BHP pledges its commitment to giant uranium deposit project

BHP Billiton sought to quell speculation over the future of its giant Yeelirrie uranium project in Australia yesterday, saying deferral of a key review had not derailed its commitment to the project.

BHP Billiton last month postponed indefinitely an environmental review and management programme for the project until it was deemed to meet internal standards, fueling concerns BHP Billiton was losing interest amid uncertainty over future uranium demand.

“BHP Billiton remains committed to developing the Yeelirrie deposit and is continuing to progress the project with a focus on developments in technologies to improve the project’s environmental and economic outcomes,” the company said.

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The deposit in Western Australia state is the country’s second-biggest uranium deposit after Rio Tinto’s mothballed Jabiluka lode in the Northern Territory.

BHP wants to mine 90,000 tonnes of uranium from Yeelirrie over a span of 30 years but has yet to break any ground.

BHP also owns the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state, where it is planning a massive expansion to 19,000 tonnes a year from 4,000 tonnes now, but cannot say when that will proceed or how much it will cost.

Australia, with no nuclear power plants of its own, is one of the world’s top exporters of uranium, along with Kazakhstan and Canada.

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But plans for nuclear reactors have been put on hold worldwide in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis, blurring the short term outlook for uranium.

n A strike at some of Australia’s biggest coal mines appeared less likely yesterday after union negotiators said a first round of labour talks with BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi ended on a “progressive” note.

“It’s been made clear that both sides want to talk, and that is good for everyone involved,” Steve Smyth, Queensland president of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), said.

“Today’s discussions were progressive.”

Union workers last week held work-stop meetings at six of the seven collieries operated by the BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) but stopped short of calling for a strike vote.

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There are around 3,500 union workers at BMA’s mines, less than half the total workforce.

The CFMEU is pushing for greater job security and more pay for its members as rising commodity prices swell profits at mining companies.

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