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Generating Low Carbon Renewable Energy on Closed Uranium Mine Sites

18 May 2020

Orano’s conversion of former uranium mines into renewable, low-carbon energy generation sites is an excellent example of post closure land use (element 3 of ICMM's 'Integrated Mine Closure: Good practice guide'). Identifying a sustainable post closure land use, in partnership with local communities and authorities, can result in economic benefits for the region as demonstrated at the Le Bosc site.

The closure of former uranium mines has many challenges, including environmental and human health considerations and potential limited land use capability. The Orano Group is committed to identifying sustainable solutions to these challenges, including by selecting former mine sites in France as locations for renewable and low carbon energy generation.

Leveraging the complementary relationship between nuclear and renewable energies, whilst giving a second lease of life to former mine sites, The Orano Group is working together with local stakeholders and other project sponsors to set-up photovoltaic farms on former mining and tailings (processing waste) disposal sites throughout the country. This approach guarantees a future for former mining sites and their integration into the region thanks to the development of economic and/or leisure activities, or the conservation of areas of special environmental interest.

One example is the Le Bosc site, located 50 km northwest of Montpellier in the South of France, between the towns of Bosc and Soumont in the Occitanie Region of France. The mine was operated from 1978 to 1997 and produced 14,630 metric tonnes of uranium concentrate and 4.1 million tonnes of tailings. The Orano Group finished remediation works in 2002, which included remediation of disturbed areas, shaping waste rock piles, covering tailings in the tailings management facilities and removing infrastructure.  Following a period of consultation and assessment of the environmental, hydraulic, radiological and geotechnical conditions, Orano demonstrated the compatibility for other economic activities to be established on the site.

For example, an economic framework for future land users was developed in collaboration with the communities and local authorities and in 2010, the site was reclassified as a Regional Industrial Park, and by 2014, a recycling company had established its facility in the former open pit and the first photovoltaic power station had been commissioned. The site is now home to two photovoltaic facilities (located on former open pit and waste rocks piles, with a third due to be commissioned in 2022), a recycling company, a laser stone cutting business and a sheet metal manufacturer. Around 70 jobs have been created from these industries, diversifying the economy of the area and providing enough renewable energy to power 9,000 homes.

By partnering with project sponsors, four photovoltaic power stations are in active production on former mine sites remediated by Orano across France. Orano plans to continue converting former mine sites using this economic framework and aims to produce enough renewable energy to power 65,000 homes by 2022.