Uramin's Trekkopje uranium mine due to start up this year, but power could be problem
UraMin's Trekkopje Uranium Project in Namibia, which may come on stream in July, could become the country's biggest uranium mine and one of the world's largest producers.
Posted: Monday , 18 Feb 2008
The provision of reliable power this year may turn out to be one of the stumbling blocks for UraMin Inc.'s Trekkopje Uranium Project in Namibia coming on stream, but the subsidiary of French mega nuclear builder Areva is adamant that it will start producing at the property this year.
It 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 in July, a month later than scheduled, with the first shipment of yellow cake expected sometime in 2009, UraMin Managing Director Bert Leathley told local media this week.
But NamPower, the national power utility, has indicated that it may only be able to supply new mining projects with electricity in 2009, as it awaits the completion of a generator refurbishment project in Zimbabwe and improved supplies from Zambia.
Namibia, which imports 40 percent of its energy requirements from South Africa where a crunch has results in mining companies operating below capacity, is scrambling to find alternatives, which like the Zimbabwe project - sponsored at US$50-million - may only be ready by early 2009. It is currently bracing itself for an imminent crash of its system.
Leathley said that UraMin is currently locked in negotiations with NamPower to secure a firm power supply arrangement for the new mine.
With its 100%-onwed Trekkopje property admittedly in a desert region, high water costs are likely to make uranium mining costly and uneconomic for UraMin. A desalination plant, which is being built jointly with water utility NamWater, may only be completed in the second half of 2009, Leathley told the weekly Namibia Economist.
Besides supplying Areva's world nuclear reactor building programme, UraMin is yet to secure other markets for its yellow cake.
But the uranium project could become the biggest in the country, and No. 10 in the world. Leathley said US$920-million would be pumped into the project to bring it into production. It will also be one of the top five low cost, open pit operations in the world.
The company expects the property, which is located about 70 kilometres east of the coastal town of Swakopmund and quite close of Rössing and Langer Heinrich, to produce about 8.5-million pounds of uranium oxide (3,850 tonnes) a year.
Although relatively low grade (at 0.014%) the Trekkopje deposit is vast, with the resource estimated at 502-million tons of uranium oxide. Independent consultants SRK have described it as world-class claiming that it may be the largest calcrete deposit in the world in terms of tonnage of mineralised
material and contained tonnes of U3O8.
SRK said 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.
Rössing Uranium, which has been in production since 1976 and accounts for 7.7% of the world's uranium, is currently planning a programme - at a cost of US$112-million - that will ramp up output towards an annual capacity of 4,500 tonnes of yellow cake, which is roughly 12.5% higher than output in 2007.
At the US$92-million Langer Heinrich Uranium mine, which came online in December 2006, work is progressing towards a year-end schedule to meet the capacity target of 3.7 million pounds (1,680 tonnes) of uranium oxide a year.
But UraMin has big plans. It aims to be among the world's top four producers within six years, mining more than 5,000 tonnes a year of uranium oxide. And this will depend on also bringing its Ryst Kuil Uranium Project in South Africa and its 90%-owned Bakouma in Central African Republic on stream by the end of 2010.