Selective Dissolution of Radionuclides from a Copper Flotation Concentrate Using Two–Stage Leaching Process

Additonal authors: Lakemond, Stefan. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Fu, Weng

Uranium bearing copper sulphide flotation concentrates produced from iron oxide copper gold uranium (IOCG–U) ore contains radionuclides such as 238U, 230Th, 210Pb, 226Ra, 210Po, which have the potential to reduce their marketability, thus posing a challenge to the industry. Thus, a two–stage leach process has been proposed in this study. In first stage, a sulphuric acid leach process effectively dissolve most of the 238U and 230Th into solution, but other radionulclides (mainly 210Pb, 226Ra and 210Po) remain associated with copper sulphide minerals owing to their low solubilities in sulphuric acid solution. In the second leaching stage, the use of methanesulfonic acid (MSA, CH3SO3H) is investigated to selectively dissolve the 210Pb, 226Ra and 210Po from the residue of the first stage. The results indicate that 96% of 238U, 87% of 230Th, 90% of 210Pb, 86% of 226Ra and 17% of 210Po are dissolved using 3 mol/L MSA solution at 90°C for 3 hours, which represents a dramatic decrease in the radioactivity of the copper concentrate. INTRODUCTION Australia is host to one of the largest iron oxide copper–gold–uranium (IOCG–U) deposits in the world. Most of the value in these deposits is associated with copper. In mineral processing, the gangue minerals are separated from copper sulphide minerals that report to a copper flotation concentrate. However, due to the strong association of uranium with copper minerals and hematite, even clean copper concentrates can contain significant amounts of uranium (238U) and its radioactive decay elements, of which thorium (230Th), radium (226Ra), lead (210Pb), and polonium (210Po) are the long life radionuclides. These hazardous radionuclides negatively affect the marketability of the copper concentrates. Customer copper smelters in China, Japan and Europe may consider the radionuclides penalty elements or may not be able to process the feed. Therefore, there is a strong motivation to remove radionuclides from copper concentrates at the mine site before shipping to custom smelters in global market. Hydrometallurgical leaching has been widely employed to remove radionuclides from different kinds of minerals such as copper concentrates (Ragozzini & Sparrow, 1987), zircon concentrates (Aral, Sparrow, McDonald, & Norgate, 2007), and coal ash (Lei, Qi, Sun, Xu, & Wang, 2014). Leaching using sulphuric acid (H2SO4) solutions is the most widely used process for the extraction of uranium from uranium ores due to the relatively low cost and wide availability of the acid (Bhargava et al., 2015; Gilligan & Nikoloski, 2015). The leach process involves treating ground ore slurry with sulphuric acid at elevated temperatures (typically 60–90 °C) under oxidising conditions in order to convert the uranium in the minerals 2+ from the relatively insoluble tetravalent form (UO2) into water–soluble hexavalent state (UO2), which then complexes with SO42- and forms UO2(SO4)22- in solution. The uranium oxidation is generally carried out in the presence of ferric ion (Fe3+), regardless of the reagent and oxidant used. The most commonly used oxidants for uranium include sodium chlorate, pyrolusite and oxygen (Ring, 1980). These oxidants act indirectly by converting ferrous sulphate, formed by the oxidation reaction of UO2 in slurries, into ferric sulphate. The presence of Fe–containing gangue minerals such as hematite in the ore usually provides sufficient Fe required for the oxidation of UO2. After sulphuric acid leaching, the locked thorium (230Th), radium (226Ra), lead (210Pb), and polonium (210Po) elements are chemically liberated from hematite and uranium mineral grains (Ciobanu, Wade, Cook, Schmidt Mumm, & Giles, 2013). However, the extraction rate of radium (226Ra), lead (210Pb), and polonium (210Po) in sulphate solution is very low due to the limited solubilities of (Ra, Pb, Po)SO4 (Bagnall & Freeman, 1956; Liu & Papangelakis, 2006; Nikitin & Tolmachev, 1933).
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019