Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK)

Terrafame’s uranium recovery plant fulfils safety requirements

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According to the statement delivered today to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment by the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, there are no radiation safety-related obstacles for granting a permit for the uranium recovery plants of Terrafame Ltd. The permit for launching the recovery plant situated in Terrafame’s plant area in Sotkamo can be granted by the Finnish Government.

The statement of STUK on the safety of the uranium recovery plant is based on a safety assessment in which STUK has estimated Terrafame Ltd’s fulfilment of the relevant requirements set in nuclear energy legislation. According to STUK, Terrafame Ltd’s application fulfils the requirements and the nuclear and radiation safety risks caused by the production of uranium to the environment and the residents in the area are minor.

“In practice, minor risks mean that the radiation exposure of the employees at the uranium recovery plant is minor and the production of uranium will not expose members of the public to additional radiation,” says Senior Inspector Jarkko Kyllönen from STUK. “The licensee is responsible for the radiation safety of the plant, its employees and its surroundings. STUK’s duty is to oversee that such responsibilities are fulfilled,” Kyllönen adds.

Terrafame Ltd has applied for a permit to launch the recovery of uranium acquired as a by-product of other metals and to refine it into so-called yellowcake, a semi-finished uranium oxide product            used to manufacture fuel for nuclear power plants.

The ore mined at the Terrafame plant contains varying quantities of uranium with the highest concentrations at around 15–20 mg/kg. As a comparison, the average concentration of uranium in Finnish soil and rock is about 4 mg/kg. According to Terrafame’s estimate, the ore processed by the company each year contains about 300 tonnes of uranium, half of which dissolves during bioleaching. A uranium extraction plant would be able to recover about 135 tonnes of said uranium.

“According to the Nuclear Energy Act, the final product of a recovery plant is categorized as nuclear commodities. Therefore, the final product is included in the scope of international nuclear material safeguards. This regulatory control ensures that the product does not end up in the wrong hands,” explains Kyllönen.

Continued radiation surveillance in the surroundings of the plant area

An environmental impact assessment has been conducted regarding the recovery of uranium. According to the assessment, there are no issues related to the radiation safety of the surroundings preventing the use of a uranium recovery plant at the Terrafame plant area. The recovery plant will be part of Terrafame’s metal plant and the raw uranium products will not be transported outside the mine area for processing before the completed uranium oxide product is transported off site. The location of the recovery plant inside the plant area and away from residential areas also promotes the fulfilment of the radiation protection objectives regarding members of the public in any emergencies.

“STUK has conducted long-term environmental radiation surveillance in the surroundings of Terrafame’s mine area due to the need to supervise the mine’s water operations as radiation practices since the environmental damage of 2012. The surveillance activities will also continue after the launch of the uranium recovery plant. In recent years, the environmental surveillance unit has occasionally detected individual instances of elevated concentrations of uranium around the mine area. However, there have been no instances of considerable quantities of uranium being released into the surroundings of the area after the environmental damage,” says Pia Vesterbacka, Head of the Department of Environmental Radiation Surveillance and Emergency Preparednes at STUK.

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Contacts

Further information:
Regulatory control and permits of the plant: Project Manager Jarkko Kyllönen, tel. +358 (0)9 759 88 728, jarkko.kyllonen@stuk.fi
Environmental radiation surveillance: Director Pia Vesterbacka, tel. +358 (0)9 759 88 550, pia.vesterbacka@stuk.fi
Nuclear waste and commodities: Director Jussi Heinonen, tel. +358 (0)9 759 88 679, jussi.heinonen@stuk.fi
Media Services, tel. +358 10 850 4761

Stuk.fi: www.stuk.fi
Twitter: www.twitter.com/STUK_FI

About Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK)

Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK)
Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK)
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00880 HELSINKI

Mediapalvelu: 010 850 4761http://www.stuk.fi

Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK) on sosiaali- ja terveysministeriön hallinnonalan viranomainen, joka valvoo säteily- ja ydinturvallisuutta Suomessa. Tehtävämme on ihmisten, yhteiskunnan, ympäristön ja tulevien sukupolvien suojelu säteilyn haitallisilta vaikutuksilta. 

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