Namibia regulating uranium, planning for nuclear

04 March 2008

Namibia has established a Uranium Stewardship Committee to help provide a legal framework for monitoring the country's uranium mining industry. It is also planning to develop a regulatory framework to enable it to embark on its own nuclear power programme in the future.

The Uranium Stewardship Committee (USC), announced by Namibia's Chamber of Mines, has as its primary mandate the task of ensuring Namibia's uranium mining sector is able to operate within an environment of policy certainty and fit-for-purpose regulatory and compliance arrangements. It will also ensure that the sector receives recognition as an operationally responsible industry.

Dr Wotan Swiegers, principal adviser to the Swakopmund-based committee, said the USC had been established in line with the World Nuclear Association's stewardship principles which advocate collective responsibility and commitment by all players to the safe and responsible management of the uranium product. "We believe that the Chamber's initiatives will ensure that the image of Namibia is upheld as a world class uranium producer with best practices in occupational health and environmental management," he added.

Namibia's identified uranium resources represent about 7% of the world's total. Uranium mining has taken place at Rio Tinto's Rössing mine for over 30 years, which produced some 8% of world uranium output in 2006. In early 2007, the country's second uranium mine, Paladin's Langer Heinrich, started production in late 2006 and Areva's Trekkopje is expected to start production in mid-2008.

The uranium exploration and mining industry in Namibia has a collective responsibility for leading practice in the stewardship of its product, according to Michael Leech, managing director of Rössing Uranium. Leech, who has been appointed as the chairman of the USC, added: "We are taking action to back up that awareness, to build confidence in our industry and to provide leadership to others."

Meanwhile, Namibia's Ministry of Mines and Energy is reported to be planning to develop a nuclear regulatory framework that would allow it to pursue nuclear power in the long term. The country's cabinet is reported to have recently approved the development of the framework, which would be done conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and would include provisions for nuclear safety, regulation, licensing, building, operation and decommissioning of nuclear establishments as well as waste transport and storage.

Namibia currently faces serious electricity supply constraints and imports much of its power from South Africa, itself facing an energy crisis, as well as Zimbabwe and Zambia.