Not averse to nuclear ... federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson.
Not averse to nuclear ... federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
THE O'Farrell government may consider overturning a decades-old ban on uranium exploration and mining in NSW after a call from the federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson.
In May, Mr Ferguson called for the new conservative governments in Victoria and NSW to rethink their long-term bans on uranium mining and exploration because they limited ''knowledge of potential deposits''.
The Herald can reveal that the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, met the chief executive of the Australian Uranium Association, Michael Angwin, in mid-June to discuss overturning the ban.
After the meeting, Mr Angwin wrote to Mr Hartcher ''formally asking him to make any necessary changes to permit uranium exploration and mining to take place in NSW,'' an association spokesman said.
While Mr Hartcher has yet to reply, a spokeswoman for the government said it believed Mr Ferguson's comments ''deserved consideration''.
She said the state government was ''aware potential resources may exist around the Broken Hill area given the abundant resources just over the South Australian border''.
''The matter remains under consideration by the minister.''
Uranium exploration and mining are prohibited in NSW under the Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Act of 1986.
The object of the act, which also bans construction or operation of nuclear reactors, is ''to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of NSW and the environment in which they live''.
The West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, overturned that state's ban on uranium exploration and mining soon after seizing power from Labor in 2008.
The WA Minister for Mines, Norman Moore, recently said the government would apply a 5 per cent royalty on uranium production, estimating it would raise $28 million a year by 2014-15.
The association spokesman said that while the NSW ban made it difficult to estimate the size of deposits, he believed it was ''a significant potential royalty source'' more comparable to that expected in WA than SA.
SA has three uranium mines, including Olympic Dam, which is the world's largest uranium resource and owned by BHP Billiton, and Beverley, owned by Heathgate Resources.
The closest to the NSW border is the Honeymoon mine, west of Broken Hill, owned by Uranium One. It is yet to begin operating. Mr Ferguson told an international uranium conference in June that while the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima reactor in Japan in March had raised serious safety concerns, it would not change the ''fundamental drivers'' for nuclear energy - population growth and energy demands.
Australia's biggest trading partner, China, has 13 operational nuclear power plants and another 28 under construction.
The Victorian government has rejected Mr Ferguson's call. The Labor government in Queensland allows exploration of uranium but prohibits its mining.
The spokesman said the ban on exploration meant the industry did not know whether there were significant deposits in NSW. ''But I think there would be some companies willing to have a good look''.