Uranium project gets green light from Finnish government

A loaded truck leaving a Talvivaara mining area.  Image: YLEThe Finnish government has granted permission to the Talvivaara mining company to start producing uranium at its quarry in Sotkamo, in eastern Finland.

Although the decison has met with local government approval, conservationists have expressed worries over the environmental impact of the extraction.

The company has a prior, EU-sanctioned agreement to sell so-called yellow cake uranium to Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corporation.

Talvivaara will not mine separately for uranium, but will change its metals separation process to extract uranium from other ores produced.

Currently uranium at the mine is contained in nickel ore, or is separated from the raw material, only to end up in the gypsum sediment pond.

The mining company is also formulating plans to extract uranium from other quarries where other metals are mined.

But government approval has not given the company permission for immediate production of uranium; rather Talvivaara must first submit an environmental safety report to the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK.

Positive environmental impact

The government has granted the extraction permit to Talvivaara on condition that benchmark values are put in place to ensure the safety of residents located near the mine.

Authorities have referred to the possible detrimental effects caused by the increased use of chemicals during the mining process, particularly if they were to leach into the environment.

But according to STUK, the extraction process can be designed to minimise the risk of exposure by employees, the environment and the local community.

And Finland’s Environment Ministry said it can be assumed that the production of uranium will result in a ten-fold decline in the amount of uranium that ends up in the mining ponds, thus reducing the environmental impact of uranium from its current levels.

Uranium oxide produced in the extraction process will be packed in airtight containers and transported elsewhere for supervised treatment.

Annual production has been estimated at between 350 and 500 tons annually.

Community support for Talvivaara

For their part, municipal authorities in Sotkamo, where the first uranium off-take processing will occur, support Talvivaara’s plans.

They hope that the additional mining activity will create new employment opportunities in Kainuu, and ensure more efficient use of the area’s natural resources.

However some in the community fear that the project may detract from the area as a travel destination, as has been seen in locations where nuclear plants have been sited.

Conservationists concerned

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation has expressed disappointment at the decision. Conservation Director Jouni Nissinen said the Talvivaara Company had already spoiled a large area of land and was now even more dangerous to the environment.

Among the association’s concerns was the risk to safety posed by the transport of nuclear fuels.

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