Ques­tions and an­swers about ura­nium re­cov­ery

Terrafame has decided to start recovering natural uranium by the summer of 2024. Terrafame’s production process enables the low concentration of natural uranium found in the ore to be used as a by-product.

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. Such concentrations are also found in other parts of Finnish rock, meaning the concentration is not particularly high. 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 uranium 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 ming 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 2021 was on average 2.5 micrograms per litre (µg/l), whereas the limit of an  environmental permit is 10 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. In drinking and household water, the maximum permissible concentration of uranium is 30 µg/l. The limit value applies to water from large water utilities, but based on health effects, it can also be considered the highest acceptable concentration for well water.

How is uranium currently processed at the Terrafame production process?

Uranium is leached in a bioleaching process into the process solution, just like other metals. Uranium normally reverts to the secondary bioleaching heaps. When the water management requires the use of a neutralisation process that is part of the water treatment, a small amount of uranium ends up the waste with the gypsum precipitate, but this has no effect on the quality of the waste in practice.

Terrafame will start uranium recovery by the summer 2024. What does that mean in practice?

Terrafame announced in December 2022 of the decision to start uranium recovery by the summer 2024. Uranium recovery will enable the utilization of natural uranium contained in Terrafame ore which leaches in the bioleaching process in any case. The recovered uranium will be transported from Terrafame for further processing after which it will be used in nuclear energy production.

A ready-built uranium recovery plant is located in Terrafame’s industrial site and the company is now preparing the plant for operational use. In total, the preparations require investments of approximately EUR 20 million. With the plant operating at full capacity, the company's uranium production will be around 200 tonnes per year. 

What economic significance does uranium recovery have for Terrafame?

Thinking about Terrafame's business and finances as a whole, the importance of uranium extraction is quite small. After the ramp-up phase, the recovery of uranium will increase Terrafame’s net sales by approximately EUR 25 million per year, based on the current market price of uranium, accounting for a few percent of Terrafame’s estimated net sales in the coming years. Once operational, the recovery will employ about 40 people.

Does Terrafame already have the permits to start uranium recovery?

Terrafame has an environmental permit as well as the chemicals permit for uranium recovery.

In 2020, the Finnish Government granted a uranium recovery permit to Terrafame under the Nuclear Energy Act, authorizing the company to recover uranium from the ore in the Sotkamo mine. The decision is legally valid under the decision made by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland in June 2021.

Before the recovery can be commissioned, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) will verify the company’s ability to commence operations in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Act.

How will the recovery of natural uranium in the Terrafame production process affect the radiation level of uranium in the future?

Uranium in the process of uranium recovery is still natural uranium in terms of radiation levels, meaning it does not pose a radiation hazard. Radiation levels in the Terrafame mine site are no different from normal background radiation in nature.