Thorium Refinery Plant
Thorium Refinery Project ThRP
History of Steenkampskraal
Steenkampskraal, located approximately 350 km north of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa has an interesting history. The monazite deposit, which has the highest grade thorium and rare earth elements (REE) presently known in the world; the average grade of the ore is about 2.5% thorium and 20% rare earths; was discovered in the late 1940s, and then mined by Monazite & Mineral Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anglo American, from 1953. The mine produced the fuel for the thorium- based nuclear power reactors operating at the time. However, by the late 1960s these reactors were decommissioned as uranium reactors were built, and the market for thorium collapsed. The Steenkampskraal mine closed in 1963, and Monazite & Mineral Ventures was liquidated in 1967.
The mine will consist of different ore treatment sections, one being the processing of rare earth elements which will be undertaken by SMM, and another section being the thorium purification plant which will be undertaken by STL. After the thorium is purified to nuclear grade purity, the thorium will be converted into a stable oxide and stored in containers until it is used in the relevent thorium nuclear fuel processing facilities.
STL has embarked on a programme to develop the technology to extract thorium from the REE concentrate and then to purify the material. By partnering with a South African company, we aim to first carry out laboratory test trials which will then be followed with pilot plant testing; the proposed state of the art technology shall be proven.
After successful test trials, a complete engineering design for the thorium refinery shall then be carried out by STL who will build, install, commission and operate the refinery.