A week ago, no one would have thought that the Namibian government would grant UraMin Inc. – a wholly owned subsidiary of French mega nuclear reactor builder Areva – a mining license to extract the south west African country’s rich yellowcake resources.
Last week, a senior official warned that the government would be forced to take action noting a tendency by some companies of selling Exclusive Prospecting Licences (EPLs). The official cited UraMin, which was acquired by Areva last year, saying the government had not been informed of its pending acquisition.
But on Wednesday, all this had been forgiven and the government decided to grant Areva a mining license for the Trekkopje Uranium Project in front of every eye to see – in front of both the print and electronic media – paving the way for a mine that could turn out to be the country’s biggest and No. 10 in the world.
The government could not resist the US$900-million plus investment Areva had brought into the country and the numerous jobs that the mine would create for its citizens when Trekkopje comes on stream on July 1. The investment has also resulted in the revival of plans build a desalination plant, which had been in limbo for several years, in a move likely to boost the desert country’s fresh water supplies.
Scoring another first for an international investor in the country, Areva brought with its investment a scholarship scheme that will take Namibians to France for further training in mining and nuclear dynamics, resulting in Minister of Mines and Energy Erkki Nghimtina saying that this was within the country’s Vision 2030, its development blueprint aimed at “improving the quality of life for the people of Namibia to the levels of their counterparts in the developed world by 2030”.
“It represents yet another milestone in our quest to achieve the goals set for national development in Vision 2030,” Nghimtina told local media.
Namibia is Africa’s second largest producer of uranium after Niger and the country accounts for 10% of the world’s production.
Trekkopje, located about 70 kilometres east of the coastal town of Swakopmund, will be the country’s third uranium producing mine after Rössing – owned 68% by Rio Tinto – and Paladin Energy’s Langer Heinrich, when it comes on stream. The first shipment of yellowcake is expected in 2009 when it will be ramped up to produce 8.5-million pounds (3,850 tons) of uranium oxide per year over 10 to 12 years, UraMin’s Managing Director Iain Macpherson said.
“The uranium project could become the biggest in the country, and No. 10 in the world. It will also be one of the top five low cost, open pit operations in the world,” he told Mineweb.
Besides supplying Areva’s world nuclear reactor building programme, UraMin says it has secured a market in energy-hungry China for 35 percent of its produce.
The licensing of Trekkopje mine, nevertheless, comes the same day Ninham Shand Consulting Services – an international consulting engineering firm – announced plans to build a coal-fired power plant at Walvis Bay in Namibia with a capacity to produce as much as 800 megawatts of electricity to meet the growing demand from the country’s uranium mines.
“The west coast of Namibia is experiencing significant economic growth in the Erongo region, mainly as a result of the industrial developments related to uranium exploration and mining,” the firm said in an e-mail sent to the media on Wednesday morning.
UraMin says it has been assured of 80 percent of the 85 megawatts required to run the mine by state-owned power utility, NamPower, which is currently relying on sporadic electricity supplies from South Africa and an assured 80 megawatts from Zimbabwe.
Although relatively low grade (at 0.014%) the Trekkopje deposit is vast and has an estimated 502-million tons of uranium oxide resource. Independent consultants SRK have described it as world-class claiming that it may be the largest calcrete deposit in the world in terms of the tonnage of mineralised material and contained tonnes of U3O8.
SRK says about 80% of the resource is within 15 metres of the surface. UraMin commenced a two-year Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) in August 2006 and has drilled some 9,400 metres. Recent results have been encouraging, suggesting that the resource could be significantly deeper and larger than originally defined.
Further exploration is currently underway, said Macpherson, with the intention of extending the project’s life of mine.