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News :: International
Ukraine's Uranium Mines
04 May 2014
Ukraine has the largest uranium mines in Europe and generates half of its electricity at local nuclear power plants
Bright nuclear horizons
19.05.10 15:00 / Text: Dmytro Kurdov Komentari:

Ukraine has the largest uranium mines in Europe and generates half of its electricity at local nuclear power plants
When all oil wells are depleted and all the coal is extracted from mines, the atom will become the main source of energy on the planet. Today, nuclear power plants all over the world generate 17% of the total output of electricity. In Ukraine, this figure is around 50% (which is higher than in the U.S.). In the future, Ukraine has bright prospects as it is in first place in Europe and sixth in the world in terms of uranium reserves. If they are used rationally, they will bring tremendous benefits to the country Uranium spirit According to local folklore, a shaggy mountain spirit named Dobriy Shubin lives in the Donbas mines, one Berg Mandel (a dwarf in a red dress) lives in the ore mines in Idriji in Slovenia, Skarbnik lives in mines in Poland and Perkman lives is a mysterious figure living mines in the Czech Republic. These creatures are good, but they are capable of fooling people. They are a reflection of uncontrolled and dangerous mining disasters over which people have no power. In truth, miners extracting uranium ore do not believe in such mountain spirits. Why? First of all, they are accustomed to relying only on themselves. Secondly, the strict discipline of state-run enterprises in the days when uranium was used for the production of weapons did not envisage ghosts. Earlier, all uranium deposits were top secret. It was precisely for this reason and contrary to rumor that prisoners never worked in the ore mining industry. Workers there belong to the elite guard of miners. The regime of secrecy was reversed only in 2007. Then it was discovered that uranium deposits supply only 30% of the domestic energy market, while it could potentially supply the entire market. Military secrets The search for uranium deposits in Ukraine began in 1944, immediately after the liberation from German occupation. Thought the objectives at the time were mostly military, this gave a push-start to the development of the domestic uranium industry. Legend has it that Stalin once decided to see with his own eyes and touch the legendary chemical element. When he was brought a greyish-green metal, the leader clenched his fists and said with a light Georgian accent: "Oh, it’s warm!" It is not known how the radiation affected Stalin, but the nuclear industry in the USSR was always given privileged status in terms of financing. In 1945, the first industrial uranium deposits called Pervomaiske were discovered in the northern part of the Kryvorizhzhia region. In 1946, the Zhovtorichenske deposit was discovered. After that, both deposits became the major source of uranium mining in the USSR and the demand for uranium continued to grow. Prisoners never worked in the uranium ore mining industry. Workers here belong to the trusted elite guard of working class
When geologist Nikolai Smolin came to Kirovohrad in 1964 in the quest for uranium ore, 15 years of searching had passed. Geological Party No 47 was wasting time on studying the surrounding ravines and gullies. The searches brought geologists to the fields on the Vatutina public farm. Peacefully working farmers knew nothing about the deposits containing radioactive radon gas and lived to one hundred years of age. Smolin decided to drill a well in this place and by pure happenstance struck a rich deposit of uranium. Later this well was named Vatutinske. Soon a second deposit was discovered and Smolin was honored with a Hero of Socialist Labor and the country acquired the Inhulets and Smolinsk uranium mines. While today the reserves of uranium ore in 12 open deposits are enough to last for the next 100 years, there are undiscovered deposits and the incomplete Novokonstyantynivska mine seating on the largest deposit in Europe. Currently, the Inhulska and Smolinsk mines produce 800 tonnes of uranium per year, which puts Ukraine in the world’s top ten largest uranium producers. However, these mines have a capacity of 3,000 t a year, which would be sufficient to generate enough fuel for all nuclear power plants operating in Ukraine. And if the state takes full advantage of all the opportunities available, Ukraine can easily become a member of the world’s top five exporters of uranium. Technological secrets Uranium in Ukraine is produced at the Eastern Ore Enrichment Plant in Zhovti Vody and its main source is the mine in Smolinsk. While there are “No smoking” signs in the central administrative building and on the territory of the mine, smoking in uranium mines is safer than smoking in coal mines as the former do not contain explosive gases. Granite, which is the main component of rock, allows miners to not be preoccupied with walls and ceiling fixtures in mine shafts. However, although the mines are spacious and relatively dry, rain and ground waters pour into the main shafts that miners travel up and down in every day. The process of extraction of gray stone with a greenish patina seems quite casual. There is no mysterious glow in these mines and you won’t see miners wearing thick protective suits. The process is exactly the same as in a coal mine. Dodgy Swedish equipment can carry out the production process without human involvement. The extracted material is sent to the ore enrichment plant. Though these ore-processing technologies were developed in mid-1950s they are considered pretty advanced. Uranium extracted in Ukraine is 99.9% pure and Australians paid a special visit to Zhovti Vody to make sure it works fine before buying this technology. The processing of raw materials begins with the unloading of Hopper freight cars as fast as possible. This process takes less than a minute thanks to a special dump. The extracted ore is delivered to a mill where a large industrial grinder crushes stone. The crushed stone is then delivered to an autoclave, where it is treated with an acid solution. Then the uranium is dried, ignited and packed into a black powder in a sealed container. This process is accompanied by a pungent smell of ammonia. From there the raw material is sent to ore enrichment plants or warehouses in Russia. The remains are neutralized and fed to the tailings. Acid for the treatment of ore is produced at a sulphuric acid plant that produces fertilizers at the same time. When Stalin clenched a greyish-green mineral in his fists he said with a light Georgian accent: "Oh, it’s warm!"
The most peaceful atom Uranium prices on the world market are constantly on the rise. Over the past three years they have grown eight times and continue to grow. Modern-day uranium mining satisfies only 60% of the current demand for nuclear power in the world. The shortage is covered mostly by stockpiles and dismantled nuclear warheads. According to an IAEA forecast and the World Nuclear Association, the demand for uranium throughout the world will steadily grow. This is a good reason for optimism. In April it became known that a new research unit for the recycling of spent nuclear fuel will be built in Kharkiv. Ukraine will receive access to the latest technologies and save money on the disposal of old fuel and the purchase of new fuel. This is the price of the last 90 kilograms of enriched weapons-grade uranium that President Viktor Yanukovych promised to take out of the country. By the way Uranium ore has long been used as paint for painting on porcelain and pottery glazes and enamels. A small addition of uranium to the glass gives it a beautiful yellow-green fluorescence. Some compounds of uranium and sensitivity in the early 20th century were widely used to enhance negatives and toning photos. Depleted uranium is used for drilling oil wells, as well as the ballast weight in aerospace engineering and shipbuilding. For example, every Boeing 747 airplane contains 1,500 kg of depleted uranium. It is also used as ballast in space re-entry vehicles and the keels of racing yachts.

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