Namibian mine gets the green light

19 June 2008

Namibian uranium miner UraMin has gained approval for a mining licence and a positive record of decision on its desalination plant for the Trekkopje Uranium Project. The miner will use an innovative leaching system.


UraMin, a 100%-owned subsidiary of French nuclear giant Areva, yesterday announced receipt of the notice of intent to issue a mining licence from the Namibian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). This notification indicates, subject to some administrative requirements, that the ministry has approved the conditions for mining.


At the same time the miner received a positive record of decision covering its proposed desalination plant near WlotzkasBaken on the Skeleton Coast some 50 km west of the mine.


These two governmental notifications pave the way for UraMin to phase in its 100,000 tonne per day mining plans for Trekkopje, supported by construction of the first joint public-private desalination plant venture for the country with utility Namwater.


  "This public participation
  process has ultimately
  yielded real innovation in
  the uranium mining sector
  as the environmental
  concerns, together with
  the uniqueness of the ore
  body, compelled us to
  examine new technologies." 

  Iain Macpherson
  Managing director of UraMin


"The path leading up to yesterday's announcement has been exhaustive but we believe that we have listened to the concerns of the people and the government in reaching this point" said Iain Macpherson, managing director of UraMin. "The simultaneous recognition by the Ministry of Mines and Energy and Ministry of Environment and Tourism that the project is technically and environmentally feasible is a major step forward on the road to completing the Trekkopje project," he added.


The mine, situated in the severely water stressed Erongo region of Namibia, is poised to become one of the top producers of uranium oxide in the world. Full production is anticipated in early 2010 with a soft start underway to ramp up to the anticipated 100,000 tonnes of ore per day target. The current expectation is for the miner to produce around 9000 tonnes per day as processes solidify.


The anticipated life of the mine is around 11 years although Macpherson is confident that this could be extended as the miner continues to do further work on the original concession area.


Following an extensive public participation process on the desalination plant and public awareness campaign, the miner has committed to minimising its mining impact; rehabilitating the almost 13-km-long and 3-km-wide ore body surface; recycling raw materials and reagents and providing in excess of its own water requirements. The miner said it had altered its original plans for the pipeline of its desalination plant to cater for unique lichen fields established on the coastal area at significant cost.


"This public participation process has ultimately yielded real innovation in the uranium mining sector as the environmental concerns, together with the uniqueness of the ore body, compelled us to examine new technologies." One such technology being the use of alkaline for the on-off leaching process, together with measures to rinse the pads for 40 days to remove all the alkaline substance for reuse. The depleted soil is returned to the pit and covered with the top soil which has been carefully stored for reapplication.



A heap at Trekkopje, showing white bicarbonate leach reagent

In addition, parent company Areva has committed to and has started the process of constructing its own desalination plant, which should deliver 20 million cubic metres of desalinated water per year. Consumption is predicted to be around 17 million cubic metres per year although Macpherson says technological research and innovation are a top priority on reducing the dependence on this heavily water-reliant process.  


The feasibility study, completed early 2008, made way for the present detailed engineering, which Macpherson said is "fairly advanced" in terms of completion. A slight delay in schedule has come as a result of parent company Areva assigning its own specialist team to assess the project in order to optimise costs; reassess processing technology and refine the project management strategy. "This process is almost complete now and we believe that this will afford our parent company a degree of comfort in its N$6 billion ($750 million) capital investment," said Macpherson.