NSW could be a step closer to getting its first uranium mine, with the state giving seven companies the chance to apply for exploration licences.

The NSW government has foreshadowed uranium mining in the state after inviting companies to apply for exploration licences.

Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts told question time in NSW parliament on Thursday that while the uranium mining ban still stands, there were benefits to be gained from probing the soil.

“The NSW ban on uranium remains in place; however, it makes perfect sense for NSW to have a look at what resources we have in this state,” he said.

Mining for uranium in NSW has been banned since 1986, but changes to legislation in 2012 have opened the door to exploration.

Three locations in NSW – around Broken Hill in the state’s far west, near Cobar and south of Dubbo are on the radar for possible uranium deposits.

“Any company granted an exploration licence will only be allowed to perform low-impact exploration and environmental monitoring. Any other activities will require further approvals,” Mr Roberts told parliament.

Environmental monitoring activities include mapping and desktop reviews.

The announcement follows Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s deal last week with India, which overturned a long-standing ban on uranium exports to the subcontinent.

There are already five uranium mines in Australia.

Uranium exploration and mining is carried out in South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Mr Roberts said strict environmental, health and safety standards would be applied to the exploration licences.

The companies invited to apply for the licences are: Australian Zirconia Ltd; Callabonna Resources Ltd and HNFL Holdings Pty Ltd; EJ Resources Pty Ltd; Hartz Rare Earths Pty Ltd; Iluka Resources Ltd; and Marmota Energy Ltd.