ARMZ, the uranium mining subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom, has started developing the Vershinnoye uranium deposit in the Republic of Buryatia, in southern Siberia. ARMZ said in a statement on Rosatom’s website the deposit has 4577 tonnes of uranium reserves and that the first production by in situ leaching would be next year by its subsidiary JSC Khiagda.
The Vershinnoye deposit is one of eight in the Khiagda Ore Field. The others are Dybrynskoye, Istochnoye, Khiagdinskoye, Kolichikanskoye, Koretkondinskoye, Namaruskoye and Tetrakhskoye.
These are located in the middle of Vitimsky Uranium Region.
The start of work was commemorated with the laying of a memorial stone by the director-general of ARMZ, Vladimir Verkhovtsev, and the acting head of the Republic of Buryatia, Alexey Tsydenov.
JSC Khiagda’s director of production, Andrey Gladyshev, said more than 1200 production wells will be built at the deposit, of which 165 have already been drilled. Primary processing of pregnant solutions will be carried out at a local facility from which loaded resin is trucked to a central plant.
“The unit is designed to extract uranium from productive solutions to a special ion-exchange resin. Then, the resin saturated with uranium is transported for further processing to the main production building. Thus, there is no need to build multi-kilometre pipelines, which positively affects the cost of production,” Gladyshev said.
JSC Khiagda is already producing from the Khiagdinskoye deposit, which has reserves of 10,849 tU, and will start work soon on the Istochnoye deposit, which has 2055 tU, according to the ARMZ statement. Work will gradually start on the Dybrynskoye, Istochnoye, Khiagdinskoye, Kolichikanskoye, Koretkondinskoye, Namaruskoye and Tetrakhskoye deposits, it added. The combined reserves of the Khiagda Ore Field’s group of deposits are about 45,000 tonnes of uranium, it said.
Exploration work by FSUE Urangeo has meanwhile indicated that the Vitimsky Ore Region has about 350,000 tU, including about 250,000 tU suitable for ISL.
Verkhovtsev said JSC Khiagda was the “most modern and promising enterprise” in Rosatom’s mining division. About RUB23 billion ($404 million) has been invested so far, he said, adding that about RUB2 billion would be invested each year. Last year, 540 tU were mined and this year 693 tU will be produced, he said, and by 2019, JSC Khiagda will produce 1000 tU per year.
The importance of JSC Khiagda to the economy of Buryatia over the next 150 years is such that major investments will be made into road and rail transport links and into social development programs, according to the statement.
JSC Khiagda’s operations at Vitimsky are about 570 km northwest of Krasnokamensk, serving Priargunsky’s operations in Chita region, and 140 km north of Chita city.
They are starting from a low base – in 2010 production from the Khiagdinskoye ore field was 135 tU, rising to 440 tU in 2013. These are a low-cost ($70/kgU) acid ISL operations in sandstones, and comprise the only ISL mine in the world in permafrost. Groundwater temperature is 1-4°C, giving viscosity problems, especially when winter air temperature is -40°C. The main uranium mineralisation is a calcium-uranium phosphate, requiring oxidant with the acid solution.
In the Khiagdinskoye field itself there are eight palaeochannel deposits over 15 x 8 km, at depths of 90 m to 280 m (average 170 m). Single orebodies are up to 4 km long, 15 m to 400 m wide and 1 m to 20 m thick.
The 2008 ARMZ plan envisaged production from JSC Khiagda’s project increasing to 1800 tU/yr by 2019, but in 2013 the higher target was postponed. In 2014 JSC Khiagda continued construction of the main production facility and on a sulfuric acid plant, the first stage of which was commissioned in September 2015. Its final design capacity is 110,000 t/yr of acid.