Uranium in Namibia
(Updated September 2015)
- Namibia has two significant uranium mines capable of providing 10% of world mining output. A larger mine is set to start production.
- Its first commercial uranium mine began operating in 1976.
- There is strong government support for expanding uranium mining and some interest in using nuclear power.
Uranium was discovered in the Namib Desert in 1928, but was not until intensive exploration got under way in the late 1950s that much interest was shown in Rössing. Rio Tinto discovered numerous uranium occurrences and in 1966 took the rights over the low-grade Rössing deposit, 65 km inland from Swakopmund.
Two other significant deposits found in early exploration were Trekkopje, a calcrete deposit 80km NE of Swakopmund and near Rössing, and Langer Heinrich, a calcrete deposit discovered in 1973 by Gencor, 80 km inland from Walvis Bay and 50 km southeast of Rössing.
In April 2011 the Namibian government announced that its state-owned mineral exploration company, Epangelo Mining Ltd, would have exclusive control over new strategic minerals developments, including uranium. However, this does not apply retrospectively or amount to nationalisation of existing mines or leases. Paladin and Kalahari have both expressed confidence that their assets are not at risk of expropriation, and in April 2012 Epangelo agreed to buy a share of the Etango project and pay a corresponding share of development costs. A task force was formed in May 2010 by Epangelo and Russia's ARMZ, which briefly seemed to threaten existing developments, but the government gave strong reassurance then. New exploration licences will be granted only to Epangelo, and others interested will need to negotiate farm-ins with it, to become joint-venture partners.
Over 2011-12 a Strategic Environmental Assessment was undertaken over the whole uranium province inland from Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. This addressed the whole region and all the projects, and is to result in a Strategic Environmental Management Plan to be implemented by the government and individual project companies.
||Measured & indicated
||25,866 tU in 0.02% ore**
||2035 tU in 0.017% ore
||20,656 tU in 0.024% ore
||25,354 tU in 0.022% ore
||57,500 tU in 0.055% ore
||9,200 tU in 0.06% ore
||26,000 tU in <0.011% ore
||3,000 tU in 0.01% ore
||137,700 tU in 0.039% ore
||50,000 tU in 0.029% ore
||39,700 tU in 0.0167% ore
||8,500 tU in 0.014% ore
||57,330 tU in 0.019% ore
||24,630 tU in 0.016% ore
||palaeochannel & hard rock
||2500 tU in 0.010% ore
||19,600 tU in 0.008% ore
||10,400 tU in 0.036% ore
||6950 tU in 0.036% ore
||10,900 tU in 0.0125% ore
** in addition to reserves, see below. * reserves are 46,000 tU at 0.0165%U,
Namibia Uranium Production - tonnes U
One of the aspects of the Strategic Environmental Management Plan is water supply. Since 2010 water has been supplied to Trekkopje from a coastal desalination plant in the Erongo region with about 20 million m3/yr output and requiring 16 MWe from the grid. Some of this water, up to 10 million m3 per year, is available to other mines, and agreements have been signed with Namibian Water Corp for Rössing, Langer Heinrich and Husab (reported to be taking 2 million m3/yr).
The plant is owned by Erongo Desalination Company which was a joint venture of Areva and a local company, United Africa Group, but the latter is apparently no longer involved. Areva plans to sell down its share to Namibia Water, retaining only 10-20% to provide for Trekkopje. In 2014 the government planned to start building a second plant adjacent, with 60 million m3/yr capacity. This would be a public-private partnership project costing $145 million, with Namibia Water holding 30% initially.
In July 2014 Rössing Uranium said that it had been unable to reach agreement on purchasing water long-term from Erongo, so would set up its own 3 million m3/yr (8200 m3/d) RO plant near Swakopmund.
The coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are short of water. Sources such as the Omaruru delta and Kuseb River aquifers dwindled in 2013 during Namibia's worst drought for 30 years.
Rössing Uranium Ltd was formed in 1970 (now 68.6% Rio Tinto, 15% Iranian Foreign Investment Co., 10% Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, 3% Namibian government). The company has mined the deposit from 1976 as a large-scale open pit in very hard rock. Rössing has nominal capacity of 4000 tU/yr and to the end of 2011 had supplied 101,123 tU. Annual production is tabulated above.
