Kazakhstan's new sulfuric acid plant is expected to start production in June, easing pressure on the country's uranium producers who have been battling supply problems.
Copper producer Kazakhmys Corp is building the 1.2 million tonne plant alongside a copper smelting facility in Balkhash to produce sulfuric acid while cutting emissions of sulfur dioxide from copper production. The output from the new plant should be sufficient for all KazAtomProm's currently planned mining projects. According to Kazakhmys, first output from the plant is expected by the end of June.
Most of Kazakhstan's uranium mining uses in-situ leaching (ISL), and requires large amounts of sulfuric acid to counter the neutralising effect of the high carbonate content of Kazakh orebodies. Supply has been tight since the Kazakh government introduced rationing in late 2007 following a fire at a sulfuric acid plant. Uranium producers were forced to look elsewhere to secure supplies of the important reagent. National nuclear company KazAtomProm sourced 10,000 tonnes of acid from Uzbek suppliers and also talked of building its own acid plant. Canadian-based Uranium One, which has stakes in the South Inkai and Kharasan mines with KazAtomProm, was reported to be planning to invest in a Russian sulfuric acid plant in order to secure supplies and safeguard against any future supply disruption.
The sulfuric acid shortages resulted in Kazakhstan producing 1000 tonnes less uranium than originally anticipated in 2007. Total uranium output for the year, at 6637 tU, was nevertheless up on 2006. Kazakhstan has 15% of the world's uranium resources and an expanding mining sector, aiming for 15,000 tU annual production by 2010 and 30,000 tU by 2018.