Uranium-rich Australian state to examine possible nuclear industry

Uranium-rich Australian state to examine possible nuclear industry
This undated file handout photo released by BHP Billiton on February 9, 2012 shows the copper/uranium/gold/silver processing plant near the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia.

PERTH - South Australia, home to one of the largest uranium deposits in the world, will conduct an inquiry into the potential benefits and risks of establishing a nuclear industry there, the state government said on Sunday.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said a commission would be set up to investigate the potential of the nuclear industry to deliver economic growth and combat climate change, and to examine the risks involved.

Australia's uranium reserves are the world's largest, according to the World Nuclear Association, accounting for almost a third of known global deposits, but it has no nuclear power plants of its own.

"This is an opportunity to explore practical, financial and ethical issues raised by deeper involvement in nuclear industries," Weatherill wrote on his twitter account.

BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine in South Australia is one of the largest uranium deposits in the world.

In 2012, the global miner shelved a planned $20 billion expansion of the mine due to falling copper and uranium prices, dealing a big blow to South Australia's economy.

It is now exploring a cheaper way to process copper and uranium from late 2016.

Australia is one of the world's top exporters of uranium, mining 7,529 tonnes of uranium in fiscal 2011-12, worth A$782 million ($610 million), according to government figures.

Its existing three mines produced 7,488 tonnes of U3O8 last year, making it the world's third-largest uranium producer after Kazakhstan and Canada.

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