Rössing's reserves at the end of 2013 were 4884 tU proven, and 35,275 tU probable, at 0.027% U in ore (calculated without allowing for 85% mill recovery). Its uranium is sold to power utilities in Central Europe, North America and South-East Asia including China.
After three years evaluation it was decided in December 2005 to invest US$ 112 million to further develop the Rössing mine, extend its life to 2016 and increase the output to 3400 tU/yr. In 2007 Rio Tinto proposed a further expansion to 3800 tU/yr from 2012 and extending mine life. The first phase extended mining in 2008 to a new small orebody, introduced radiometric ore sorting to beneficiate material from stockpiled coarse ore, and commissioned a new 1200 t/day sulfur-burning acid plant also producing 9.5 MWe net of electricity. Phase 2 defined in 2008 included heap leaching of low-grade ore and development of other small satellite orebodies with different mineralisation and hence needing a new treatment plant for them. For Rössing, 2007 was a year of consolidation, preparing for increased production. Unit costs therefore rose to US$ 38 per pound ($99/kgU) from $22 ($57/kgU) in 2006.
In 2013 resources for the Z20 orebody, south of the main pit, were quoted, with 46,274 tU at higher grades than the main orebody, and in 2014 development was said to be feasible when the uranium price returned to $60/lb.
The company reported losses in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, but was profitable in 2013 after major cuts in expenditure and layoffs. In 2015 the company announced that it expected to continue production to 2032, with current reserves taking it to 2025.
In 2011 the Namibian government initiated negotiations with Iran regarding holding in trust the Iranian 15% share in Rössing while UN sanctions on Iran apply, or Epangelo buying that share. As of May 2014, Epangelo did not have any equity in Rössing.
Rössing uses about 3 million m3 of water per year, some recycled. A RO desalination plant is planned at a site 6 km north of Swakopmund.
Paladin's Langer Heinrich is 50 km south-southeast of Rössing, in the Namib Park, and 80 km from the coast. It was bought by Paladin Resources Ltd (now Paladin Energy) in 2002. The open pit mine commenced operation late in 2006 with 1000 tU/yr capacity. The ore occurs over 15 km in a palaeochannel system, some 50m deep. Some vanadium is present in the carnotite mineral. There is a conventional hard rock mill with an alkaline leaching circuit.
Annual production by calendar year is tabulated above. That for 2013-14 was 2537 t U3O8. Stage 3 development boosted production capacity to 2000 tU/yr from late 2011 at a cost of US$ 100 million. In mid-2013 C1 cash costs were US$ 29.40/lb. Recovery in late 2014 was 84.5%. A heap leach to produce about 400 tU/yr from low-grade ore by mid 2014 was proposed for stage 4, in moving towards 3850 tU/yr production level. AMEC Minproc is undertaking a definitive feasibility study on this. However, in April 2014 new plant investment was put on hold for at least two years.
Reserves are 46,500 tU at 0.01%U cut-off (JORC and NI 43-101 compliant) plus 5100 tU in stockpiles. In 2010 most of the 2008 inferred resources were upgraded with infill drilling. A further 12,000 tU will end up in low-grade stockpiles at the end of mining, and may be recovered then.
In January 2014 China National Nuclear Corporation’s subsidiary CNNC Overseas Uranium Holding Limited bought a 25% joint venture equity stake in the mine for $190 million, entitling it to that share of output.
The owner of the project from April 2012, Taurus Minerals, a subsidiary of China’s CGN-Uranium Resources Co, started development of the mine in February 2013, and production is expected to commence late in 2015, ramping up to 5700 tU/yr by the end of 2017. Swakop Uranium is the developer, now 90% owned by Taurus and 10% by Epangelo Mining Co. Taurus is 60% owned by CGN-URC and 40% by China-Africa Development Fund, set up by China Development Bank in 2007. In July 2014 CGN Global Uranium Ltd (CGU) was incorporated in the UK to sell Husab uranium on the world market.
