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600-Thousandth Ton of Sulfuric Acid Produced by Khiagda
This symbolic event at an environmentally friendly enterprise was witnessed by media representatives of the Republic of Buryatia who visited Khiagda, JSC on these days.
Aleksander Elgin, manager of the Khiagda, JSC’s sulfuric acid production site, explained: «Sulfuric acid is produced in a closed cycle. No pollutants are discharged into water bodies. Emissions to the atmosphere are minimized due to gas cleaning plants. We have provided for continuous monitoring of these processes».
The factory at the Khiagda, JSC production site in the Bauntovsky-Evenki District was put into operation in 2015. Over 6 years, 600 thousand tons of sulfuric acid have been produced for the needs of the uranium mining company. Artem Mikhailov, Deputy Director General of Khiagda, JSC: «In-house production allowed us to fully eliminate the risks of any accidents during the transportation of chemicals. We have not carried acid for 6 years now; the raw material for its manufacture — granular sulfur — is supplied to the factory from a railroad warehouses in Chita. This is a dry loose product that does not dissolve in water. Even in case of any accident during transportation, sulfur is harmless to the environment. Simply put, if the cargo is spilled, we just have to collect it for further transportation. Over the past 6 years, not a single accident has been recorded.» Without sulfuric acid, uranium mining in the most environmentally friendly way of borehole in-situ leaching is simply impossible. Anatoly Mikhailov, Director General of Khiagda, JSC, explained this process: «Weak solution of sulfuric acid with an oxidizing agent is supplied to the ore body via pumping wells. When passing through the ore, this solution oxidizes and dissolves only uranium minerals, without dissolving other components. That is, no cavities remain underground; only the metal itself is released and lifted up from the ore body. Next, the solution already containing uranium is pumped back via the pumping wells. Then it goes to the processing plant where the metal is released using ion exchange resins, after which it is separated from the ion-exchange resin and precipitated».
If we compare the method used by Khiagda, JSC with open-pit or underground mining methods, we can see significant advantages. There is no change in the geological condition of subsoil, since the ore-and-rock mass is not excavated. There is no subsidence or disturbance of the soil surface, no dumps of out-of-balance ores, waste rocks, and tailings dams. The natural radioactivity of the ore body remains deep underground. Residual solutions are neutralized (converted to gypsum) underground over several years. It is very important that sulfuric acid in a pure, therefore environmentally hazardous, form does not leave the factory. It is added to the production solution right on the spot. The acid content in the solution is 0.1 to 1.2%; that is, it is safe. According to Aleksander Elgin: «Of course you shouldn’t do so, but theoretically, you can wash your hands with this solution. For example, if spilled, it will burn neither grass nor soil like sulfuric acid.»
In 2022, Khiagda, JSC plans to increase the output of the final product, and therefore, the production of sulfuric acid needed for safe extraction of uranium from natural storehouses in the Bauntovsky District of Buryatia.