Terrafame to begin producing uranium in 2024

21 December 2022

Finnish mining company Terrafame plans to start recovering natural uranium as a byproduct of zinc and nickel production at its Sotkamo mine in the north-east of the country by the summer of 2024.

Terrafame's uranium recovery plant (Image: Terrafame)

The state-owned company announced it has completed a feasibility study related to uranium recovery and has decided to start preparing the operations for the uranium recovery.

Terrafame said its production process enables the low concentration of natural uranium found in the ore to be used as a by-product. A ready-built uranium recovery plant is located in the company's industrial site, which is now being prepared for operational use. In total, the preparations require investments of approximately EUR20 million (USD21 million).

After the start-up phase, the recovery plant is estimated to operate at full capacity by 2026, when it is expected to produce about 200 tonnes of uranium per year. Terrafame said the plan is to continue uranium production alongside the production of other metals throughout the operating period, which covers at least the next 30 years.

After the ramp-up phase, the recovery of uranium will increase Terrafame's annual net sales by approximately EUR25 million, based on the current market price of uranium, accounting for a few percent of the company's estimated net sales in the coming years.

"Uranium recovery enables us to make use of the low concentration of natural uranium found in Terrafame's ore," said Terrafame CEO Joni Lukkaroinen. "The uranium recovered by Terrafame will be transported abroad for further processing, after which it will be used in nuclear energy production.

"As the recovery begins, Terrafame will become a Finnish uranium producer, and thus will also play a role in building Europe's energy self-sufficiency. The utilisation of Terrafame's natural uranium in energy production helps in achieving climate goals since nuclear power does not result in carbon dioxide emissions in the production process. As an energy source, it is stable."

The ore excavated by Terrafame at its Sotkamo mine has a small concentration of uranium, approximately 17 mg/kg, the company said. Such concentrations are also found in other parts of Finnish rock, meaning the concentration is not particularly high. Ore with an average uranium concentration of at least 1000 mg/kg is classified as uranium ore, it noted.

The mine's previous owner, Talvivaara Mining Company, had planned to produce uranium at the site and constructed a uranium extraction plant before being declared bankrupt in 2014. The company was subsequently purchased by Terrafame, which is 70%-owned by Finnish Minerals Group, a special-purpose company wholly owned by the State of Finland.

Terrafame submitted its application for large-scale recovery of uranium to the Ministry of Employment and Economic Affairs in October 2017, already having the necessary chemicals permit and environmental permit. The government granted this permit in February 2020. The decision was deemed legally valid under a ruling made by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland in June 2021.

The country's nuclear regulator, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk), in December 2017 granted the company permission to recover a small quantity of uranium while experimenting with chemical processes it will use in an actual uranium recovery plant. Under that permit, the company could produce up to 600 litres of process solution containing a maximum of 6 kg of uranium.

Before the recovery can be commissioned, Stuk will verify the Terrafame's ability to commence operations in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Act.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News