Companies are taking action to overcome a shortage in Kazakhstan of sulfuric acid, used as the main chemical reagent in in-situ leaching (ISL) uranium production, following a fire at a production plant and the delayed start-up of some new facilities.
The shortage of acid is particularly important for Kazakh uranium mining, which predominantly uses ISL and requires large amounts of non-reusable sulfuric acid to counter the neutralising effect of the high carbonate content of Kazakh orebodies.
KazAtomProm signed additional acid supply contracts with Uzbek suppliers for 10,000 tonnes by the end of 2007. The company now expects its subsidiaries to source more acid from Russian suppliers for the period to May, when a large new plant is set to start in Kazakhstan. The new facility in Balkhash should produce 1.2 million tonnes of acid per year - enough for all KazAtomProm's new mine projects.
Uranium One, which has stakes in the South Inkai and Kharasan mines with KazAtomProm, is reportedly planning to invest in a Russian sulfuric acid plant in order to secure supplies. The company's CEO, Neal Froneman, told Reuters: "We intend to invest in a plant in Russia as a source of secure supply should there be another disruption in Kazakhstan." He added, "The plant could be refurbished and in production within about 18 months."
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has reported that KazAtomProm is planning to cut the cost of ISL uranium production by mixing hydrogen peroxide with sulfuric acid. Currently, the company uses just acid, which represents up to one-fifth of mining costs. KazAtomProm has tested the use of hydrogen peroxide at one mine and plans to now start using it more widely. The move would reduce the quantities of sulfuric acid required at its mines.
Moukhtar Dzhakishev, president of KazAtomProm, said that he expects normal supplies of sulfuric acid to resume by March.