Berkeley Energia Ltd announced on 11 August that it had been granted a land-use permit, known as an Urbanism Licence (UL), for its Retortillo uranium project by the relevant municipal authorities in Castilla y León, Spain. The permit is needed for construction works at the Salamanca mine it is developing 70 km west of Madrid. Berkeley Energia said receiving the UL is a significant permitting milestone and a positive step in the development of the project.
The Authorisation for Construction for the uranium concentrate plant as a radioactive facility (NSC II) is now the only pending approval required to begin full construction of the mine. In late March 2020, the company submitted updated documentation relating to this authorisation and has held a series of meetings via teleconference calls with the Nuclear Safety Council (NSC) technical team to discuss and clarify outstanding queries. NSC has asked Berkeley for written responses to these queries, which will be submitted in the coming weeks.
Following submission of the written responses, the next step in the process is for the NSC technical team to finalise its report and submit it to the NSC Board for ratification. In July, the NSC issued a favourable report for the extension of the validity of the Initial Authorisation for the uranium concentrate plant as a radioactive facility (NSC I), which was granted in September 2015, with a five-year validity period. The next step is for the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge to approve this authorisation and set its duration period.
Berkely said it “will continue to engage with the relevant authorities in a collaborative manner and maintain strong engagement with all key stakeholders in Spain, as it progresses the approvals required to commence full construction of the Salamanca mine and bring it into production”.
The large scale uranium area has the potential to support a long-life mining operation, with near-surface, high-grade deposits for very low operating costs, the company noted, adding that the project will generate measurable social and environmental benefits in the form of jobs and skills training in a depressed rural community. It believes the project will also make a significant contribution to the security of supply of Europe’s zero-carbon energy needs.
The Retortillo deposit, together with the Santitad and Gambuta deposits, forms Berkeley's Salamanca project and is the first resource from which production is scheduled to begin. The Salamanca project has 59.8 million pounds U3O8 (23,000 tU) of measured and indicated resources as well as inferred resources of 29.6 million pounds of U3O8.
A pre-feasibility study was completed in 2013 and updated in 2015 by including the resources from the Zona 7 deposit. The definitive feasibility study was completed in July 2016 and the initial construction works began in July 2017. The study indicated that the project would be capable of producing an average of 4.4 million pounds of uranium a year at a cash cost of $13.30 per pound over an initial ten-year period. The overall investment to bring the project into production is estimated at $81.4m.
Berkeley also intends to move into battery and electric vehicle metals on the deposit. The first phase of a 13-hole programme will see six holes drilled, with the company targeting lithium, cobalt, tin, tungsten and rare earths - several of which have previously been mined in commercial quantities in the area.
The deposits are proposed to be mined using conventional open-pit and transfer mining methods, integrating hydraulic excavators, haul trucks, and drill and blast operations. The transfer mining method will enable the open-pits to be continuously backfilled, reducing waste dump volumes and waste re-handling.
A centralised processing plant will be located at the Retortillo site. The proposed process flowsheet for the project includes crushing, screening, agglomeration, stacking and heap leaching using on-off leach pads, uranium recovery and purification by solvent extraction, ammonium diuranate precipitation, and calcination.
The electricity required for the project is being sourced from the neighbouring Spanish National Distribution Grid, with the Alameda deposit site connected via a 13km-long, 45kV powerline, whereas the required water is being sourced from boreholes and rainwater harvesting facilities at the site.
Berkeley Energia invested €70m ($77.9m) in the Salamanca project up to October 2017 and is investing an additional €250m to support project construction. The Oman Investment Fund signed an agreement in October 2017 to provide a $120m sovereign wealth fund of the Sultanate of Oman agreed in the project. In September 2016,
Berkeley Energia signed a five-year off-take agreement with Interalloys Trading for the sale of 2m pounds of uranium concentrate from the project. The agreement has an option to extend the volume to 3m pounds.