Sweden moves to lift uranium mining ban

26 February 2024

Sweden's Climate and Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari has announced the launch of an investigation to abolish the country's ban on uranium mining. The move was welcomed by Australia-based Aura Energy, which hopes to extract uranium as a by-product from its 100%-owned Häggån polymetallic project in Sweden.

(Image: Pixabay)

On 16 May 2018, the Swedish parliament passed an amendment to the Environmental Code banning uranium exploration and mining in the country. As from 1 August that year, no permits for uranium exploration or mining have been issued for any such applications submitted from that date.

There is currently no uranium mining in Sweden, which has six nuclear power reactors providing about one-third of its electricity. Sweden imports most of its nuclear fuel, including all enrichment services.

The investigation - to be carried out by the Ministry of Climate and Enterprise - will determine what rule changes are needed to enable and clarify the conditions for uranium extraction. In addition, it will analyse whether the requirement for the government's admissibility review should be limited to cover uranium mining only when it is a nuclear activity.

The ministry said the purpose of the investigation is "to remove a ban that is not needed". "Extraction of uranium must be handled in the same way as extraction of other metals, where the environmental assessment determines the conditions under which it can be permitted," it noted. "Uranium often occurs together with other metals and today must be sorted out and handled as waste."

"If the European Union is to become the first climate-neutral continent, access to sustainable metals and minerals must be ensured," Pourmokhtari said. "We need to use the uranium we have, instead of sorting it out and considering it as waste, as is the case now - due to the current ban on mining uranium."

The Ministry of Climate and Enterprise noted that more than one-quarter of Europe's known resources of uranium are found in Sweden's bedrock. "Today, it is not possible to grant either an exploration permit, a processing concession or an environmental permit regarding uranium. Uranium mining must in future be tested according to relevant environmental legislation, which means that the current ban on uranium mining must be removed."

The result of the investigation must be reported by 15 May at the latest, at which point the government can choose to proceed with a legislative proposal to parliament to lift the ban on uranium mining.

In November last year, Sweden's parliament approved a bill that cleared the way for new nuclear power in the country by removing the current limit on the number of nuclear reactors in operation, as well as allowing reactors to be built on new sites. The amendment entered into force on 1 January.

Sweden currently uses 2.4 million pounds U3O8 annually in its three nuclear power plants and has committed to building two additional nuclear reactors by 2035.

Aura welcomes investigation

In 2019, Aura Energy lodged a claim against the Swedish government for compensation for the financial loss resulting from the ban on uranium exploration and mining, introduced the previous year. The company had planned to extract uranium as a by-product from its 100%-owned Häggån polymetallic project in Sweden.

Häggån, previously known as Storsjon, is located in the municipality of Berg in the county of Jämtland and forms part of a large uranium field in central Sweden. Figures released in mid-2012 estimated resources of 800 million pounds U3O8 (307,718 tU) at Häggån, making the Swedish project the second largest undeveloped uranium resource in the world, Aura says. The uranium occurs with molybdenum, vanadium and zinc in black shales, and Aura has reported yields of up to 85% uranium from bioheap leaching tests.

In February 2013, Aura announced it had accepted Areva Mines as strategic partner in the project and had entered a binding cooperation agreement, but Areva later pulled out of this.

Welcoming the prospect of the uranium mining ban now being lifted, Aura said Häggån has the potential to supply a significant portion of Sweden's nuclear fuel requirements.

"This announcement is a logical step by the Swedish government towards allowing the extraction of uranium domestically to secure its own and others' needs," said Aura Energy CEO Andrew Grove. "It is the start of a process which I hope will result in new legislation that not only makes it legally possible to mine uranium, but also provides a predictable permit process for uranium extraction alongside the mining of other metals.

"The Swedish government's stated aim aligns well with the ability to mine domestic uranium, reducing foreign dependency and strengthening domestic and European energy supply," he added. "It is of course essential that uranium is mined in a way that does not threaten the local environment or water supply, and I am certain that we will be able to demonstrate that within the framework of the Swedish permit process."

The company intends to file for processing concession for Häggån K1 during 2024 with the Swedish Mining Inspectorate. A Swedish processing concession (exploitation permit) is valid for 25 years.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News