Brazilian media have reported that State-owned uranium company Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB – Nuclear Industries of Brazil) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a subsidiary of Russian State-owned nuclear group Rosatom. The subsidiary is the U1 Group, better known as Uranium One, which is (according to its website) responsible for Rosatom’s uranium production outside the borders of the Russian Federation and is the world’s number four uranium producer. INB is responsible for the mining, concentration and enrichment of uranium, and for the manufacture of uranium dioxide fuel pellets and the fabrication of fuel assemblies for Brazil’s Angra 1 and Angra 2 nuclear power plants.
INB owns and operates Brazil’s only currently functioning uranium mine, Engenho, which lies in the uraniferous district of Lagoa Real, near the city of Caetité, in the state of Bahía. There are 38 high-grade uranium deposits in Lagoa Real, with a reserve of 110 000 t. The exploration, mining and beneficiation of uranium are State monopolies in Brazil.
The Engenho mine is currently an openpit operation. However, the exploitation of the orebody has now reached the point where openpit operations will soon cease to be viable and that, to continue functioning, the mine will have to switch to underground operations. The purpose of the MoU, which was signed by INB president Reinaldo Gonzaga and Uranium One Group president Vasily Konstantinov, is to allow INB access to U1’s expertise in underground uranium mining and on how to transition a mine from openpit to underground operations.
The uranium mined at Engenho is sent to a uranium concentration unit located in Caetité, which has an annual production capacity of 400 t/y of uranium concentrate (yellowcake). INB hopes to soon restart operations at another, already underground, mine in the Caetité region; it is awaiting the granting of the required licence by the Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear (CNEN – the National Nuclear Energy Commission), the country’s nuclear regulator (although the environmental regulation of nuclear facilities is the responsibility of the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis – the Brazilian Insitute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, better known as Ibama).
INB is also developing the Itataia project, in Ceará State. This is in partnership with the Galvani Fertilizantes group, and the joint venture is designated the Santa Quitéria Consortium (from the name of the nearest town). The reason for this arrangement is that, at Santa Quitéra, the uranium deposit is associated with phosphates. The uranium reserves are estimated at 80 000 t and the operation is planned to have a uranium concentrate production capacity of 1 600 t/y. It is also awaiting licensing by the CNEN.
Brazil currently has the seventh-largest uranium reserves in the world. These presently total 309 000 t in the states of Bahía, Ceará, Minas Gerais and Paraná. But less than one-third of the country’s territory has been explored for uranium.