[ RadSafe ] Uranium mine at McArthur River
frantaj at aecl.ca
Mon Oct 2 08:11:53 CDT 2006
Digging deep: Uranium mine at McArthur River presents challenges like few
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) Fri 29 Sep 2006
Byline: Murray Lyons
MCARTHUR RIVER MINE -- In the underground workings of the world's
highest-grade uranium mine there are few signs that a huge influx of water
put the place out of commission for three months in the spring of 2003.
The remotely-mined uranium ore at McArthur River averages 24 per cent pure
uranium, with hot spots that can soar as high as 80 per cent. If the mine is
going through a section of ore that is ultra high grade,
operators have to add scoops of waste rock to the SAG mill to blend down the
product, Rheault says. Uranium is one of the heaviest elements on the
periodic table and it would not be possible for the
uranium to be pumped as a slurry to the surface at such high grades if it
No one can explain with certainty why McArthur River's geology has such high
grades. However, Haywood explains the mine's ore grade is 100 times greater
than the average uranium mine. Some rock below two per cent uranium, which
would be considered high grade anywhere else in the world, is considered
waste rock at McArthur River and is used
only for blending purposes, he says.
All told, McArthur River is one of the trickiest ore bodies in Canada,
managing safely with both the water issues and the radiation issues raised
by such high grade ore. Haywood is anxious to point out the
remote mining methods and high volume of air pushed through the workings
means workers are exposed to only about one extra millisievert of radiation
annually. Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulations allow a worker to
be exposed to an annual level 50 times that, a company presentation says.
With 24 per cent uranium content ore, the mine can hit its licensed capacity
of 18.7 million pounds of uranium each year by mining an average of 150 tons
of ore a day.
"That's the beauty of having high grade ore," Haywood says. "At the world
average uranium grade, more than five million tons of ore would have to be
mined each year, whereas we only mine about 50,000 pounds of ore."
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