Licence to extract uranium under the Nuclear Energy Act granted to Talvivaara mine
On 1 March 2012, the Council of State granted
Talvivaara Sotkamo Ltd the Government licence to extract uranium from
Talvivaara ore at the Sotkamo mine, as referred to in the Nuclear Energy Act.
In the view of the Council of State, the undertaking complies with the overall
good of society and meets the nuclear and radiation safety requirements.
Prior to the commencement of operations, the uranium recovery plant needs an environmental permit from the Northern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency and a start-up permit from the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority Finland STUK.
– This is a procedure for recovering uranium that is already extracted in connection with Talvivaara’s mining process. According to the environmental authorities, uranium extraction reduces the environmental effects arising from uranium as opposed to not granting the licence, explains the Minister of Economic Affairs Jyri Häkämies, who presented the matter to the Council of State.
In its statement concerning the licence, the Ministry of the Environment states that from an environmental perspective, Talvivaara’s uranium extraction is appropriate. As a result of the process, the amount of uranium in the gypsum pond will be reduced to about ten per cent of the current amount.
– At the same time, about EUR 40 million worth of new business will be created annually. This supports well-being and jobs, especially in Northern Finland, Häkämies adds.
The licence includes terms and conditions related to nuclear safety that oblige Talvivaara to acquire approval from STUK for the safety analysis report, the rescue plan, the handbook on nuclear materials, and the plans and measures concerning physical protection submitted to STUK for review, before operations can be commenced.
Once granted, the licence to extract uranium is valid throughout the life of the mine, however, no longer than until the end of 2054. The licence expires if uranium recovery does not start within three years.
Talvivaara also applied for a Government licence to extract uranium from imported ore at Sotkamo, but this was denied. The Company must submit a separate application for this licence, and it must include an Environmental Impact Assessment of this type of undertaking. In addition, the Council of State did not grant the Company the right to start uranium extraction before the possible appealing process is over .
A separate ore extraction process is not necessary for Talvivaara to conduct uranium recovery. Uranium recovery is carried out in connection with the solvent extraction process. Uranium can be extracted following the zinc sulphide precipitation process in a separate recovery plant.
The concentration of uranium in the solvent is low (approximately 15-25 mg/l), but still sufficient for the implementation of the solvent extraction method for further utilisation. The estimated production volume for the half-finished product is 350-500 tonnes of uranium per year. It is transported for further processing by the Canadian company Cameco as raw material suitable for manufacturing nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants.
At present, part of Talvivaara’s uranium is transported inside nickel to the nickel plant Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta Ltd in Harjavalta. In the spring of 2010, STUK granted the plant a licence to extract up to 10 tonnes of uranium per year. This uranium from Talvivaara currently being extracted in Harjavalta could be processed at the Talvivaara recovery plant.
The Council of State made the decision by 11 votes to 6. Following the vote, two dissenting opinions were submitted for the record.
Special Assistant to the Minister of Economic Affairs Kai Mykkänen, tel. +358 40 592 1499
Chief Engineer Jorma Aurela, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, tel. +358 50 592 2109
Deputy Director General Herkko Plit, TEM, tel. +358 (0)10 606 3636 and +358 (0)50 462 0788