Australia, the third-largest uranium producer in the world, is home to nearly one-third of the world's known uranium resources. Although nuclear arms development first spurred uranium exploration and some mining in the 1940s and 1950s, it was the development of nuclear power programs in the western world that gave rise to Australia's current uranium mining industry.
Without a nuclear power program of its own, the South Pacific nation exports nearly all of the yellowcake it produces — on average, about 8,300 metric tons (MT) of U3O8 per year, which in 2011 amounted to 11 percent of world uranium supply from mines,
to the World Nuclear Association (WNA). As a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Australia only sells uranium to fellow NPT member nations. The majority of its uranium exports are received by electrical power utilities in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The East Asian markets of China, South Korea and Taiwan are expected to grow in significance as export markets due to rising growth in
demand. Last month, Australia's government began negotiations for uranium sales with India even though the Indian government remains opposed to signing the NPT.
Australia's most significant uranium resources are in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory permit uranium exploration and mining; in late 2012, Queensland overturned a 23-year ban on uranium mining.
The WNA notes that presently, Australia's U3O8 production comes from four uranium mines: The Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, owned by Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA), produced 3,710 MT of U3O8 in 2012. The Olympic Dam project in South Australia, owned by BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT), produced 3,992.5 MT of U3O8 in 2012. The Beverley in-situ leach mine in South Australia, owned by Heathgate Resources, produced 386.7 MT of U3O8 in 2012. The Honeymoon in-situ leach mine in South Australia, owned by Uranium One (recently taken over by ARMZ), first began production in 2011 and produced just 154.6 MT U3O8 in 2012.