Miners face permitting highs and lows

21 January 2010

Environmental authorization for the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) at First Uranium's Mine Waste Solutions (MWS) tailings recovery project in South Africa has "unexpectedly" been withdrawn. Meanwhile, Uranium Energy has now received all the necessary permits needed to proceed with development of its Palangana project in Texas.


MWS (First Uranium)

The Mine Waste Solutions (MWS) project (Image: First Uranium)

First Uranium's MWS project is building a $260 million plant at the Buffelsfontein gold mine, which has estimated reserves of some 25,000 tonnes of uranium in old mine tailings. Annual uranium production is expected to be around 600 tonnes over 16 years. The project comprises 14 old tailings dams. First Uranium plans to construct the TSF to "accommodate future tailings deposition capacity requirements" at the MWS project. This will be for the tailings from the 14 old dams, once they have been reprocessed to remove certain metals and minerals, including uranium, pyrite and sulfur.


MWS received a positive record of decision (RoD) in July 2009 from the North West Provincial Government's Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Rural Development (NWDACE) to construct the TSF. After the RoD was received, three appeals were then lodged by interested third parties with the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for the North West Province. The MEC subsequently advised MWS that the RoD was being suspended pending the outcome of the appeal process governed by the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).


In October 2009, NWDACE notified NWS that they intended to withdraw the RoD. MWS responded to NWDACE in early November, recommending a retrospective authorization process under NEMA to address NWDACE's issues. At the same time, First Uranium announced that it had temporarily suspended its work in preparation of the site for the TSF.


First Uranium said that in December it secured the withdrawals of two of the three appeals. The company had also been told that the third appeal would also be withdrawn.


However, First Uranium has now announced that it has been notified by NWDACE of its "unexpected" decision to withdraw the company's environmental authorization for the TSF. Gordon Miller, president and CEO of First Uranium, said that it is "currently seeking clarification from NWDACE regarding their apparent decision before undertaking any action."


In November, when announcing the suspension of TSF site preparation work, First Uranium said: "Having the approval to proceed with a new tailings deposition site is vital to ensuring the significant economic benefit for the region that is expected to stem from MWS and to the future stability of approximately 5000 jobs at MWS and neighbouring companies."


Palangana permits in place


Meanwhile, US-based Uranium Energy announced that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has granted a Radioactive Materials Licence (RML) for the its Palangana in-situ leach (ISL) uranium project located in Texas. The Palangana project has now obtained all the permits needed to proceed with development, the company said.


Harry Anthony, Uranium Energy's chief operating officer, said, "With Palangana now fully permitted, company geologists and engineers are accelerating the pace and scope of their development efforts."


The company completed the acquisition of the Palangana project through its acquisition of the South Texas Mining Venture from Uranium One on 18 December 2009. The prior-producing ISL project is located some 160 km south of the company's Hobson uranium processing facility. A satellite ion exchange plant at Palangana will produce and ship uranium-bearing resins to the Hobson facility for further processing into dried uranium oxide (U3O8).


In June 2009, TCEQ issued a final draft permit for Uranium Energy's first production area, or Production Area-1, at its Goliad ISL uranium project, also in South Texas.


Uranium Energy has a portfolio of uranium projects across southwestern USA with a declared focus on acquiring property in regions that have already been the subject of significant exploration and development in the past.


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News