THE Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has called for a ”rational debate” about uranium while saying the decision to lift the ban on exploration in NSW was not about providing an alternative energy source for electricity generation.
In February the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, announced the state government would overturn a 26-year-old ban on uranium exploration, declaring it ”would be crazy not to look at whether this is a viable industry which would deliver jobs and revenue to NSW”.
However, he insisted the government was ”not about to rush into mining uranium until we have carried out the necessary environmental and exploration checks and have had a mature and sensible discussion”.
Mr Hartcher told a uranium conference in Adelaide yesterday the decision ”presents an exciting opportunity for NSW” and that the government looked forward to ”a vibrant uranium exploration industry”.
He said he had in recent weeks visited two of Australia’s largest uranium mines, Ranger in the Northern Territory and Olympic Dam in South Australia, and was ”impressed at the environmental measures in place [and] the scale of the investment – and the jobs and opportunities that have flowed”.
When the legislation is proclaimed, companies will have 60 days to seek consent from Mr Hartcher to apply for a uranium exploration licence.
Applications will be assessed by a government ”technical panel” overseen by a probity auditor and those who are successful will be invited by Mr Hartcher to apply for an exploration licence for uranium or thorium in the same manner as other minerals.
The system mirrors the one in place for companies wishing to apply for coal exploration licences in NSW.
Mr Hartcher said the government anticipated ”a large number of applications” and that ”several” groups had already expressed interest, including the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
He said it was ”important to note that legalising uranium exploration is not about using uranium for electricity generation in NSW”.
The Greens MP Jamie Parker said the NSW public did not support the government’s decision.
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