The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) says it is upbeat about the prospects of the country’s mining sector, especially the uranium sector following the announcement by ASX-listed Paladin Energy that it has approved a prefeasibility study (PFS) that may lead to the restart of its Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia.
The recently completed concept study found multiple options to reduce operating costs, improve uranium process reliability and potentially recover a saleable vanadium product. This has generated a conceptual plan that "puts Paladin in a strong position to restart Langer Heinrich when there is a sustained recovery in uranium prices", the company said. The mine, which was placed on care and maintenance in 2018, could be back in full production as early as mid-2021 (www.world-nuclear-news.org.)
Mines minister Tom Alweendo said although he did not have the full details behind the miner’s move that may lead to the restart of its operations, the decision was positive for country’s mining sector.
“It’s certainly good news if they intend to restart operations and that they can re-employ the retrenched workers,” he told the Windhoek Observer.
According to the miner, a concept study to restart the mining operation initiated in September last and completed this month, had noted that over N$1 billion in funding would be required to restart the operation.
This comes amid a resurgence in the uranium price, which is up by 45 per cent to just under US$30/lb since March last year and comes after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan caused world uranium prices to plunge, and by 2016, they had hit an 11-year low.
“There has been a small uptick in the uranium price and if this trend continues, it gives confidence in the uranium sector,” Alweendo said.
Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Officer, Veston Malango said the Chamber was pleased with the miner’s decision.
“We are very pleased with the decision by the company, as this may signal an early return of the operation,” Malango said.
Quizzed if this signaled the reopening of all closed uranium mines, Malango said, “This is different. They are talking about another product, vanadium, in addition to uranium and this will allow them to be viable.”
The reopening plans of Langer Heinrich is based on reduced operating costs, improve uranium process reliability, and the potential to recover and sell vanadium, a by-product from the mining operation, while increasing the project’s long-term value.
“The study identified improvements to resolve known processing issues we have encountered in the project’s life to date and also to make well considered, low cost investments in the rapid restart option,” Paladin CEO Scott Sullivan told South Africa media. Scott stated that subject to the validation of the concept study, this allows Paladin to be a first mover in the market if the uranium price recovery continues.
Langer Heinrich was placed on care and maintenance in May of last year, as uranium prices remained low and the decision resulted in the loss of over 300 jobs.
Erongo Region’s economy and suppliers, who supply various goods and services worth about N$402 million per year to mine, were also hit by the company decision.
At its peak Langer Heinrich represented one of the largest uranium reserves in Namibia having estimated reserves of 57,000 tonnes of ore grading 0.055 percent uranium.
The project according to the miner has a 5.2-million-pound-a-year nominal production capacity, and in 2017 produced 3.4-million pounds of uranium oxide.