Abandoned uranium under the spotlight for redevelopment

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 08 Jul 2013   Posted by admin

REMEDIATION activities continue at a defunct uranium mine in Queensland as part of the State Government’s plan to unlock $4 billion worth of mineral resources in the northwest.
State Government officials visited the Mary Kathleen mine near Cloncurry last month, as part of an ongoing assessment of the site’s remediation status and to address environmental and safety issues. Natural Resources and Mines minister Andrew Cripps said officers from the Abandoned Mine Lands Program – which oversees the management of historical mine sites – and the Geological Survey of Queensland would undertake in-depth field assessments, including drilling at the purpose-built tailings dam which contains 7 million tonnes of ore tailings.
“This work will enable the department to gain a better understanding of the current condition of the abandoned mine,” Mr Cripps said.
“It will also improve our geological knowledge of the site in terms of future management and determine the most appropriate remediation techniques to manage the site.”
Mr Cripps said neighbouring landholders, Cloncurry Shire Council, Mount Isa City Council and the Kalkadoon Native Title Aboriginal Corporation had been advised of the State Government’s intention to access the site.
“These activities are not a signal that mining may be permitted to occur at the former Mary Kathleen mine,” Mr Cripps said.
The Mary Kathleen mine is within a restricted area where mineral exploration and production tenures are prohibited.
However, late last year, Mr Cripps said there was “significant potential” for developing commercially viable deposits of rare earth elements in the North West Minerals Province.
“The exploration sector is showing great interest in rare earth elements in the region as technologies are now being developed to separate rare earths more efficiently from a range of mineralisation types,” Mr Cripps said at the time.
He identified the Mary Kathleen mine, which ceased production in 1982, as a potential hot spot for rare earths development.
“[The] tailings are estimated to contain approximately 3 percent total rare earth oxides which make it one of the largest rare earth deposits in Australia,” Mr Cripps said.
The resource has a potential value of $4 billion, worth more than $100 million in royalties to the state.
In March this year, the Uranium Mining Implementation Committee released a report titled Recommencement of Uranium Mining in Queensland as a best practice framework. The report stated that while resources at Mary Kathleen have been commercially exhausted as a uranium-only operation, it is likely the site would be more viable when mined with other minerals.
“As part of the Queensland Government’s investigations of the development of ‘rare earths’ at Mary Kathleen, the government should consider the potential for uranium to be produced as a co-product, for example uranium present in tailings along with other minerals, and the potential for conditions to further rehabilitate the Mary Kathleen site,” the report stated. Australia accounts for more than 30 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves.