Questions and answers about uranium recovery

Questions and answers about uranium recovery

Terrafame is planning to start the recovery of natural uranium and its commercial utilisation.

How much is there uranium in the ore excavated by Terrafame?

The ore excavated by Terrafame has a small concentration of uranium, approximately 17 mg/kg. The average concentration of uranium in Finnish bedrock is 4 mg/kg, and the concentration in granite is considerably higher than that in many places. Ore with an average uranium concentration of at least 1,000 mg/kg is classified as uranium ore, which means that Terrafame ore is not uranium ore.

Does uranium pose health or environmental risks at the site?

The ore in Terrafame’s processes and products does not pose threat to humans or the environment, as the concentration is very low, and the composition of the uranium is natural uranium. The radiation level at the Terrafame site does not differ from nature’s normal background radiation level.

Are the nearby waters exposed to uranium from the Terrafame mining site? Does uranium pose environmental risks for the nearby waters or Lake Nuasjärvi?

The uranium concentration in Terrafame’s discharged water is extremely low. The concentration of uranium in the purified water released from the Terrafame site in 2016 was on average 0.5 micrograms per litre (µg/l), whereas the average uranium concentration in the household water in Finland is approximately 1 microgram per litre (µg/l). The reference point of action for uranium, i.e., the point after which the purification of drinking water is recommended, is 100 µg/l for household water, or approximately 100 times the average uranium concentration in Terrafame’s discharge water.

How is uranium processed at the Terrafame production process?

Uranium is leached in a bioleaching process into the process solution, just like other metals. Approximately two thirds of the uranium being dissolved is returned to the secondary bioleaching heap, approximately one third remains at the gypsum ponds, and a small amount is included as impurities in the present products.

How do the refiners of Terrafame’s nickel and zinc products process uranium?

The low uranium content in Terrafame’s present products is an impurity and is, depending on the process applied, not applicable to refining. Metal products supplied by mines always contain impurities, such as uranium or other metals, which means that the products from the Terrafame mining site are not exceptional in this respect. According to information available to Terrafame, only Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta has recovered uranium included in the nickel product supplied from the Terrafame, as it would have adversely affected the refining process. Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta has the appropriate environmental permit for this. Terrafame is unaware of any of its customers utilising the uranium impurity in any way whatsoever.

Why has Terrafame not previously recovered uranium during the production process?

Terrafame has concentrated on the ramp-up of the operations, and uranium recovery has not earlier been topical for the company. Terrafame owns a uranium recovery plant that has previously been built in the industrial area. There is an environmental permit for the plant and uranium recovery, but the uranium plant still requires a permit from the Finnish government before commissioning, and Terrafame has applied for it in October 2017. According to Terrafame’s estimate, uranium recovery could be topical toward the end of 2019, if the necessary permits are obtained. Uranium has also been considered in the environmental impact assessment process for the production.

Are the uranium concentration and radiation regularly measured at the site?

Terrafame monitors uranium concentrations in its official environmental monitoring, the results of which are also reported and published on the Terrafame website. In addition, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority monitors the operations at the site.
What is essential is that the uranium involved in the process and the products is still natural uranium, and the radiation level at the Terrafame site does not differ from nature’s normal background radiation. 

How much uranium could Terrafame produce if it decided to start recovering uranium?

In the new environmental permit application submitted in August 2017, Terrafame has applied for a permit to produce at most 250 tonnes of uranium. For the business plan and attaining the company’s long-term economic goals, uranium is not a decisive factor.

If Terrafame started to recover uranium in the future, what would the uranium be used for? Would the recovered uranium be suitable as fuel at nuclear power plants?

The uranium recovery plant in the industrial area would, after additional investments, be able to produce uranium oxide. This, per se, would not be suitable, for example, as nuclear fuel but would require further refining. The uranium recovery plant owned by Terrafame would only enable the uranium recovery.