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Mineralogy Matters

Uranium is unique amongst metallic elements. Its chemistry is such that it can form both a cation and oxyanion in natural waters (ions that are positively- and acutely-negatively charged) and can combine with different chemical groups to be soluble under both acid and alkaline conditions -- such versatility can be extremely useful to exploit in mineral processing. The mineralogy of uranium is no less complex, and the element can form oxides, silicates, hydroxides, vanadanates, arsenates, phosphates, sulfates, carbonates, molybdates and even urananates. Uranium is a major component of 347 known natural minerals, not dissimilar to copper, but whereas only 25 or so copper minerals are important economically, almost a third of all uranium minerals can occur in economic quantities. As the susceptibility of these minerals to acid or alkaline solutions, temperature, biological matter and oxidants varies widely, it is essential to characterize the mineralogy of the ore in order to select the most efficient method of processing.

Such studies are carried out routinely by SRK Consulting in collaboration with research laboratories and metallurgical facilities throughout the world to provide clients with comprehensive highquality analysis and good mineralogical understanding of uranium and gangue mineralogy to ensure the most cost-effective and efficient method of processing is applied. Such studies are often termed Geometallurgy, which is the application of material, geological and mineralogical characteristics to mineral processing in order to determine the metallurgical properties of those materials. It incorporates the principles of process mineralogy and material characterization as a tool for predictive metallurgy.

Geometallurgy can be applied to any uranium deposit and is a cost-effective technique in characterizing a commodity in defining process options, and providing an early warning assessment of potential metallurgical issues.

Highly-variable or strongly-zoned uranium deposits benefit from the evaluation, since sample heterogeneity from the deposit will be high, and it is likely that the ore will show strong variation in metallurgical performance.

Where multiple deposits will be processed at a central facility, Geometallurgical studies can provide a useful insight into assessing any potential problems or uranium loss without expensive and lengthy metallurgical tests.

Legacy issues present a common problem with uranium deposits, where archived core for a reactivated site is limited and sufficient material is not available for large-scale testing. Geometallurgy can be applied to determine the representative nature of the material, as well as identify process issues early in the project evaluation.

Completing a Geometallurgical study on uranium orebodies can greatly reduce risk through:

• Comprehensive characterization of geological and mineralogical features and assessment of the implications of these on metallurgical performance, gangue reagent consumption, grindability and encapsulation issues;
• Construction of 3D models of geometallurgical characteristics, to define their spatial distribution and for use in resource estimation and block modelling;
• Incorporating deposit variability into the plant design;
• Predicting time-related metallurgical issues by inputting geometallurgy data into mine planning so that plant throughput, uranium production, and operating costs can be predicted based on the concentrate grade, mineralogy, p80 requirement, recovery issues and ore hardness. This can be completed on quarterly, annual or life-of-mine time scales depending on depth of knowledge;
• Optimizing plant design to account for ore heterogeneity;
• Effective material handling and blending over the life of mine; and
• Optimizing mineral resource exploitation and uranium production

Rob Bowell:

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