The main part of the Husab project is the Rössing South orebody, about 5 kilometres south of the Rössing mine and 45 km northeast of Walvis Bay port. A definitive feasibility study demonstrating the technical and economic viability of mining Zones 1 & 2 was completed by Perth-based Extract Resources on the basis of measured resource for them of 32,000 tU averaging 0.043%U, and indicated resources of 105,500 tU at 0.037%U (JORC and NI 43-101- compliant). Inferred resources in Zones 1 to 5 are 50,000 tU averaging 0.029%U. This comes to 188,000 tU averaging about 0.035%U proven to June 2011, all with 100 ppm cut-off and still open along strike and dip. It is evidently the highest grade granite-hosted uranium deposit in Namibia, and it is an extension of the Rössing stratigraphy. Only 10km of 15km strike on the company's lease – contiguous with Rössing – had then been drilled. It lies under a shallow (50m) alluvial sand cover. Zone 1 pit will be 1.3 x 2.5 km and Zone 2 pit will be 1.0 x 1.5 km.
The company's Husab uranium project includes the Ida Dome 20 km south, with 9600 tU inferred resource at 0.02% (contiguous with Reptile's Ongalo).
The definitive feasibility study involved the project's zones 1 & 2, and showed a production cost of US$ 32/lb U3O8 including royalties, marketing and transport, with capital cost of $1.66 billion. The study envisages mining of 15 million tonnes of ore per year from two separate open pits to feed a processing plant producing 5770 tU per year. The Ministry of Mines and Energy approved the mining licence in November 2011, and in January and July 2011 the Ministry of Environment and Tourism gave environmental approval for the mine and related works to subsidiary Swakop Uranium, which holds some of the tenements. Water supply and labour agreements were signed in April 2014. Mining commenced in May 2014. A 1500 t/day sulphuric acid plant is expected on line at the end of 2015. Additional acid may be imported.
The two-stage takeover by Taurus/ CGN-URC was complex. Kalahari Minerals PLC owned 42.74% of Extract Resources. In March 2010 Itochu Corp* bought a 14.94% stake in Kalahari for $92 million, and in May Hong Kong-listed APAC Resources bought 7.1% of Kalahari for $44.6 million. In March 2011 China Guangdong Nuclear Power UraniumResources Co (CGN-URC) notified a possible $1.22 billion cash offer for the whole of Kalahari Minerals PLC, but this was withdrawn in May. It was then renewed, and in December a GBP 632 million (US$ 984 million) bid by Taurus Minerals, a Hong Kong company 60% owned by CGN-URC and 40% by the China-Africa Development Fund, was unanimously recommended by Kalahari directors. It then acquired some 90% of Kalahari, including Rio Tinto's 11.5% and Itochu's 14.9% stake, requiring it to make a $2.2 billion downstream cash offer for Extract shares. It did this, Extract directors recommended acceptance, and the takeover was completed in April 2012. CGN-URC became CGNPC-Nuclear Fuel Co (CGNPC-NFC) in February 2012.
In November 2012 the Namibian government’s Epangelo Mining Company Ltd agreed to buy a 10% interest in Swakop Uranium for $213 million, funded by the vendor and to be repaid from dividends**. While CGN-URC is majority shareholder, some of the production will be sold on world markets.
Extract Resources had earlier rejected overtures from Rössing Uranium for joint development, using the Rössing treatment plant, though in February 2011 Extract confirmed that it was holding discussions with Rio Tinto about combining its Husab Uranium Project with Rio's adjacent Rössing Uranium mine (68.6% owned), "with a view to capturing the significant potential synergies that could be generated from a joint development of the two projects". These discussions were inconclusive. Rio Tinto had direct equity in Extract of 14.22%, and 11.52% of Kalahari (formerly 19% overall in Husab) but sold both holdings to Taurus.
Australia's Deep Yellow Ltd, through wholly-owned subsidiary Reptile Uranium Namibia, is focused on the Omahola Project. It includes the high-grade Inca primary uraniferous magnetite deposit at about 200 metres depth, the Ongolo Alaskite 10 km away, and MS7 Alaskite in between and possibly connected to it. An acid leach mill near the Ongolo Alaskite deposit was envisaged treating ore from Ongalo and MS7 Alaskite deposits and the INCA uraniferous magnetite deposit, all mined by shallow open pit (to 200 m).
