The Queensland Government is forging ahead with its plans to re-commence uranium mining in Queensland. On 13 September 2013, the Government released its action plan for the re-establishment of uranium mining. The good news for developers and investors is the Government is aiming to have all the necessary regulatory guidelines and protocols in place to begin assessing uranium mining applications from mid-July 2014.
The Government endorsed the vast majority of recommendations in the Uranium Mining Implementation Committee (UMIC) report, which was released on 18 March 2013 (a summary of which can be viewed here), and has proposed specific actions required to implement those recommendations. However the Government did not endorse the recommendation to impose a 5% royalty rate for uranium at this stage and instead said the matter required further analysis before it is finally determined in 2014-15 State Budget.
Uranium mine developers and investors will take some encouragement from the Government's action plan and will need to lobby Government on its implementation, including, in particular, with respect to the proposed royalty rates.
The aim of the Queensland Government's action plan is to implement a best practice regulatory framework for uranium mining in Queensland that will ensure the maintenance of strict environmental, safety and approval standards. The Government has provided written responses to each of the UMIC's recommendations as well as actions required to implement its strategy. The timeframes for the implementation of the Government's strategy was summarised by the Government in a Gaantt chart which is reproduced below:
The Government plans to finalise the necessary regulatory guidelines and protocols to begin assessing uranium mining applications from mid-July 2014.
Summary of Government's position
For the most part, the Government has endorsed the recommendations of the UMIC. In particular, the following noteworthy recommendations have been endorsed by the Government:
- Uranium mining applications in Queensland (for at least the first two years) will be assessed by the Coordinator-General via the 'coordinated projects' process under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971. This assessment will encompass all activities from the mine site to export.
- A Uranium Mining Oversight Committee (UMOC) will be established to oversee uranium mining and rehabilitation and provide advice to the Coordinator-General. The UMOC will review and monitor progress against the action plan and take a lead role on technical oversight issues, project governance and delivery time frames.
- A Uranium Mining Stakeholder Committee (UMSC) will be established that is regionally specific and includes representatives from local governments, Indigenous groups, industry, environment and natural resource management groups.
- No changes are required to be made to the tenure framework in the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) and it is expected that there will be minimal impacts on legislation in Queensland to capture uranium activities within existing approval processes.
- The model conditions for environmental approvals for uranium mining will be reviewed as part of the ongoing review of those conditions for metalliferous mines.
- A study of the former Mary Kathleen uranium mine site will be undertaken to review the rehabilitation of that site and the potential for producing uranium as a byproduct of rare earths production (in which case the proposal for uranium production could be included in the tender process for that site).
- The Government's preference is for uranium to be exported through ports in other states that are currently authorized to export uranium. However, the door is open for developers to request to export uranium through Queensland ports, in which case such proposals will be assessed by the Coordinator-General.
It is noteworthy that the UMIC's recommendation to impose a 5% royalty rate, with potential to increase the royalty rate if the market price for uranium increases, was not endorsed by the Government at this stage. Nor was the UMIC's suggestion to apply a 2.5% royalty for the first five years of a new mine's life. Instead, the Government said that the matter requires substantial analysis and it will make a final decision on the matter in the 2014-15 State Budget.
While the recent slump in the uranium price may slow down any plans to develop uranium mining in Queensland, the implementation of the Queensland Government's action plan could mean the State will be well placed to meet the anticipated increase in global demand for uranium in the coming years1, and capitalise on its estimated $10 billion worth of uranium reserves2.
1See the International Atomic Energy Agency Press Release dated 26 July 2012
2See the Media Statement of The Hon. Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps dated 13 September 2013
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