The kind of orebody, safety concerns, and economic factors all play a role in the choice of mining technique for a certain uranium deposit. To recover uranium ore, both excavation and in situ methods are employed.
Open Pit Mining vs. Underground Mining
In general, underground mining is used for deep deposits, while open pit mining is used for deposits close to the surface. Special safeguards must be taken in the case of underground uranium mining to guard against radiation exposure from the air.
Since the pit walls must be slanted to prevent collapse, open pit mines require substantial surface holes that are larger than the ore deposit. As a result, a significant amount of material may need to be removed to access the ore.
Compared to open pit mines, underground mines cause comparatively little surface disturbance and require much less material to be removed to access the ore.
Even so, in situ leaching (ISL)—also known as in situ recovery (ISR) or solution mining—is now responsible for a growing share of the world’s uranium supply. This entails leaving the ore in its current location and employing liquids that are pumped through it to leach the minerals from the ore.
Continue reading to find out more about in situ recovery.
- Solution Mining
There is minimal surface disturbance with in situ recovery, and no waste rock or tailings are produced. The orebody must be situated so that groundwater is not contaminated far from the orebody and must be permeable to the liquids utilized.
ISL is a regulated, secure, and ecologically friendly mining method that can function under rigorous environmental restrictions and frequently has economic advantages thanks to technological advances.
- Environmental Impact
Uranium mining is similar to conventional mining in many ways from an environmental point of view. Before beginning, projects must receive approval and adhere to all applicable environmental, safety, and occupational health requirements.
These are increasingly supervised by international standards and subject to external audits, which are occasionally carried out by significant uranium consumers who are answerable to their own shareholders.
Since the main isotope of uranium, U-238, has a half-life equal to the earth’s age, uranium itself is not particularly radioactive. Gamma rays and alpha particles are both released by U-235, which has a half-life that is one-sixth of this.
As a result, a chunk of pure uranium would emit some gamma rays but not as many as a similar-sized rock of granite. Practically speaking, whether it is a rock or a dry powder will affect its alpha radioactivity.
The latter scenario presents a small but probable risk from alpha radiation. Chemically speaking, it is poisonous as well, being equivalent to lead.
Gloves are an adequate safety measure when handling uranium metal. It needs to be handled carefully to prevent ingesting or inhaling uranium concentration.
- Mining Operations
Leaching, a process that dissolves the uranium using either a powerful acid or a powerful alkaline solution, is how uranium is removed from the crushed and ground-up ore in a mill. After that, the uranium is precipitated out of this solution.
It is then often heated and dried before being concentrated and stored in 200-liter drums. The remaining ore is transformed into tailings, which are stored in specially designed facilities close to the mine and contain the majority of the radioactivity and almost all of the rock material.
However, the total amount of radioactive elements is lower than in the initial ore, and their aggregate radioactivity will be much shorter-lived.
Tailings also contain low quantities of harmful substances, such as heavy metals and long-lived radioactive compounds. The environment must be kept separate from these materials.
ISL techniques are becoming more prevalent in uranium mining, which is reducing some of the environmental concerns brought on by the massive amounts of ore that are moved during conventional mining and the ensuing construction of massive tailings dams. ISL offers a great way to utilize accessible low-grade ores, provided that groundwater quality is not affected. However, as uranium demand rises, it is expected that over the next 20 years. There will also be significant investment in new underground and open pit operations.
enCore Energy Corp.is an esteemed company when it comes to uranium mining in Texas. We are a domestic American uranium developer with the goal of dominating the ISR uranium market. Contact us now to learn more.