Inca has 2800 tU indicated and 2400 tU inferred resources at about 0.04%U. It is about 10 km south of Etango and 35 km in from the coast. Some 12km northeast of Inca, the Ongolo Alaskite deposit was discovered in 2010, and has 2600 tU measured, 3000 tU indicated and 4000 tU inferred resources at 0.032%U grade and a strike length of up to 2km (contiguous with Extract's Ida Dome). In between is MS7 with 1660 tU measured, 370 tU indicated and 500 tU inferred resource. It is 600m along strike and 400m wide.
All resources (Jan 2013) are JORC-compliant. In January 2013 the company reported resources of 17,400 tU grading 0.036%U at 250 ppm cut-off for the whole greater Omahola project comprising Inca, Ongolo and MS7.
In November 2011 the company submitted an environmental assessment report for Inca envisaging an open pit mine producing up to 2.5 Mt/yr of uranium and iron-bearing ore which could result in production of up to 960 tU/yr, depending on project economics. The company has applied for a mining licence. Environmental assessment of Ongolo-MS7 was to be done in 2012. First production could be in 2016 through a mill situated close to Ongalo.
However, test work on Ongalo alaskite ore reported in April 2013 showed promising results from heap leaching with 90% recovery using 60kg sulphuric acid per tonne, or 80% using a different process and 12 kg acid per tonne. If these results are confirmed, the cut-off grade could be 100 ppm and hence average grade of the ore would be reduced to 0.0191%, with large increase in recoverable uranium to 48,000 tU. In June 2014 the results were confirmed, with potential uranium recoveries of 80% after seven days' leaching and acid consumption of 12.4 kg per tonne.
The shallow aeolian Tubas Red Sand (TRS) deposit 10 km south of Inca and immediately south of the Tubas paleaochannel has indicated and inferred resources of 10,900 tU at 0.0125%U as carnotite, which can be readily beneficiated to 0.05% using hydrocyclone technology. In the light of successful beneficiation, TRS is being reinterpreted with lower cut-off and its JORC figure is likely to increase. It is now seen as a stand-alone operation.
Deep Yellow/ Reptile's Tubas-Tumas Palaeochannel Project takes in extensive secondary calcrete deposits and associated systems stretching over about 30 km south and southeast of Inca, and have 2350 tU inferred resource for Tubas calcrete and 4470 tU indicated for Tumas (25 km SE of Tubas) both at 0.03%U.
Reptile's Aussinanis project, also a palaeochannel deposit, near the coast about 60km south of the others. It has 6976 tU indicated and inferred resources at about 0.02%U, and the hydrocyclone technology tested on TRS has potential application here. In January 2013 Deep Yellow agreed with Namibia's Epangelo to transfer its Aussinanis and Ripnes projects into a new company, Yellow Dune Uranium Resources Ltd. Epangelo acquired a 5% stake in Yellow Dune to fund test work and confirm that the Aussinanis deposit can be upgraded by beneficiation. Reptile holds 85% and Oponona Investments 10%. If the test work at Aussinanis is successful, Epangelo will become the operator of the joint venture and would earn up to 70% in Yellow Dune by funding the project through to a bankable feasibility study. Reptile's holding would then shrink to 20%.
Reptile also has a joint venture with a Namibia subsidiary of Toro Energy for contiguous ELs. Paladin holds 20% of Deep Yellow Ltd.
Areva's Trekkopje is about 80 km northeast of Swakopmund, and 35 km north of Rössing. In 2007 UraMin Inc announced an upgrade of uranium resources at this project, comprising two adjacent palaeochannel deposits (Klein Trekkopje being the main one) over an area about 16 km by 1 to 3 km. The company was then taken over by Areva to become Areva Resources Southern Africa, with subsidiary Areva Resources Namibia developing the mine (Areva 100%).
The US$ 1 billion project has a shallow open-pit mine and plans a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate heap leach process. About 80 percent of the ore is less than 15 metres deep, but is very low grade - 0.012-0.015%. Since 2010 water has been supplied from a coastal desalination plant set up by Areva with about 55,000 m3/day (20 million m3/yr) output. Some of this water is available to other mines. The plant was jointly owned by Areva and a local company, United Africa Group, and was to remain in operation despite the mine’s mothballing.
