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Heathgate Resources

Heathgate Resources formed in 1990, is the owner and operator of the Beverley Uranium Mine in Northern South Australia. Beverley is Australia's third Uranium Mine and Australia's only operating In Situ Recovery Mine. Beverley is the most advanced In Situ Recovery mine in the world and plays a significant role in South Australia’s resource development industry, providing;

  • Employment Opportunities
  • Royalties to the State and Aboriginal Communities; and
  • Clean energy for the world

Heathgate Beverly MapThis map shows the location of the Beverley Uranium Mine. The deposit is 300km North East of Port Augusta and more than 600 kilometers from Adelaide. Beverley lies on the plains about 35 km from Lake Frome. Heathgate staff based at Beverley generally work a fly in fly out roster with eight days on and six days off. Staff are flown to and from the site in the company aircraft from either Adelaide or Port Augusta.

Staff accommodation is in single rooms with toilet and shower facilities. Meals are provided in a fully equipped mess with recreational facilities for the workforces use.

All Heathgate personnel undergo a site induction and are encouraged to increase their skill level to enable promotion to more senior levels.

In Situ Recovery Mining

ISR Click for EnlargementThe ISR process represents an internationally recognised, low-impact and environmentally sensitive method of mining.  Since it was first developed, the ISR process has evolved into an economically viable, safe, and environmentally responsible method for mining particular uranium ore bodies, including small, narrow, or low grade deposits that otherwise would not support conventional open-cut or underground mining operations.

Beverley is an ideal ISR mining target. The ore body is contained in sandy sediments within a confined aquifer below the water table. While the water is under pressure, it is completely surrounded by impermeable clay layers. By comparison, the pressure within the Beverley aquifer is much less than the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin. In addition, the uranium ore is chemically bonded in place and cannot move up, down or laterally.

In its simplest terms, the Beverley Mining operation is a water pumping activity. It involves adjusting the pH level of the water in a uranium bearing aquifer and dissolving the uranium present in the host rock “in situ”. The uranium-bearing liquid is then pumped to the surface and chemically treated to recover the uranium without the need for excavation or mining in the conventional sense. When the uranium is removed, the mining solution is reinjected and recirculated through the aquifer until the recoverable uranium in the aquifer has been extracted between 50 to 100 times. There is no need for large, open pits or the shafts or tunnels of underground mines. Nor is there a need for large processing plants and tailings ponds.

Heathgate 2The wellfields, plant and associated infrastructure have been designed to ensure that the mine creates minimal visual impact on the horizon.  While there are regular shipments of supplies, reagents and uranium, they are infrequent. About ten times a year, five or six shipping containers packed with drums of yellowcake are loaded onto trucks and transported to Port Adelaide for transportation via vessel or on rail to Darwin to converters overseas.

On completion of the project, all process facilities and infrastructure will be removed and the surface returned to its original contour and vegetation. In the meantime, there will be only minimal surface disturbance, existing flora and fauna will be protected and the health and safety of workers will be maintained to the highest standards and legislation.

The mining process is basically a water pumping exercise.  A weak sulphuric acid solution –around the same acidity as many things we drink - is pumped through the underground ore body between 100 and 140 metres below ground.

This solution mobilizes the uranium minerals that are then pumped to the processing plant for processing into uranium oxide (also termed) yellowcake. Beverley is being mined by sulphate recovery chemistry, using a weak sulphuric acid solution as the leaching agent. ISR mines consist of two major elements, a wellfield and a processing plant.

The Wellfield

Wellfields consist of groups of injection and extraction wells, similar to common water bores. They are constructed with tubular PVC casing that is cemented in place using acid-resistant cement.

Perforated zones near the bottom of the well in the ore body enable the mining solution to be passed through the aquifer, dissolving the uranium, while submersible pumps in the extraction wells bring the uranium-bearing solution to the surface for treatment.

Patterns of injection and extraction wells are drilled into the uranium bearing aquifer. 

Heathgate 3The weak sulphuric acidic solution is pumped through the injection well to the aquifer to dissolve the uranium, in place. Extraction wells then pump the dissolved uranium to the surface where the uranium is extracted before the groundwater is re-injected and the process continued.

Slightly more water is usually extracted than injected to create a zone of depression centred on the mining activity. The small inflow caused by this zone of depression ensures that no mining solutions escape.

Monitor wells are installed around the perimeter of the aquifer and surrounding aquifers to ensure that the fluids injected into the mining zone are restricted to the area being mined and do not escape to other aquifers.  The monitor wells are periodically sampled to ensure mining solutions are not moving beyond the limits of the ore zone or outside the mining aquifer.

In the unlikely event that the monitor wells detect mining solution, the system will shut down automatically to minimise impact to the environment

The Processing Plant

ISR processing plants comprise two fundamental sections: capture and recovery.

The capture circuit is a series of columns containing ion exchange resin, which captures the dissolved uranium and separates it from the mining solution. In many ways the process is similar to a home water softener, except in this instance the resin in the ISL columns is removing uranium instead of other minerals.

Once captured, the uranium is extracted from the resin by reversing the capture process. The resultant liquid is then treated with chemicals that cause the uranium to be precipitated as a flaky solid. Most of the water is then removed to produce uranium oxide (yellowcake), which is dried in a low temperature vacuum dryer and packaged in sealed drums for shipment overseas to companies in countries that have formalized bi-lateral safeguards agreements (non-proliferation agreements) with the Australia government.. The uranium oxide needs to go through many additional processes before it can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors to produce electricity.

Heathgate 1The entire Beverley operation is not only closely scrutinised by Heathgate Resources but also various government agencies. The wellfields and processing plant are continuously monitored by an advanced computer system staffed 24-hours by trained operators. The computer system enables plant operators to observe how the aquifer is reacting, flow rates of solutions to and from the plant, and uranium recovery. Data is assessed up to 100 times a minute, with the technologically advanced computer system incorporating a failsafe automatic shutdown of the plant and well fields in the unlikely event of any malfunction.