Terrafame’s production process enables the low concentration of natural uranium found in the ore to be used as a by-product. (Image courtesy of Terrafame.)
Finland’s Terrafame will start recovering natural uranium as a byproduct of zinc and nickel production at its Sotkamo mine, in the home country, by mid 2024.
The miner, in which the Finnish state has a 67.1% stake and commodities trader Trafigura holds a 31.1% interest, is aiming to produce 200 tonnes per year by 2026, it said on Wednesday.
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Terrafame, formerly known as Talvivaara, intends to refine the uranium into yellowcake, used as fuel for nuclear power plants. The commodity has so far been waste from processing the metals extracted at Sotkamo. These include nickel and cobalt sulphates for electric vehicle (EV) batteries as well as other minerals.
“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,” chief executive officer Joni Lukkaroinen said in the statement.
“The utilization 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,” Lukkaroinen said.
Europe’s only uranium recovery operation
The company has a ready-built uranium recovery plant on site, which it says it will be Europe’s only uranium recovery operation. It will increase its net sales by about 25 million euros ($27m) per year, from 378 million euros ($401m) in 2021, it said.
Terrafame, one of Europe’s largest nickel miners, churned out last year about 28,600 tonnes of nickel and 54,400 tonnes of zinc. It also began producing battery chemicals from its own minerals at northeastern Finland mine.
The Finnish government authorized uranium production in 2020, but environmental organizations took the decision to courts as they feared the effects it would have in the environment.
Before uranium recovery at Sotkamo can be commissioned, the country’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk) will have verify that the company’s operations are in line with the Nuclear Energy Act’s principles.