A substantial conversion of 'inferred' resources to reserves occurred as a result of drilling in 2006 and 2007, taking the Measured and Indicated resource category to 42,000 tU in the main deposit. Areva quoted 45,600 tU resources in 2008, but then revised this to 26,000 tU in 2011 at lower grades, as it announced a massive EUR 1.8 billion write-down of its investment. Over 9000 tonnes of vanadium pentoxide by-product was envisaged. The mine was intended to produce 3200 tU/yr from 2013.
A mining licence was granted in June 2008, first concentrate from the pilot phase was produced in January 2011 but development stalled in October 2011 due to low uranium prices. The second stage pilot operation had been commissioned in mid-2010, and the main ore stacking for on-off alkaline leach operation commenced early in 2012. However, the project was put onto a care and maintenance basis in October 2012: "considering both the continued decrease of uranium prices coupled with the investments yet to be made on site, Areva has no other option than to postpone the launch of the Trekkopje mine." Production in 2012-13 was 437 tU, “demonstrating the feasibility of the technical solutions adopted and confirming the production cost targets.”
Norasa (Valencia + Namibplaas)
Forsys Metals Corp. of Toronto is developing the Valencia uranium project along strike from Rössing and 25 km northeast of it, with geology (alaskite) similar to Rössing. Environmental approval for an open pit mine was granted in June 2008 and a 25-year mining licence was granted in August 2008 to Valencia Uranium P/L (a wholly owned subsidiary of Forsys). Further drilling from 2010 has been at the Namibplaas area, 7 km northeast, with similar geology and which Forsys now fully owns through Dunefield Mining P/L.
Consolidated measured and indicated resources figures (October 2013, NI 43-101 compliant) are 39,700 tonnes U at 0.0167% U with 100 ppm cut-off at Valencia and 160 ppm at Namibplaas. This includes reserves of 35,000 tU at 0.017% U. Inferred resources are 8500 tU at same grade. The Valencia open pit will be 1600x1000 metres and 450 m deep, with a small satellite pit adjacent. The Namibplaas pit will be 1900x500 m and 210 m deep.
The Norasa project is a proposed development involving both deposits. A March 2015 feasibility study estimates annual production of about 2000 tU over a 15-year mine life. Costs are estimated at $32.96 per lb U3O8 over the first five years of production and $34.72 per lb U3O8 over the mine life. Test work has improved uranium recovery from 85% to 91% by using hydrogen peroxide rather than pyrolusite (MnO2) as the leach oxidant. Radiometric sorting is planned from mid-2018.
Etango (formerly Goanikontes)
In October 2010 Perth-based Bannerman Resources Ltd announced measured and indicated resources of 57,330 tU at about 0.019% and inferred resources of 24,600 tU at slightly lower grade, both with 100 ppm cut-off (JORC & NI 43-101 compliant) for the Etango project 30 km southwest of Rössing and 35 km east of Swakopmund. The inferred resources are mostly at the adjacent Ondjamba and hyena orebodies. The alaskite ore is very similar to that at Rössing, up to 400m deep, but with two thirds of the resource less than 200 m deep, and open pit mining is envisaged. From trials in a pilot plant using four 2m square columns, each 7m high, heap leaching appears to be the most cost-effective recovery method. Environmental approval for development of the project was received in 2010, and that for infrastructure in mid 2011. A mining licence is awaited.
A definitive feasibility study was completed by AMEC Minproc in March 2012, confirming the viability of the project on the basis of measured and indicated resources only, and putting its cost estimate at $870 million. Some 80% of measured and indicated resources were converted to proven and probable reserves of 46,000 tU at 0.0165%U, supporting minimum open pit life of 16 years. Production at 2700-3500 tU/yr is now envisaged over the first five years, then 2300-3100 tU/yr, with production costs of US$ 41/lb U3O8 over the first five years and $46 longer-term. In September 2014 the company awarded contracts to construct and operate a heap leach demonstration plant, whcih was commissioned in March 2015. In July 2015 the company said that this supported the assumptions in the definitive feasibility study, with over 90% U recovery and only 16 kg/t acid consumption. It thus demonstrated the viability of the operation for potential investors and financiers. A project schedule drawn up as part of the definitive feasibility study envisages an engineering and construction period of about 30 months from project approval to plant commissioning.
