Industriás Nucleares do Brasil (INB) has selected Galvani, a regional phosphates company, as the sole partner in the exploitation of the Santa Quitéria reserve ahead of international miners Bunge and Vale.
Galvani announced the move on 19 June, saying it would invest $350 million in the project. The phosphates extracted from Santa Quitéria would be Galvani's property, while the uranium by-product would belong to INB.
Brazil has the sixth largest uranium reserves in the world and already has a well-developed infrastructure, with both mining and processing established in numerous states. Most famous is the Logoa Real district in Bahia in the north of the country which produces 340 tonnes of uranium per year. This is currently enough to cover domestic demand as well as provide more for export.
Currently, all uranium exploration, production and export in Brazil is under the control of the state through INB, which is a subsidiary of the National Nuclear Energy Commission, although the Brazilian government has recently announced that it is prepared to move ahead with private sector involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.
The deposit of Santa Quitéria, located in the interior of the state of Ceará, is the largest discovered uranium reserve in Brazil. An estimated 142.2 thousand tonnes of uranium is inter-mixed with phosphates. The economic viability of the mine depends on the exploration of the associated phosphates, which will be used in the production of fertilizers.
Santa Quitéria has exploitable reserves of 79.5 million tonnes or ore, at grades of 11% P2O5 and 0.0998% U3O8, equating to about 8.9 million tonnes of P2O5 and 79.3 thousand tonnes of U3O8. The deposit also contains approximately 300 million cubic metres of marble which INB said is totally uranium free.
INB hopes the mine will be operational by 2011. It is planned to produce 1600 tonnes of U3O8 per year as a by-product of 240,000 tonnes of P2O5.
Brazil has a small nuclear power program centred on the Angra site, where two pressurized water reactors operate. National planners are preparing to complete a third unit at Angra and are analysing the possibilities for several more at other sites. A small uranium enrichment facility also operates at Resende.
Besides Santa Quitéria, INB has previously said it plans to expand Logoa Real to produce 1360 tonnes of uranium per year, and bring Itataia into operation at 680 tonnes per year by about 2012. The company's production rate would then compare favourably to the Angra units' current annual requirement of around 300 tonnes of uranium.