154 Curtin to Forde
Cablegram 27 LONDON, 17 May 1944, 9.40 p.m.
Addressed to the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde.
Have had consultation with the Chancellor of Exchequer regarding the urgent need for greatly increased production of uranium for Empire and War purposes. The Chancellor gave me an aide-memoire reading as follows:-
1. Although uranium bearing ores have been found in several localities in Australia there are only two deposits which can be considered at present to merit attention. These are located at Mount Painter in the Northern Flinders Range and at Radium Hill Olary both in Southern Australia.
2. Mount Painter deposits are mainly secondary alteration products consisting of Torberite and Autunite and have so far only been mined on a very small scale. The ore is of low grade and it is unlikely that the mining and treatment of these would provide uranium on a large scale. It is not believed that the reserves of this secondary mineral ore are extensive, the last estimates indicating the equivalent of only some 20 tons of uranium and the concentration of the ore owing to its nature is difficult although extraction of the uranium content by chemical treatment is relatively easy. These deposits have so far only been explored to a depth of about 100 feet. The geological occurrence however indicates that there may be considerable reserves of primary ore at greater depth and some evidence of this exists based on the radon emanation from springs in the locality.
The deposits are situated some 380 miles North of Adelaide and are at present somewhat inaccessible being 60 miles from the nearest railway. Part of the intervening country is rugged and transport is difficult, the first part being accomplished by car and the remaining 10 miles by camel transport. This fact coupled with the difficulty of concentration of the ore at the site has to some extent contributed to the difficulty of working these deposits in the past. It is however felt that should further prospecting show the existence of primary ore deposits justifying development on a large scale problems of transport could be overcome.
3. The deposits at Olary are situated 250 miles North East of Adelaide and are in contrast easy to access from the railway. The ore consists of complex titaniferrous iron ore containing uranium, vanadium and other constituents. The ore can be concentrated up to about 4% U3O8 but the chemical separation of the uranium from the complex is difficult. The extent of these surface deposits appears to be more extensive than those at Mount Painter but there is no reason to suspect a primary ore at depth and the difficulty of the extraction process makes them by comparison unattractive.
4. It is recommended therefore that first consideration should be given to the thorough prospecting of the Mount Painter deposits with a view to ascertaining the existence and extent of higher grade ore at depth. This will entail a programme of drilling operations and field prospecting which should be carried out on such a scale as to furnish the maximum amount of information within the next 6 months. Concurrently a comprehensive study should be made of the extent of the available surface deposits at both Mount Painter and at Radium Hill and a programme of research started for improving the methods of concentration of the Mount Painter surface ores and the chemical processing of the Radium Hill ores.
5. On the basis of such information a decision can then be made as to whether development at Mount Painter would be justified and whether large scale prospecting at other localities such as at Radium Hill is required. Ends.
I have to add that we should do our utmost and the first step appears to be to arrange either for Commonwealth separately or in association with South Australia to thoroughly prospect Mount Painter deposits.
Would be glad if action could be taken at once.