As identified in NERA's Uranium Industry Competitiveness Assessment, Australia holds 29% of the world's identified recoverable uranium resources. While the country's uranium industry has significant potential, mine development has been slower than anticipated.
The Assessment identified a number of opportunities to improve Australia's overall competitiveness, including enhancing ore processing capability and mining operations by leveraging research to lower operating costs and reducing technical risks for future mining operations throughout the country.
Low uranium prices and high processing costs are significant barriers to the development of Australia's carbonate-hosted uranium deposits, including Yeelirrie and Wiluna, with ore processing currently accounting for up to 65% of total production costs.
To drive down processing costs, NERA, Toro Energy, Cameco Australia, Separation Engineering, Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Strategic Metallurgy have developed a research program to significantly reduce the processing costs associated with carbonate-hosted deposits.
The $367,000 research program investigated opportunities to reduce processing costs while maximising uranium recovery for the Yeelirrie and Wiluna uranium projects. It was estimated that processing costs would likely be reduced by up to 20%, with results of the research to be shared across the uranium industry and assist with the development of other carbonate-hosted deposits.
While the research focus was on Cameco Australia's Yeelirrie project and Toro Energy's Wiluna project, the results are beneficial to both companies and potentially other carbonate-hosted uranium deposits. Separation Engineering contributed valuable nanofiltration experience to the flowsheet optimisation project.
The research program was undertaken in two major parts.
ANSTO Minerals, who have world-leading expertise in uranium ore processing and flowsheet design, undertook a study on Yeelirrie ore to optimise the metallurgical flowsheet, including investigating the potential of nanofiltration. The research investigated ways to increase uranium recovery and reduce costly reagent consumption. This research found that:
A beneficiation study was undertaken on different ore types from the Wiluna Uranium Project. The aim of the research was to further develop the beneficiation process and confirm its applicability for the different ore types. The key findings of this research confirm that:
The high-level results of the project were presented to the wider industry at the AusIMM International Uranium Conference in Adelaide in June 2018 and at the IAEA URAM Conference in Vienna in June 2018.Since the completion of the project, both Toro and Cameco have continued to progress feasibility studies to further understand the cost saving potential (implications) of the results.
Start: July 2017
End: Project completed in June 2018
Total project cost: $367,000
* Funding excludes GST