Unlocking Australia's Uranium Resources

Industry: Uranium

Knowledge Priority: Understand and unlock Australia's resource base

State: WA

About the Project

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 Competitiveness 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.

Project Impact

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.

Project Results

The research program was undertaken in two major parts.

Part 1

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:

  • Leach conditions can be optimised, with the ability to reduce initial reagent concentrations while still achieving similar uranium extraction.
  • A similar percentage of uranium can be extracted at a lower processing temperature, therefore reducing the energy requirements.
  • At a conceptual level, nanofiltration offers the potential to increase the uranium concentration while also recovering expensive excess reagent, which can be recycled back to the primary circuit.

Part 2

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:

  • There are opportunities to substantially reduce the capital and operating costs of the processing facility.
  • A beneficiation circuit has the potential to deliver up to 75% mass reduction whilst maintaining a uranium recovery of as high as 84%.

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.

Project Timeframe

Commenced: July 2017

Completed: June 2018

Project Funding

Total project cost: $367,000

NERA: $170,000

Industry: $197,000

* Funding excludes GST

Project Participants