Bannerman, which holds 80% of the Etango project, is seeking a development partner. In July 2011 China's Sichuan Hanlong group made a conditional A$144 million takeover offer for Bannerman, but this did not proceed. In April 2012 state-owned Epangelo Mining Ltd agreed to buy a 5% stake in the project for about $3.9 million, with an option to buy a further 5% upon commitment to mine development. The agreement would give Bannerman 76%, Epangelo 5% and the existing private investor 19%, with funding responsibilities pro rata. However the deal was called off when the companies could not agree on terms. Funding so far is by convertible notes from a major shareholder, Resource Capital Funds.
In July 2008 West Australian Metals, now re-named Marenica Energy, announced a modest JORC-compliant inferred resource in the Marenica palaeochannel deposit 30 km north of Areva's Trekkopje and similar to it. In December 2011 the company revised this to Indicated Resource of 2500 tU at 0.01%U, and an Inferred Resource of 19,600 tU in 0.008%U ore, mostly palaeochannel but with some granite-alaskite basement rock down to 60 metres. There is good potential to significantly upgrade the uranium plant feed grades by sizing and separation, achieving reported beneficiation from 0.01% to 0.55%. This upgrade potential effectively dismisses heap leaching as a process option with the preferred process option now being tank leaching of the beneficiation product. (Earlier, the company was considering a $260 million heap leach operation with production of 1350 tU/yr over 13 years at $82/lb.) However in December 2011 the company said that it would focus on tank leaching of the beneficiation product, and aim to improve the grade of this, but with product at $42/lb.
Marenica Energy has an 80% interest in the project. Early in 2010 Areva NC bought a 9.5% stake in the company from Polo Resources PLC, and in November 2010 China's Hanlong Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of privately-owned Sichuan Hanlong Group, bought a 5.82% share of the company and agreed to provide loan funding.
Zhonghe Resources (Namibia) Development P/L is a Namibian registered company founded in 2008 by China Uranium Corporation Ltd (SinoU) (58%) a wholly owned subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), and a private company, Namibia-China Mineral Resources Investment and Development P/L (Nam-China) (42%). It was looking at alaskites northeast of Swakopmund, close to Rössing with a view to open pit mining and heap leaching a low-grade (0.02%U) uranium deposit to produce about 600 tU/yr. Resources are believed to be 6000-12,000 tU. A mining licence was issued by the Ministry of Mines & Energy in November 2012, then the 2011 EIS was released in April 2013, this being the first public information on the project. Nothing further has been heard, but with CNNC’s greater involvement in CGN, its attention is possibly focused on Husab.
Canada's Xemplar Energy Corp of Canada is exploring its Cape Cross Uranium Project in the Namibian "uranium corridor", near the coast.
Namibia's identified uranium resources are about 5% of the world's known total. Those recoverable at up to $130/kg are about 275,000 tonnes U. The Reasonably Assured Resources portion of this is 176,000 tU, accessible by open pit mining.
Namibia's electricity supply of some 3 billion kWh per year is half supplied by South Africa, which faces serious supply constraints itself. A coal-fired plant is planned for Walvis Bay.
The government has articulated a policy position of supplying its own electricity from nuclear power by about 2018, but there is no evident progress towards this goal. The country faces severe challenges in power supply.
Mining is regulated under the Atomic Energy Act 2005 and Environmental Management Act 2007. An Atomic Energy Board has been established along with a National Radiation Protection Authority.
Finland’s Radiation & Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) is working with Namibian authorities to help develop uranium mining policies and a safeguards and non-proliferation regime, under a program funded by the Finnish Foreign Ministry. As of early 2011 this did not include any development of a regulatory regime for nuclear power.
Namibia is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has had a comprehensive safeguards agreement in force since 1998 and in 2000 signed the Additional Protocol.