Smolinskaya is an underground uranium mine located in the Kirovograd region of Ukraine. It is operated by Vostochny Integrated Mining and Concentrating Plant (VostGOK), a Ukrainian state-owned enterprise engaged in mining and processing natural uranium.
The Smolinskaya uranium mining operation is based on the Vatutinskoye deposit, which was discovered in 1965 and has been producing since 1975.
In January 2022, VostGOK announced plans to develop the residual reserves of natural uranium at Smolinskaya and start decommissioning the mine from 2023.
Uranium production at Smolinskaya
The underground mine has the capacity to produce up to 450,000 tonnes (t) of uranium ore a year. It produced 23.7 million tonnes (Mt) of uranium ore as of January 2022.
Location geology and mineralisation
The Smolinskaya uranium mine is located 80km west of Kirovograd in the Smolin village, Malovysk district, Kirovograd region, Ukraine.
Vatutinskoye is a hydrothermal-metasomatite deposit associated with the tectonomagmatic activity of the Precambrian Ukrainian shield, the south-west shield of the East European Craton (EEC).
Located in the central part of the Ukrainian shield, the orebodies of the Smolinskaya mine occur at a depth from 70m to 640m. The uranium mineralisation occurs as fine impregnation and micro veins in cataclic albitites, surrounded by rhodusite, phlogopite, chlorite, carbonate and haematite.
Mining and ore processing
The Smolinskaya mine employs underground mining method involving standard drill and fire operations to extract uranium ore, while hydration pack is used to backfill the mine-out space.
The extracted ore is transported by electric-powered trams to a crusher located underground. The crushed ore is then hoisted through one of the three sinking shafts to the surface for radiometric ore dressing and storage before being sent to a hydrometallurgical plant for further processing.
Each shaft is installed with stationary compressor terminals to support the drill and blast, and the minecar loading and unloading. The mine utilises PFL-20 loading and unloading vehicles supplied by German company PAUS.
Ore output of the Smolinskaya mine is transported by specially equipped trains to a hydrometallurgical plant in Zhelty Vody, which is located 150km to the west of the mine site.
It undergoes further crushing and radiometric sorting at the plant before sulphuric acid leaching in autoclaves at a temperature between 150ºC and 200ºC. The final uranium oxide concentrate is recovered through solvent extraction and ion exchange.
Zhelty Vody hydrometallurgical plant details
The hydrometallurgical plant, located at Zhelty Vody in the Dnepropetrovsk region in central Ukraine, is also operated by VostGOK.
The plant commenced production in January 1959 and has a design processing capacity of one million tonnes (Mt) of uranium ore a year.
VostGOK also operates a one million tonne per annum (Mtpa) sulphuric acid plant in Zolty Vody to support the acid leaching operations at the hydrometallurgical plant. The sulphuric acid plant was built in two stages in 1984 and 1987, respectively.
Other facilities at the hydrometallurgical uranium processing facility include a steam boiler house, ore unloading and product loading facilities, and a research laboratory.
Infrastructure facilities at the Smolinskaya mine include a crushing complex, a radiometric separation plant, a water treatment plant, sump pump, leachate settling tank, and a repair and mechanical plant.
The site also hosts two gas-fired hot air generators with automatic control system to heat the main and auxiliary mining shafts during the winter season.
VostGOK uranium mining and processing operations
Ukraine’s state-owned uranium mining and processing company, VostGOK was established in 1951 and operates three underground mines namely Ingulskaya, Smolinskaya and Novokostiantynivska.
The uranium ore output of all the three mines is sent to the Zhelty Vody hydrometallurgical processing plant to produce uranium oxide concentrate.
The Ingulskaya mine comprises the Michurinsk and Central uranium deposits discovered in 1967. The mining depth at Ingulskaya ranges from 160m to 420m. The annual ore production rate of the mine is 470,000t.
The Novokostiantynivska mine was discovered in 1975, while industrial production started in July 2011. Mining of Novokostiantynivska ore deposits is carried out at a depth from 180m to 300m and the mine has the capacity to produce up to 1.5Mtpa of uranium ore.
The Zhelty Vody hydrometallurgical plant supplies up to 40% of the uranium required for fuelling the three nuclear power plants operating in Ukraine.