Wednesday, August 15, 2007

'Marathon Man' - Independent Weekly 11-17/08/07

Bill Nicholas - Adelaide Independent Weekly, CBD section, 11th-17th August 2007

[Abridged version and all emphasis in the following article is by Bill Doyle - see link at bottom for the original text]

"Adelaide-based mineral exploration company Marathon Resources has a new leader at the helm. Anybody who's been to the northern Flinders Ranges knows the breathtaking sight across ancient red rocks to the shimmering salt pan of Lake Frome is a very special place.

Just north of the Arkaroola Sanctuary, the Mt Painter, Mt Gee and Paralana Hot Springs provide an amazing place to refresh after an overdose of civilisation -- in the mountains you can be free to wander the goat tracks, the wonderful creek beds, enjoy the sparkling night skies and especially the priceless views.

So how ironic is it that it's also the site of a uranium deposit currently worth in the vicinity of seven billion dollars -- that's $7000 million...

During WW2 uranium ore was dug out from around Mt Painter and strapped to the backs of camels that walked across the mountains on camel pads to the railway at Copley where it was sent on its way to the US atomic war effort.

In the late '60s a Brisbane outfit, Exoil NL, bulldozed tracks up East Painter Gorge, around Mt Painter to Mt Gee and up Radium Ridge, where drilling rigs discovered the extent of the uranium orebody that Mawson and Sprigg had been prospecting decades before.

Exoil geologists decided that, while the original orebody lay quite close to the surface in the mountains, over millions of years the rain had washed enough of it out to the plains on the edge of Lake Frome where, predictably enough, the Beverley uranium deposit was developed.

CRA, now Rio, reworked the area in the early '90s but relinquished the area there following the collapse of uranium prices at that time.

Marathon Resources' ...picked up the exploration licences for the northern Flinders Ranges area several years ago as the market for uranium (and the listed players) was beginning to revive from a 20-year slumber.

...Three months ago Santich hired Stuart Hall, from BHP Billiton, as managing director...

[Marathon] is planning an underground horizontal drive that snakes into the mountains from the plain near the East Painter Gorge. It's about a 10km trip so the plan is to mine deposits that are closest to East Painter and gradually make their way into the Mt Gee, Armchair and Radium Ridge orebodies. Processing would be done at East Painter Creek -- either a heap leach or a tank leach to produce 1000 tonnes of U3O8 a year -- giving the deposit a life of 15 years...

Next year will involve a pre-feasibility study, followed by a feasibility study in 2009 and construction scheduled to begin late that year.

...[Y]ellowcake will be produced by the Mt Gee mine...Areva and BHP Billiton are the likely customers for the Mt Gee yellowcake which will then be shipped direct to probably European nuclear reactors.

Hall said uranium prices had been helped along by the end of the stockpile of weapons-grade uranium which had finally run out after 20 years of its supply to the nuclear industry.

There had been massive over-production of the mineral during the '60s and '70s and, following the end of the Cold War and the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, had seen the conversion of uranium from missiles into the fuel cycle.

"This supplied about 50 per cent of the uranium needed for reactor fuel so now that has come to an end, we are seeing uranium prices reaching record levels," Hall said.

"With only 50 per cent of the uranium supply coming from mines, production needs to double over the next five years," he said. "Because it takes at least ten years to build a reactor, the demand for uranium can be predicted with some certainty." - "


full article at the Independent Weekly online

Don't think the Arkaroola Sanctuary is an appropriate place for a Uranium mine? Got your doubts about the 'sustainability' of leach pits or tanks on the East Painter creek? What happens to the 'overburden' (i.e landscape) if it turns out not to be 'economic' to use the giant shaft?

Let the state government know your concerns - see the 'now is the write time - run marathon off' article, here or at right.

I have appended a letter to the Environment Minister taking into account this new information as a comment (#7) below this 'write now' article.

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thanks for your contribution - bill - i'm genuinely sorry about having to switch on the 'moderation' process but comment spammers have really been cluttering up this journal!