Radiant Idea! Accident-Prone Finnish Company Paves the Way for Uranium Mining

Radiant Idea! Accident-Prone Finnish Company Paves the Way for Uranium MiningCC BY 2.0 / Antti Lankinen / TalvivaaraEurope13:08 26.10.2017(updated 13:09 26.10.2017) Get short URL
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The Finnish mining giant Terrafame has announced plans to apply for a permit to produce uranium. Once the permit is granted, the Nordic nation will join the EU’s burgeoning list of uranium producers.

Terrafame, formerly known as Talvivaara, is planning to update its current nickel-production process at Sotkamo mine, which would enable it to recover uranium. The company has already built a €75 million uranium recovery plant and is looking forward to get a permit. Its previous license was revoked in 2013 over some environmental issues.

According to Terrafame CEO Joni Lukkaroinen, the financial impact of uranium recovery would improve the company’s profitability, although it is likely to be dwarfed by its premier assets such as nickel and zinc, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.

If it gets permission from the government, Terrafame can start using uranium as early as by the end of 2019. The Finnish state is majority shareholder in Terrafame.

At present, the natural uranium released in the process of ore enrichment is not utilized by Terrafame.

During its time as Talvivaara, Finland’s leading mining company went through a rough patch amid environmental and legal problems and was facing bankruptcy, until the Finnish state stepped in in a surprising U-turn.

​​After voicing plans to shut down the accident-prone mine in May 2016, the Finnish government surprisingly changed its mind in November by granting additional support and allowing the company to continue its operation. All in all, the Finnish state has pumped about $600 million to keep Terrafame afloat.

In February 2017, Terrafame announced a €250 million private investment from the raw materials company Trafigura, promising a 15.5 percent stake in return.

In June this year, Talvivaara founder Pekka Perä was slapped with a suspended sentence for providing inaccurate nickel production forecasts. Additionally, a separate trial against Talvivaara bosses over Finland’s arguably most notorious environmental crimes is now being handled by the appeals court.

Talvivaara founder and fellow leaders are facing massive fines and suspended jail sentences for numerous environmental faults, including alleged uncontrolled dumping of effluent into the wild as well as issues concerning toxic waste handling. The prosecution claims that the first environmental crimes were committed as early as 2004, when the company was still in the planning stages.

In November 2012, one of Finland’s worst environmental disasters ever occurred at Talvivaara, as a tailings pond burst, resulting in a leakage of 1.4 million cubic meters of toxic water poisoning the countryside. The leak took ten days to plug and resulted in a 50-fold increase in uranium in near-by water sources, leaving the Nordic country struggling with the consequences of ground water pollution. In May 2013, another leak of sulfuric acid occurred at Talvivaara.

​Earlier this week, Terrafame claimed an operating profit of €42.5 million. However, the company recently concluded layoff talks with 37 employees.

​At present, the EU is heavily dependent on uranium exports from Australia, Russia, Canada and Niger, to name a few. By 2019, however, Spain, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic plan to establish uranium production of their own.

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