Kazakh uranium plans develop with acid plant

02 July 2008

Kazakhstan's uranium mining operations stepped forward recently with permission to ramp up the South Inkai in-situ leach mine and a new sulfuric acid plant essential for such operations.


South Inkai (Uranium One) 
Equipment at South Inkai
(Image: Uranium One)

Canada-based Uranium One made the developments known in a statement today. It said that the Kazakhmys Balkash sulfuric acid plant in eastern Kazakhstan had undergone commissioning and begun production alongside an associated copper smelter in June.


The output of the acid plant is important to security of uranium mining in the region because the non-reusable sulfuric acid is needed in large quantities for the in-situ leach process of uranium oxide extraction. Reagents based on the acid are passed through sandy soil to dissolve and carry away uranium without disturbing the ground. Supplies were put in jeopardy last year after problems completing the Kazakhmys Balkash copper smelter.


Some uranium producers in the region downwardly revised production estimates while importing acid to ensure production. Kazakh uranium production was reduced by 1000 tonnes because of the shortage. In Uranium One's statement, it said that it had so far been unaffected by the shortage and that the new plant would ensure that this continued to be the case.


The company also revealed that the Kazakhstan Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources had approved an application to increase production levels at the South Inkai mine from 300 tonnes of uranium per year to 2000 tonnes, subject to approval by a state committee. The approval has come earlier than anticipated, and Uranium One hopes it will become effective in the second half of this year, when it intends to begin ramping up to production levels of around 1380 tonnes per year. The mine has already produced 184 tonnes of uranium in the pre-commercial phase. 


The application and mine operation is the responsibility of Betpak Dala, which is 70% owned by Uranium One and passes on the same ratio of its production. The owner of the remaining 30% is the state concern KazAtomProm.


Uranium One's statement also said it had agreed the ability to borrow up to $100 million from the Bank of Montreal and the Bank of NovaScotia. This is in addition to its cash reserve of $145 million.