Expanding and extending Rossing

28 August 2007

Rio Tinto would like to expand operations at its Rossing uranium mine in Namibia to adjacent areas and extend the life of the mine to 2021.

A public information document released by the mining giant has outlined its proposed plans for further developing the Rossing mine, from production rates of 3617 tonnes of uranium oxide per year to 4500 tonnes per year. The first phase in expansion would see the opening of a small ore body dubbed SK4, which lies 1 km to the east of the current open-pit mine.

The SK4 development would add a supplementary source of ore without entailing significant modifications to current operations, water use or rock waste disposal. This could happen next year.

The SK4 ore body is one of a number in the area, which were discovered in the early 1970s but not developed when the mine began operation in 1976. With the recent spike in the uranium price, which took the spot market to $138/lb U3O8 in June, these additional areas are now considered economic and are under investigation.

Rio Tinto also plans to demolish a mothballed pyrite-burning acid plant on site and replace it with a new sulphuric acid facility, complete with sulphur storage and transport facilities. It could be possible to use heat from the acid plant for other chemical processes on site or to generate electricity. The addition of radiometric ore sorting is also proposed, although this could require a new waste rock dump.
These developments would also occur in 2008 as part of the first phase of expansion.

A second phase of development is to be studied during 2008, which would include the possible addition of a heap leaching process for low-grade ore, possibly requiring larger disposal and drying areas. The opening of other pits in the SK area as well as SH - to the west of the current main pit - would be investigated.

Although the continued operation of the Rossing mine was under threat at the end of 2003, two years later its operational life was extended to 2016 with potential to extend further to 2021, which Rio Tinto now proposes.

The plans are subject to a number of assessments, chiefly a Social and Environment Impact Assessment, but also an independent review, a Sustainable Development Risk Assessment, a legal review, Rio Tinto's own review and public participation - which has already started.

The Namibian government holds 3% of the Rossing Uranium company's stock, but enjoys 51% of the voting rights.

Further information

Rio Tinto

Rossing Uranium

WNA's Uranium in Namibia information paper