Orano joint venture Imouraren SA is looking to begin a pilot programme to investigate using in-situ leach (ISL) methods at the project in Niger next year, company director Matthieu Davrinche has said, with a view to making an investment decision in 2028.

(Image: NigerTZai)

Located about 50 miles (80 km) south of Arlit and about 100 miles north of Agadez, the Imouraren deposit was discovered in 1966 and according to Orano, contains one of the largest reserves in the world, with proven and probable reserves of 213,722 tU and measured and indicated resources of 62,584 tU. Orano was awarded an operating permit to mine the deposit in early 2009, and excavation of an open pit began in 2012, but the project has been on hold since 2015.

In recent years Orano has been looking at alternative mining methods for the project, which it has said it will bring into production when market conditions become more favourable.

"This is a major project for Orano," Davrinche said in an interview with AFP. "We are relaunching it following several hydrogeological studies which allow us to think that the ISR method … can be very interesting for the exploitation of this deposit."

ISR - in-situ recovery - is another term for ISL, a technique in which uranium is recovered from an ore body by dissolving it and pumping it to the surface.

A pilot programme of small-scale tests is expected to begin in 2024, Davrinche said, with the aim of being able to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the development by ISL in 2028.

Davrinche said the change from open-pit to ISL methods reflects both economic and environmental considerations. "The Orano group is committed to significantly reducing its CO2 emissions and open pit mines emit a lot of CO2, basically from the diesel consumption of mining machinery," he said.

The ISL method involves injecting a solution directly into the mineralised part of the orebody, he explained. "The idea is to dissolve uranium in water and pump it out. We operate in a closed loop with extremely low water consumption. This technique is particularly suitable for low-grade deposits such as Imouraren." Uranium extraction by ISL is "little known" in Niger, but over half of the world's uranium production is now extracted by this method, he added.

Niger remains a "priority" for the company, and the pilot tests represent a "substantial" commitment the tune of EUR85 million (USD91 million), Davrinche said.

Imouraren SA is 66.65% owned by Orano Expansion (owned 95.3% by Orano Mining and 4.7% by Korean companies) and 33.35% by the State of Niger and Niger state mining asset company Sopamin.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 22 March 2023
Original article: world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Orano-eyes-2024-for-Imouraren-ISL-pilot-programme