Commissioning the plant
Investigations into selecting a suitable site for the treatment of the Radium Hill ore commenced in 1952. Construction of the Port Pirie uranium treatment plant was completed in August 1955.
The chemical treatment plant at Port Pirie consisted of three processes:
- Leaching of uranium concentrate to dissolve the uranium-bearing mineral
- batch process
- 98% sulfuric acid used in the digesters
- Separation of the liquid carrying the uranium from spent ore after leaching (counter current decantation plant)
- uranium-rich liquid was separated from the solids by passing through thickener
- washed, spent ore was mixed with waste liquid from the plant and pumped to the tailings dams
- Recovery of the uranium by precipitation of the uranium salt
- this material was dried using a hot blast type unit
- outgoing air passed through an electrostatic precipitation unit to remove uranium dust before discharging to the atmosphere
Port Pirie uranium treatment plant (circa 1955)
Analytical laboratory, Port Pirie uranium treatment plant (circa 1955)
Drum filter, Port Pirie uranium treatment plant (circa 1955)
Following decommissioning of the Port Pirie treatment plant site in 1962, attempts were made to establish alternative uses including the pursuit of rare earth elements. In subsequent years ongoing maintenance of the site has included covering much of the tailing dams with granulated slag from the neighbouring lead smelters; this has proved very effective in the minimisation of gamma radiation, radon emission and dust suppression.
The site is a registered premise under the Radiation Protection and Control Act 1982. A certificate of registration (license 50987) issued for the site by the Environment Protection Authority includes a number of conditions to ensure the ongoing protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. The development and implementation of an appropriate long-term management plan for the site will involve a number of phases discussed under Site management on the Port Pirie yearly site activities page.
Demolition of former laboratory on the Port Pirie treatment
plant site (2006)