Resurgent uranium

Namibian expert shares overview
With global demand on the rise, 2022 uranium production only met 74% of demand.
Augetto Graig
Namibia has significant uranium mines, which produced 13.5% of the world's mining output in 2022. The country’s first commercial uranium mine began operating in 1976, and both Rössing and the massive newer Husab Mine remain in operation.

A re-start plan for the Langer Heinrich Mine is under implementation.

According to internationally recognised expert and executive director of the Namibian Uranium Institute, Dr Gabi Schneider, current uranium prices also support the development of advanced exploration projects. Schneider said uranium is experiencing a resurgence.

At the beginning of 2021, the uranium spot price stood at US$30.20 and started a steep increase to above US$50 in September. Currently, it is about US$55.40. Since the post-Fukushima low (US$18.00) in 2016, the increase has been 208%, she pointed out.

China has a plan to build 150 nuclear reactors in the next 15 years, while worldwide, 62 new reactors have been built in the last nine years and 56 are currently under construction.

"We are currently seeing a turning point when it comes to the reluctance to use nuclear power, driven by the need for low-carbon energy and the move away from fossil fuels, and this clearly supports the Namibian uranium sector," she explained.

Seven countries dominate uranium mining: Kazakhstan (43.4%), Canada (15.0%), Namibia (13.5%), Australia (8.4%), Uzbekistan (6.8%), Russia (5.1%) and Niger (4.1%).

The remaining 3.7% is produced by China, Ukraine, India, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, the USA and Brazil.

She explained that world production in 2022 stood at 48 888 tonnes of uranium, representing 74% of total demand.

Main consumers include the USA, France, China, Russia, Korea, Ukraine, India, Japan, Canada, the UK, Belgium, Finland, Spain and Sweden.

By far the largest established uranium reserves exist in Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada, while it is generally believed that established uranium reserves are sufficient until 2035. However, many of the established reserves are in the high-cost category, exceeding current prices by far. This underlines the need for continued exploration and process improvement, according to Schneider.



Namibian production

The Rössing Uranium Mine is the largest and longest-operating uranium open-cast mine in the world. An extension of the mine life to 2036 has recently been approved, while the mines and energy ministry has also extended the mining licence to 2036.

New investment will cover pit extension, plant refurbishment and infrastructure upgrades. In 2022, production amounted to 2 659 tonnes of U3O8.

Swakop Uranium’s Husab Mine has a designed annual mining capacity of more than 100 million tonnes. The processing plant has a capacity of 15 million tonnes of ore per year and an annual output of 6 000 tonnes of U3O8.

Total uranium production in 2022 was 3 960 tonnes of U3O8, marginally above the 2021 production of 3 902 tonnes of U3O8. Mining production was just over 97 million tonnes. Swakop Uranium forecasts a 10% and 19% increase in mining and uranium production, respectively, this year.

Langer Heinrich Uranium was placed on care and maintenance in 2018 due to low uranium prices. A final investment decision was made in 2022 to restart the mine. The restart costs just over N$2 billion, and first production is targeted for the first quarter of 2024.

Off-take agreements are in place, and the restart plan has confirmed a 17-year project life with peak production of up to 2 700 tonnes of U3O8 per annum for seven years of mining.

Orano Mining Namibia’s Trekkopje Mine remains under care and maintenance.

However, Orano will be able to exploit the Trekkopje deposit once the recovery in the uranium market materialises at the required level, supported by the fact that 80% of the investments to develop the mine have already been made.

In addition, advanced processing knowledge acquired through metallurgical testing has realised further potential for efficiency improvements, according to Dr Schneider.



Exploration

Core drilling of more than 91 000m was done on the licences of Headspring Investments in the country's south-east, where the company is looking for in-situ recovery opportunities. In addition, more than 13 000 samples were taken for analysis, and a pre-feasibility study and mineral resource estimate reports were submitted to the ministry of mines and energy.

Meanwhile, results from the definitive feasibility study for Bannerman’s Etango-8 uranium project were released in December 2022, and the listed company expects the granting of its mining licence by the mines and energy ministry this quarter, with the mine design now complete.

A final investment decision is expected early next year. Construction would take approximately 34 months before the world-class deposit is expected to deliver over 3.5 million pounds of U3O8 per year over an initial 15-year operating life, with upside potential from future life extension or scale-up expansion.

A positive pre-feasibility study for the Reptile’s Tumas project was completed in 2021, and a subsequent definitive feasibility study was completed early this year. The definitive study includes a 20% increase in production. The annual ore throughput is given as 4.15 million tonnes, resulting in a production of 3.6 million pounds of U3O8 per year, plus 1.15 million pounds of vanadium by-product. The life-of-mine is 22 years based on current resources, and an investment decision is also expected by early 2024. The company also continues to undertake exploration activities on other Namibian tenements, which include the prospective targets of Ongolo and Omahola, as well as fertile joint venture prospects with JOGMEC from Japan.



Also looking

Elevate Uranium has made four uranium discoveries in Namibia in the last three years. It has increased its uranium resources to 81.6 million pounds of U3O8, after announcing an initial 20 million pounds of U3O8 resource at its Koppies project.

Drilling has been ongoing since mid-2020 and continues. Airborne surveys were completed in the Namib Area in 2021 and the Central Erongo Project Areas in 2022. These surveys aim to locate palaeo-channels potentially containing calcrete-hosted uranium deposits suitable for applying the company's patented U-pgrade process.

Zhonghe Resources (Namibia) Development’s activities focus on the evaluation of their resource, a diamond drilling programme started in August 2022, and a series of geological and geophysical surveys carried out on some anomalies. The parent company, CNNC, is currently implementing a 20 000m drilling programme on both the neighbouring Rössing mining licence area and Zhonghe’s mining licence area.

Forsys holds a mining licence for its Valencia uranium deposit and owns the neighbouring Namib Plaas uranium resource, for which it also submitted a mining licence application. The two projects together are known as the Norasa Project. The company is busy conducting studies on process engineering, mine design and other geo-metallurgical parameters to update and improve on its 2015 Definitive Feasibility Study. The project is construction-ready once the uranium price reaches the required level.

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Allgemeine Zeitung 2024-04-13

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