme of research
started for improving the methods of concentration of the Mount
Painter surface ores and the chemical processing of the Radium
5. On the basis of such information a decision can then be made as
to whether development at Mount Painter would be justified and
whether large scale prospecting at other localities such as at
Radium Hill is required. Ends.
I have to add that we should do our utmost and the first step
appears to be to arrange either for Commonwealth separately or in
association with South Australia to thoroughly prospect Mount
Would be glad if action could be taken at once.