Committed to responsible mining, Orano is a major player in the international uranium industry. Having developed expertise at every stage -- exploration, development production, marketing and re-development -- Orano is able to supply uranium for power generation to all its clients across the world.
As the world's nations strive to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, while multiplying electricity production by a factor of two in response to growing demand, nuclear power remains a vital source, alongside renewable energies. Orano contributes by developing nuclear materials that will enable electricity production at a competitive price, particularly in China.
Orano mines uranium ore in accordance with the characteristics of each deposit: grade, depth, environmental context, presence of by-products, and local geology.
To develop a portfolio of resources and reserves and secure 20 years of production visibility, Orano dedicates significant resources to the search for new deposits. The Group carries out continual drilling campaigns, geophysical and geological studies.
The exploration process, to confirm a new deposit, takes place over several years, from the discovery of the very first clues during prospecting, exploration by drilling until the confirmation of a potentially exploitable resource.
This exploration continues throughout the life of the mining project in an attempt to identify additional resources near the initial deposit. The prospecting is done in successive stages:
• geological study of the region
• interpretation of remote sensing images
• inspection of subsoils by geophysical methods
• measurements of radioactivity in the field
• study of soil and water chemistry
• conduct of surveys for the acquisition of in-situ geophysical data
• analysis of samples taken in soundings
These studies make it possible to detect potential uranium resources and characterise deposits that can become the focus of future mining operations.
It is the development phase that determines the technical, economic and environmental viability of a mining project.
Orano holds expertise in mining for multiple types of mines, open-pit mines for shallow deposits and underground mines for access to deep deposits. The Group is an expert in the in situ recovery technique (ISR) for low-grade deposits; this technique is used only when the ore is located between impervious soil layers, as in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
The mining experts at Orano develop innovative techniques to exploit non-accessible mines using conventional techniques and to improve the performance of existing mines.
For example, for the Cigar Lake deposit (Canada), where the uranium content is extremely high and soils are saturated with water, Orano has developed a fully-automated hydraulic mining method known as Jet Boring so that not a single miner is in contact with the ore
The ore is crushed immediately upon exiting the mine, then turned into a solution using chemical reactants. This ore treatment process, referred to as lixiviation, precedes the purification stage. The uranium is then extracted from the solution by a precipitation process before being purified, dried and calcined to result in a natural uranium concentrate: yellow cake, which contains 80% uranium (or 800 kg per ton).
Two leaching methods are used depending on the grade and nature of the ore:
Redeveloping and conducting environmental monitoring on mining sites bring many disciplines into play. A full-fledged area of industrial expertise re-development is taken into consideration from the very start of the mining project and is aimed at limiting the impact on the population and environment to the lowest level reasonably possible.
Re-developing and conducting environmental monitoring on former mining sites requires real know-how. Orano Mining was entrusted with this public service mission by the French State, even when the Group was not an operator, because of its recognised expertise in mining management and its commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
Developing a new life, or restoring, former mining sites is part of Orano Mining's desire to develop its land assets on the territory and help maintain a local socio-economic fabric.
The restoration plan is drawn up following coordination of all the local stakeholders involved. It guarantees former mining sites a future and integrates them into the region, by developing business operations, recreational activities or conservation for sites with high environmental value.
The mining site in Bosc (Hérault):
former uranium mining sites managed in France
Experience in re-development in France, Canada, the United States and Gabon.