The process of extracting uranium from the Earth has been done for quite a while already. Through uranium mining we are able to acquire the uranium ore from underground and process it to separate the uranium from the other minerals in the ore. Now uranium mining is done in many countries around the world and the uranium that is mined is primarily used in nuclear power plants to generate energy. Some countries really do rely on uranium in fact seventy percent of all of the annually mined uranium only comes from three countries Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan.
Now when it comes to uranium mining, you can classify it into three different mining approaches. These three approaches are open pit uranium mining, underground uranium mining, and in-situ leach uranium mining. Each of these different mining approaches has their own pros and cons and today, we are going to take a look into those.
1.) Open Pit Uranium Mining – Also known as strip mining, this mining approach involves removing the soil on the surface as well as any invaluable rock in order to have access to the uranium ore underground. Open pit mining can only be done if the ore is near the ground surface, less than 400 feet to be more specific and results in less than 0.5% ore grades. The pros of this mining approach are:
- It is cheaper than underground uranium mining.
- There is much better ventilation for the miners.
- The mines follow strict rules and guidelines regarding the environment.
The cons of strip mining are:
- Footprint is quite big.
- There can be a lot of rock waste.
- The waste rock has no economic use.
2.) Underground uranium mining – This approach results in greater uranium concentrations in the ore and can be used to get to ore that is deeper than 400 feet and not accessible through open pit uranium mining. The pros are:
- Less surface footprint.
- Less of the rock in the mine foes to waste.
- The use of advanced tech helps to assess the safety of the mine and improve miner safety.
The cons of underground uranium mining are.
- Underground mining is much more expensive.
- There is the chance of the local aquifers being affected and remediation is costly.
- The dust and radon levels in the tunnels pose a serious health threat to the miners.
3.) In-situ Recover or In-Situ Leach Uranium mining – This method of mining uranium is considered to be better than open pit uranium mining and underground mining in terms of cost as well as in environmental impact. However, not all ore deposits can be harvested through this method. The pros of this uranium mining method are:
- The surface footprint is quite small.
- The rock wastage is quite small.
- The cost of this mining method is a lot smaller than other approaches.
The cons of ISR mining are:
- There is a possibility that the aquifers will be contaminated.
- The disposal of waste water can be harmful.
- Water has to be monitored a lot.