Finnish mining group Terrafame has been granted a permit to recover uranium from the ore it currently extracts to produce intermediate nickel products. Terrafame already has the necessary chemicals and environmental permits in place. The company expects that it will take about a year to get the uranium recovery plant ready for use, but since the government’s decision is subject to appeal at the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, the company believes it will be two years before the permit has legal force.
The uranium concentrations in the ore Terrafame mines and processes are very low, at around 17mg/kg, while uranium ore has an average minimum of 1000mg/kg of uranium (and Finnish bedrock has an average of 4mg/kg of uranium). Of the uranium leached during Terrafame’s bioleaching process, about two thirds of the dissolved uranium is returned to the secondary bioleaching heap, with one third remaining in the gypsum ponds and a small amount included as impurities in Terrafame’s products.
Terrafame believes that, of the companies that currently refine its product, only Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta has the ability to recover the uranium. Recovering all of the uranium in ore (it has applied for a permit to recover 250t), should allow the company to sell a product with lower impurities than it currently does, which could allow for higher prices. It will also allow the company to sell another product into the market.
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