What’s uranium worth to Queensland, now that Campbell Newman has made a snap decision to overturn a 23-year ban on mining in the state?

The Premier reckons some $18 billion from the state’s significant northern minerals basin, delivering royalties of $900 million. Sunshine State economist John Quiggin isn’t so sure. As he reminded us today:

“The failure of the ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the US means that at most two to four new plants will be built there this decade, while older plants will close as plans for upgrades and license extensions are put on hold. In Europe and Japan, not only will there be little or no new construction, but the phase-out of existing plants is being accelerated. China’s big expansion plans are still on hold after Fukushima, and the program as a whole is being scaled back in favour of renewables. In these circumstances, uranium exporters must accept lower prices, be less choosy about their customers, or both.”

Of course, now there’s India. Julia Gillard’s recent trip to the sub-continent and decision to overturn an export ban sparked Newman to action (even though he told the Australian Conservation Foundation earlier this month the government had “no plans” to approve uranium mining development). Our new friends, as a result, are now in a considerably powerful bargaining position for Australian yellowcake.

Even aside from the safety concerns — Quiggin, for one, is miffed Labor is able to so easily overlook “India’s contribution to nuclear proliferation and the limited progress that has been made in separating civilian and military programs and stockpiles” — Newman’s government is getting into a business with a fast-shallowing customer pool. Except for one which will now be able to throw its weight around.

Miners may have been quick to endorse, but with a state budget under strain it’s Newman making the biggest bet.

*They’re at it again, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, in the third and final debate ahead of next month’s poll. Guy Rundle is watching and will file for the Crikey website later today.

Peter Fray

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