Production of high purity uranium at a South African gold mine

06 Sep 2018

The chemistry of the Bufflex solvent-extraction process is described. Uranium is extracted by a tertiary amine solvent, from which the impurities are removed by means of dilute ammonia, and the uranium is stripped by an ammonium sulphate strip. In the pilot plant, these processes are carried out in mixer-settlers. Details of pumps, flow controllers, and materials of construction are given. The operation of the extraction, scrub, strip, precipitation and thickening, and regeneration sections is described. Comparative tests on the elution of ion-exchange resin with 10% sulphuric acid, and with nitrate, are described. The results of resin analyses and plant tests are given. A breakdown of the costs of reagents in the Bufflex process, compared with the conventional process, is given. It is concluded that a solvent-extraction process treating the sulphuric acid eluate from ion-exchange columns is technically feasible. As regards the resin itself, elution with 10% sulphuric acid is satisfactory. There is more polythionate build-up than with nitrate elution, and the capacity of the resin is slightly lower, but the difference is small. The operating cost of the Bufflex process is cheaper by at least 5 cents/lb U3O8 produced. The product satisfies the most stringent specification for nuclear-grade uranium, except as regards cobalt, molybdenum, silicon, and hafnium