Oleksandr Nosal: Uranium Mining Prospects In Ukraine
Ukraine is rich in deposits of various minerals, but mining of most of them is in decline. One of such minerals is uranium that brought Ukraine to the forefront of uranium deposits in the world, but not in its extraction volume, since the industrial sector is degrading more and more every year.
Uranium deposits in Ukraine
Deposits of uranium in Ukraine are of an atypical origin, so they can be found in various geological conditions:
in the crystal basis;
in the sedimentary cover of ancient platforms;
in places of post-platform orogenesis.
However, if you look at the map of the fields, you can see that the majority of deposits is on the Ukrainian shield and in small quantities in the Donetsk Basin and the Carpathian Mountains.
With sufficiently low uranium content in ores, Ukrainian deposits nevertheless have certain features that make it possible for the produced uranium concentrate to be competitive:
1. Massive uranium deposits that enable the use of highly effective systems of extraction;
2. Good level of solidity makes it possible to avoid fastening for going through mining passages;
3. Absence of water inflows in the fields of uranium deposits;
4. Small concentration of uranium ores simple enough to comply with radiation protection measures.
The search for uranium deposits was launched in the middle of the twentieth century. Today, their number reaches more than 20 fields, but production volumes of uranium in some mines is scarce. According to expert forecasts, uranium ore in our country contains approximately 240 tons of raw materials.
The main deposits of uranium ore are in Kirovograd and Novokostiantynivskiy regions. Uranium reserves of “Novokonstantynivska” mine are one of the largest in Europe. The total length of uranium ore deposits here extends for 1500 meters with different widths of ore zones.
According to the official information of uranium deposits in the country are in the ratio of 50 grams per tonne of rock. Due to the fact that Ukraine has opened a large number of fields, their resources would be enough to provide raw materials for domestic NPPs for a century.
In Ukraine, in addition to traditional endogenous, there are also exogenous – epigenetic uranium deposits in the sedimentary cover of the Ukrainian shield. The benefit from their production is increasing because they contain relatively large number of chemical elements that can be used as a comprehensive mineral resource. They are extracted in one of the safest and most ecological ways – leaching, carried out by feeding a metalliferous layer a special chemical reagent, under which uranium is transformed from a mineral to solution.
Prospects for uranium mining in Ukraine
Since the demand for uranium in 2014 exceeded the supply because of the fact that most developed countries (Russia, China) are rapidly increasing the number of nuclear power plants, the issue of uranium mining is not that important, because in Ukraine there are enough uranium reserves both domestic use and for export. Exporting uranium can substantially improve the economic situation of the country and attract foreign investment for the uranium mining industry development and construction of its enrichment plants. But the problem is that uranium ore deposits lie at great depths and extraction from such depths requires significant financial costs and if, in the near future, this industry does not start developing actively, Ukraine might lose its position in the global market.
It is due to the fact that on the world stage of “uranium barons” new competitors appear, such as Greenland, into which China invests great funds. China expects that in 2016 the world market will be saturated with Greenlandic uranium. This will, first of all, cause decline in value of uranium on the world market. For example, in 2011, Ukraine extracted 890 tons of uranium while China 895 tons, Brazil 255 tons, and, consequently, in case of a reduction of the cost of uranium Ukraine will suffer substantial losses from the sale of this mineral. To create the competition it will be necessary to apply the latest technology and potentially produce more uranium, and implementing it in the currently existing economic situation in the country is almost impossible, while China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Greenland uranium mining. To increase uranium mining in Ukraine in average 3-4 million dollars should be invested.
The emergence of new uranium mining competitors will lead to decline in exports of Ukrainian uranium and weaken the European Union’s political attention to our state, as the EU sees our country as a potentially important raw uranium springboard, stocks of which can meet the needs of the EU Member States in this type of fuel.
Overall, the state of uranium mining in Ukraine is complicated because old deposits are almost worked out, and mining residues at these mines, for example, Ingulska and Smolynska, has a high cost and is not profitable. Opening new fields requires the same setup process from scratch, which implies the need for large funds that Ukraine is currently unable to provide for the development of the industry from its own budget.
Talking about hope of the domestic energy sector, then the only “lifeboat” of our country is Novokostiantynivka, whose reserves will provide Ukraine the opportunity to be an energy-independent state in the near future.