Good progress in safety and environmental affairs

The number of lost-time injuries dropped significantly in 2016, and the target set for the amount of water stored at the mine was nearly reached. 

When Terrafame began operations in autumn 2015, developing company safety culture was selected as one of the key focus areas. Another key goal was to reduce the risks associated with water management. Excellent progress was made in both respects during 2016. 

The management system was built as planned 

The ability to perform one's work safely and effectively is founded on being systematic. Terrafame's management system was built according to plan during the year under review. 

When operations began in autumn 2015, certain targets and practices for budgeting and monitoring costs were set for Terrafame. These targets were specified and practices developed during 2016. The key tasks for building the management system included, for example, describing the various production and support processes, determining objectives and indicators, and establishing the practices for meetings and reporting. Systematic practices were also created for project management.

The systematisation of operations was also extended to partners. The processes for purchasing and procurement were developed and, among other requirements, the safety standards required by Terrafame were determined. Audits of 10 key contractual partners, with safety as the main priority, were conducted during 2016.

The building of the management system reached the external auditing phase in October–November. In the external audit, experts from DGS Finland evaluated the functionality of Terrafame's management system and its conformity with the requirements of the standards. The external audit proceeded as planned, and in February 2017, Terrafame was awarded certifications for its quality management (ISO 9001 : 2015), environmental management (ISO 14 001 : 2015), and occupational health and safety management (BS OHSAS 18001: 2007) systems.

Safety culture developed in the right direction

The systematic development of a safety culture was launched already in 2015, and the work continued actively throughout 2016. During 2016, weekly safety rounds, safety meetings and lessons-learned discussions became part of the weekly routines at Terrafame. In addition, management training aimed at better safety management was organised for all supervisors. 

During 2016, a total of 9 lost-time injuries happened to Terrafame's employees, making the lost-time injury frequency (LTIFR) 8.6 injuries per million hours worked. This was not far from the targeted LTIFR, which was set at less than 7.0. Although the target was not reached, progress was made compared to the end of 2015 when the LTIFR was 23.3. In 2017, the LTIFR has continued to develop in the right direction.

Systematic promotion of safety work was also initiated with business partners operating at the mining site and in the plant area. Quarterly meetings have been organised for representatives of all key partners. The key themes discussed at the meetings have been safety and the operating practices required by Terrafame. 

Although safety work has been promoted with business partners, the LTIFR of partners operating at Terrafame's sites during the year under review was 19.4. The promotion of safety at work among partners will be intensified during 2017.

Risk level of water management reduced significantly

Terrafame began operations in August 2015 under very difficult circumstances. Approximately 10 million cubic metres of water was stored at the mining area, and the safety ponds for the bioleaching solution were full. As a result, the risks associated with water management and leaching solution management were high. 

In order to ensure dam safety, the company had to resort to additional discharges at the end of 2015 and again in the spring of 2016. Additional discharges were used to release purified water that met all the concentration limits set in the environmental permit through old discharge routes and the Nuasjärvi discharge pipe. Due to the discharges, the sulphate concentration of the old routes exceeded the maximum limit set in the environment permit. Despite the additional discharges, the amount of water stored at the mining area at the end of the spring flood season was very close to the maximum limit.

The amount of water stored at the mining area dropped rapidly during the summer and autumn of 2016. This was mostly due to the use of the Nuasjärvi discharge pipe at full capacity, the binding of water to stacked ore, the efficient use of the reverse osmosis plant, and the additional evaporation caused by bioleaching. Since March 2016, the effluent from the reverse osmosis plant has been released to bioleaching circulation. In 2016, 5,700 tonnes of sulphate was released back to the leaching heaps with the effluent. The amount of water stored at the mining area fell throughout the summer and autumn, so that at the end of the year, the amount of stored water was down to 3.8 million cubic metres. 

Valid permits enabled the ramp-up of the mine

At the beginning of 2016, all the key environmental permit processes relating to operations at the mine were waiting for a decision by the Vaasa Administrative Court. On 28 April 2016, the Vaasa Administrative Court issued its decisions on the mining operations (including the recovery of uranium), the discharge pipe into Lake Nuasjärvi, and the treated waters to be released to the old routes in the direction of Oulujoki and Vuoksi rivers. After the decision of the Vaasa Administrative Court, the processing of the permits has continued at the Supreme Administrative Court, which is expected to issue its decisions during 2017. 

The sulphate quota set for the Nuasjärvi discharge pipe by the Administrative Court was 15,000 tonnes per year, which was clearly lower than the quota set in the permit issued by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Northern Finland. In 2016, less than 14,000 tonnes of the quota was used, i.e., the quota was sufficient and enabled the reduction of the amount of water stored at the mining area, which was essential for safely implementing the ramp-up of the mine. 

In its decisions issued in April 2016, the Vaasa Administrative Court required Terrafame to apply for new environmental permits by the end of August 2017. The existing permits remain valid until the new permits enter into force. 

With a view to any future permit processes, Terrafame launched two EIA (environmental impact assessment) procedures in the autumn of 2016. The EIA procedure for water management reached the report preparation phase in 2016. Terrafame also submitted an EIA programme for continued mining operations and their development as well as an alternative for implementing a managed closure of the mine, to the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for the Kainuu region, for gathering statements and opinions. The EIA procedures are scheduled for completion during the spring and summer of 2017. The new environmental permit applications will be submitted to the Regional State Administrative Agency for Northern Finland within the time limit prescribed by the Vaasa Administrative Court.

Veli-Matti Hilla

Chief Sustainability Officer, Terrafame Ltd.