Uranium mine plans big

LHU, situated 85 kilometres east of Swakopmund, has already excited the international market by announcing last month that it had commissioned the mine ahead of schedule.

The uranium deposits at LHU mine consist of carnotite in calcreted tertiary alluvial sediments filling an east-west channel that drains metamorphic and granitic rocks of the Proterozoic Damara Orogenic Belt.

LHU general manager Wyatt Buck said export of yellowcake would start in the first quarter of 2007 but could not give the exact tonnage the uranium mine would be selling outside the country.

Buck said LHU was going to increase output in the first six months of 2007 to cater for export orders.

The company has initially envisaged producing 1 180 tonnes of U308 (uranium oxide) annually in line with the design capacity of the plant.

Buck said they would try to maintain the production rate but hinted that the firm would be working flat out to increase production.

“We are going to ramp up production in the first six months to June to maintain the 1 180 tonnes per year and after that we will be increasing production by 100 tonnes every month,” the LHU general manager said in a telephone interview.

He said most of the firm’s customers were in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, adding that the world had more than 440 reactors which would readily absorb yellowcake produced in Africa.

Buck refused to disclose more details about LHU’s export contracts but said that his firm had secured export orders with companies in the US.

A week ago, international Press reports, however, said that LHU had secured contracts to supply up to 1 072 tonnes of uranium oxide to US power utilities.

LHU, with a lifespan of up to 17 years, is wholly owned by Australian Stock Exchange-listed Paladin Resources.

The uranium mine is being developed at a cost of US$92 million, Buck said.

Namibia, a semi-arid south-west African country, is reported to have more than eight deposits of uranium in its vast desert.

The government of Namibia has issued an unequivocal invitation to international mining investors to take up the cudgels of investing in the country’s uranium mining sector as the country seeks to diversify its economy by shifting from over-reliance on export of rough diamonds.

Apart from LHU, another uranium miner, Rossing Uranium, five months ago announced plans to increase production of uranium oxide to more than 4 000 tonnes in 2006 from 3 711 tonnes produced in 2005.

Two other uranium producers, Valencia and Trekkopje mines, have indicated that they could start mining operations in 2007.

The rush for uranium deposits has not been isolated to Namibia alone but the rest of the Southern African region.

Omega Corp of Australia a week ago said significant deposits of uranium had been discovered in Zambia.

Mathew Yates, Omega Corp managing director, told South Africa’s Mining Weekly that a 13-million pound resource had been discovered at Kariba amid reports that India has offered to help Zambia exploit its uranium deposits within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Zimbabwe, which shares the border with Zambia, has substantive uranium deposits in the Kanyemba district on its side of Kariba.

Although no mining firms have yet been granted approval to start meaningful exploration and possibly mining, the Zimbabwean government has been swarmed with a flood of applications for mining grants in the Kanyemba area for uranium and natural gas.

The South African cabinet recently emphasised that an initiative to enrich uranium for civilian purposes could help meet the country and the region’s energy requirements.

South Africa’s Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica last month told the South African media that by 2030, the country would have added about 5 000 megawatts of nuclear energy to satisfy national electricity requirements.

“This is not an insignificant task taking into account that this means building between four and six nuclear reactors.

“I certainly believe that the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor will definitely contribute to that new nuclear build.

“A nuclear build programme of that magnitude also requires us to look at the fuel, which, in this case, is provided by uranium.

“South Africa possesses uranium reserves enough to fuel such a nuclear programme,” Sonjica was quoted as saying.

September 2006
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