AusIMM student members’ perspectives on the International Uranium Conference

  • By Janine Herzig FAusIMM(CP)

The AusIMM Adelaide Branch sponsored four student members to attend the recent International Uranium Conference on 5-6 June.

The students, from the University of Adelaide, were:

  • Francesca Larizza – BEng Chemical and Biotechnology
  • Ben Kimpton – BSc Geology and Geophysics
  • Ellen Fryar – BEng Mining.
  • Fontae Franks – BEng Mining BSc Geology and Geophysics

The following article contains a short reflection from the students on how they enjoyed the conference and what they learnt from the perspectives of their relative disciplines.

Francesca Larizza

The conference gave me an insight into the complexity involved with uranium mining. I was able to learn more about where and how uranium is mined, as well as its various applications in society. Coming from a biotechnology background, one of the most interesting topics from the conference included the use of isotopes in nuclear medicine. An exposure to this technology gave me an insight into the possibilities of future endeavours that my degree can facilitate.

Some highlights from the conference include the keynote presentation given by Daniel Zavattiero. I listened to how he proposed that nuclear energy is the perfect option for baseload power alongside the use of other renewables. His reactor tour around the world was also very interesting, as I did not realise that countries with low emission profiles usually correlated with the use of nuclear power. I also had the opportunity to talk with Dr Ben Heard, who is the founder and executive director at Bright New World. His knowledge and expertise in nuclear energy was inspiring.

Ben Kimpton

As seasonally adjusted figures for total expenditure on mineral exploration within Australia have continued to gradually rise since a 2016 low, so too has enthusiasm for uranium. This advocacy was on full display from geologists at the conference, who spoke about recent advances in uranium exploration, mining and research. Passionate debates regarding the mode of uranium mineralisation including sandstone and unconformity-related deposits were spurred by the economic incentive to better understand prospective regions and existing deposits both domestically and globally. Uranium exploration was highlighted by several companies, with particularly intense activity in the Northern Territory as new understandings of historic regions and advancing exploration techniques drives enduring interest. Existing operations within South Australia and the Northern Territory continue to efficiently produce and export uranium, which in 2017 saw Australia rank third in the list of global producers. There is also sustained potential in Western Australia as uranium exploration remains open, with four existing projects having received ministerial approval to proceed, including Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium resource.

Ellen Fryar

The conference gave key and unique insight into the uranium sector of the mining industry, as unseen by most mining engineering students.

The program covered a range of topics over the two days, giving presenters from a broad range of disciplines a chance to share their views on both current trends and technologies. This also allowed those of us from the audience a chance to see how one commodity could affect so many different areas in such a significant way.

Within the first fifteen minutes of the conference I was hit by the sheer scale of uranium here in Australia and further afield; the current facts associated with uranium were astounding to hear from experienced persons.

Although many impressive and interesting presentations were given over the entirety of the conference, the most memorable for me were Frank Harris and his talk on radiation and uranium mining, Glen Jobling’s presentation on pressurised drums and Dr Geoff Currie’s keynote speech on nuclear medicine.

All three of these presentations were outside of the scope of my knowledge as an engineer but were delivered with such enthusiasm and simplicity that they were easy to follow and their excitement on the topic contagious to the whole audience.

The opportunity to meet with a group of such driven intellectuals was an experience I will never forget and is motivation for self-improvement, and to become as involved in the industry as they are.

Ellen asking a question at the conference.

Fontae Franks

AusIMM Adelaide Student Chapter President

The conference was an eye-opening experience that helped me to understand the nature of the uranium industry both nationally and internationally. The conference provided a rare opportunity to be in a room filled with educated people who have a positive opinion of uranium and its various applications.

As millennials we are often put into the ‘snowflake’ category that is loosely based on our pro-environment stance, which is often coupled with an anti-nuclear outlook. So there I was, a ‘snowflake’ sitting in a room of intelligent, highly-educated and well-respected people all speaking positively about the entire nuclear supply chain. It was the perfect environment for me to learn the facts about how the industry is run and whether it is accountable for any mishaps. What I found out is that the uranium industry is the most regulated industry in Australia. It is extremely difficult for operations to get approval and the remediation criteria for mine sites is of the highest standard. There are countless examples of cities living happily in unison with uranium mining, nuclear power and almost every person in their life will be helped by nuclear medicine. It was also comforting to witness the responsibility and integrity of each professional in the room; they left me feeling like the industry is in good hands. I hope that in my career I can be as knowledgeable and driven in my field as they are in theirs.

Feature photo: L-R: Ellen, Alena, Rachael, Fontae, Francesca, Krystal, Gabby & Ben (the student group: the four sponsorships and four volunteers).


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