Namibian uranium output to jump as exploration surges

Namibian uranium output to jump as exploration surges

JOHN GROBLER (The Namibian)

NAMIBIA plans to open four new uranium mines by 2010 that will boost its output to 10 per cent of world production, a response to a boom in uranium exploration last seen during the energy crisis of the 1970s.
We get enquiries on a daily basis from people wanting to invest in uranium - the interest is huge," Namibian Mining Commissioner Erasmus Shivolo told Reuters.

Namibia is one of only three African producers of uranium, which is mainly used to fuel commercial nuclear power plants.

The others are Niger and South Africa.

The three countries made Africa the world's top producer of uranium in 1980, after exploration flourished on the continent due to robust prices.

Many companies left Africa later when prices of uranium oxide U3O8 crashed, but a surge in prices in the last five years has renewed interest in its uranium deposits.

"Uranium has become the flavour of the year, and promises to become the flavour of the decade," Mark Dawes, head of Namibia's Chamber of Mines wrote in his 2007 review.

Some of the global firms driving the expansion in the country include Rio Tinto's Roessing Uranium mine, in production since 1976 and which was previously due to close in 2009.

Around 4 700 tonnes of U3O8 is now expected this year and the company is doubling the mine's size to extend its life to 2016 in a US$112 million upgrading and expansion project.

Roessing, a large open-pit uranium mine, is the largest low-grade uranium producer in the world and by July 2003 had produced 100 000 tonnes, said Managing Director Mike Leech.

Nearby is the Langer Heinrich mine, owned by Australia's Paladin, which in August shipped out its first consignment of yellowcake of what the firm promises will be 2,6 million pounds in output yearly.

Two more mines, UraMin's Trekkopje and Forsys Metal's Valencia mines, are set for commissioning by 2009, with Trekkopje aiming for a 500 000 lb per annum production during a trial period.

It is expected to become one of the 10 largest such mines eventually, the company has said.

UraMin is a unit of France's Areva, focused on mining in Africa.

Valencia, a joint venture between Canadian junior Forsys Metals and the Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), expects to produce 2,9 million pounds of yellowcake once its mine is fully operational by end 2010.

Three more uranium mines, situated in a 250-km arc around Roessing, are also expected to go into production in the near future, said Heike Smith, industry analyst for IJG Securities in Windhoek.

Smith, who said the country was poised to produce 10 per cent of global uranium by 2010, added that in total, at least 20 junior mining companies were active in the exploratory stages of mining as Namibia's vast but low-grade deposits have suddenly become attractive since 2002.

The country last month approved two new uranium-mining licences and 38 Exclusive Prospecting Licences (EPLs), while many more applications for nuclear fuels remained pending.

In February this year, Mines Minister Errki Nghimtina imposed a moratorium on all new licences, citing water and energy constraints as all the new mines are in the arid Erongo Region, also home to Namibia's fishing industry at Walvis Bay and its prime holiday resort Swakopmund.

Lucky local licence holders have made fortunes as concessions have passed hands for huge sums.

UraMin has agreed with water utility Namwater to set up a desalination plant on the coast at a cost of about US$110 million, adding 40 million cubic metres of water a year, and doubling the total local consumption, Wotan Swiegers, principal health advisor to the Chamber of Mines and uranium industry.

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