A world leader in uranium production
Mining activities form part of the core business of AREVA's offering. Thanks to its presence on 5 continents and across the entire mining cycle, the Mining Business Unit offers its customers security of uranium supply while conducting its activities in a responsible and respectful manner towards people and the environment.
Mining activities at a glance
- In 2015, the production totaled 11,002 metric tons of uranium (AREVA’s financially consolidated share to which should be added 510 tons of Uranium corresponding to AREVA's share in COMINAK. Due to the changes in the accounting standards, COMINAK has no longer been financially consolidated since the beginning of 2014.).
- To guarantee security of supply, the priority is to ensure the visibility of production over a 20-year horizon.
DID YOU KNOW?
- "Resources" refers to uranium-rich areas with predicted mineralization that show promise but have not yet been established as technically and economically profitable for mining.
- “Reserves" refers to uranium deposits that are proved mineable from a technical and economic point of view.
- The group owns a diversified portfolio of mines in operation (Canada, Kazakhstan and Niger) and in project (Niger, Namibia and Mongolia).
- Its mining activities respect the highest international standards in the field of safety, health, and societal and environmental responsibility.
- More than 4,293* people work on five continents for the mining activities as of 2015 (*Global workforce managed by AREVA regardless of AREVA's stake in mining joint ventures).
Responsible uranium production
AREVA is engaged in a continuous improvement process to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by its mining activities, aiming to minimize the impact of these activities on people and the environment and contribute to regional development.
While striving for outstanding performance in the areas of health, safety, and social and environmental responsibility, complying with the highest international standards, AREVA is also one of the world's leading uranium producers at competitive production costs.
Each phase of the mining activities involves major sustainable development challenges, which must be managed throughout the long operating cycle and after mine closure.
The key stages of mining activities
AREVA is involved at all stages of mining: mineral exploration, mine development, mining operations, ore processing, and site remediation.
Exploring new and profitable uranium deposits
Naturally-occurring uranium is relatively widespread as an ore in the Earth’s crust (3 grams per metric ton on average). Exploration is carried out to discover and characterized uranium deposit to be mined under sustainable economic, technical, environmental and societal conditions. The deposits currently being mined contain between 100 grams and 10 kilograms of uranium per metric ton of ore extracted.
AREVA aims to have 20 years of resources and weighted reserves so it can guarantee customers a secure supply of uranium over the long term. Exploring is done in successive stages such as:
- Geological study of the region
- Use and interpretation of satellite data and airborne geophysical survey
- Ground radiometric survey
- Geological mapping - Drilling - Logging - Geological observation of core - Core sampling for chemical analysis
- Study of soil and water chemistry
Uranium prospecting requires substantial investment.
Project development is a key phase of the mining project as it establishes the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of mining. The work of the project teams involves several steps:
- Characterizing the deposit and its ore and confirming the resources identified,
- Establishing the mining and processing techniques to be used,
- Assessing the project’s impact in terms of every economic, societal and environmental aspect, jointly with stakeholders,
- Performing in-depth environmental and societal impact studies at the proposed mine site,
- Building the industrial production facilities and installing the necessary infrastructure.
The project development aims at verifying the technical and economic viability of a mining operation based on the above key steps.
In Mongolia, the major newly discovered Zuuvch Ovoo deposit has just entered in this phase of project development.
Extraction of the uranium ore
Once the technical and economic feasibility of the project has been established, the uranium ore is mined using the most suitable method for the characteristics of the deposit, which include depth, grade, presence of by-products, geological and environmental contexts of the area.
AREVA uses 4 types of mine depending on the deposit:
- Open-pit mines, for shallow deposits
- Conventional underground mines, for deeper deposits
- Deep mining
- In situ recovery (ISR), for low-grade deposits in permeable rock (solutions are injected directly into the deposit to dissolve and recover the uranium)
Did you know?
- 47%* of uranium worldwide is produced using ISR technology.
- AREVA uses ISR technology in Kazakhstan and has previously used it in Wyoming in the United States.
*Source: IAEA/NEA/OECD Uranium 2014 Report: Red Book Highlights Continuing Growth Trend
Processing from ore to yellow cake
When the ore comes out of the mine, it is crushed and ground, and the uranium is then dissolved using chemical reagents. This dissolution process, call leaching, is performed in one of two ways depending on the uranium content and nature of the ore:
- Static leaching (also called heap leaching), for low-grade ores. The ore is stacked on an impermeable leach pad and irrigated with a chemical solution. The resulting solution is pumped out and routed to the mill for last phase of processing.
- Dynamic leaching, for high-grade ores. This process is performed in a liquid environment in tanks in the mill plant.
After drying, a solid, concentrated uranium is obtained containing around 85% uranium, or 850 kilograms per metric ton.
The uranium concentrate is packaged and put into barrels, then sent to conversion facilities for further chemical processing.
Remediating former mining sites
At the end of their lifecycle, mining sites are disassembled, reclaimed and replanted, in strict compliance with current environmental standards and in concert with local communities. Post-mining activities are conducted according to a strict methodology, which is recognized both by the relevant authorities and at international level and according to law.
Radiological and environmental monitoring are systematically carried out at these sites for at least 10 years, in order to observe and manage their development.
One of the required rehabilitation steps for old mine sites is re-landscaping so as to preserve local biodiversity and allow potential reuse depending on the level of restrictions. This rehabilitation is anticipated as early as the exploration phase.
DID YOU KNOW?
Since the mining activities began, AREVA has invested several hundreds of millions of euros in dismantling facilities and rehabilitating sites in France, Gabon, the United States and Canada. The group is also drawing up strategic rehabilitation, dismantling and post-mining environmental monitoring plans for its mining facilities currently in operation.