Paladin Energy is to go ahead with the third stage of an expansion at its Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia. The expansion should be completed by September 2010.
|Mine operations at Langer Heinrich (Image: Paladin Energy)
The expansion will see nominal production capacity increase to 5.2 million pounds U3O8 (2000 tU) per year and follows on from a program to expand output to 3.7 million pounds U3O8 (1423 tU) per year, which is currently in its final phases and due to ramp up to full production within weeks. The mine started up at the end of 2006, reaching its initial nameplate production rate of 2.6 million pounds U3O8 (1000 tU) per year in the third quarter of 2008.
In a formal announcement by the Australian company, managing director and CEO John Borshoff said that the Stage III expansion had been revised downwards slightly from original plans for 6 million pounds U3O8 (2300 tU) per year to enable the expansion to go ahead using existing water allowances and power supply infrastructure. However, he noted that the 5.2 million pounds capacity was based on a "conservative" water consumption figure, and said that the company is confident that water availability will improve by the end of 2011, making further expansion possible.
The $17 million Stage III expansion will require upgrades to the uranium processing plant at the open-pit mine, in particular to the crushing and scrubbing plant. In addition, an additional leaching plant, two more counter current decantation thickening tanks and additional capacity to the ion exchange circuit will be needed. Procurement and delivery of the new scrubber, which the company estimates will take about 12 months, is likely to be the main driving force behind the expansion schedule, so Paladin says it is currently focusing on an early placement of an order. Provisions for expansion in other parts of the processing plant had already been allowed for in the currently ongoing Stage II expansion.
Reserves and stockpiles at the site are currently sufficient to keep the mine operating for 12-13 years, says Paladin, but the company expects future drilling work to enable it to upgrade inferred resources at the mine, making a mine life of over 20 years likely at current ore grades of 800 ppm U3O8, with stockpiles of lower grade ore available beyond that.
In addition to Langer Heinrich, Paladin operates the recently opened Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi and has various uranium projects in Australia. Its self-avowed strategy is to become a "major uranium mining house".