• A complete life-cycle analysis is an essential component of planning for the exploitation of a uranium deposit—from exploration, through engineering and design, to startup, operations, reclamation, and finally to decommissioning leading to final closure and postclosure monitoring.
This chapter outlines the basic steps involved in mining, processing, and reclamation that might be suitable for uranium ore deposits in the Commonwealth of Virginia. For uranium ore deposits, the choice of mining methods and processing options is very deposit-specific and dependent on many variables such as the quality and quantity of the ore, the shape and depth of the ore deposit, site-specific environmental conditions, and a range of other factors. Accordingly, the description of how uranium mining is undertaken in this report is generalized and at a high level.
Open-pit mining and underground mining are the two types of mining that would be used to exploit uranium deposits in Virginia. These mining techniques can be used individually or combined; for example, many mines start as open-pit operations and continue as underground operations to follow a deposit deeper below the surface. This chapter presents a short overview of both mining methods, and the considerations involved in using them. A short description of the in situ leaching/in situ recovery (ISL/ISR) uranium mining technique and other uranium mining techniques are included for completeness, even though, based on current knowledge of known uranium occurrences in Virginia, ISL/ISR is unlikely to be applicable.
After the uranium ore is removed from the ground, it must be treated at a hydrometallurgical processing facility to remove impurities and produce yellow-cake. The specific type of hydrometallurgical process is also deposit-specific, dependent not only on the nature of the uranium mineral but also on the nature of the host rock as well as environmental, safety, and economic factors. Waste rock handling, tailings disposal, and final reclamation and closure are also discussed in this chapter because they are critical parts of a mine’s life cycle.
One overarching consideration throughout the entire mining, processing, reclamation, and long-term stewardship process is the need for meaningful and timely public participation throughout the life cycle of a mining project, beginning at the earliest stages of project planning. This requires creating an environment in which the public is both informed about, and can comment upon, any decisions made that could affect their community (see additional discussion in Chapter 7).