The launch of the Trekkopje uranium mine in Namibia will be postponed until market conditions improve, Areva has announced. The project will enter a care and maintenance program at the end of 2012, which would allow it to be restarted at a later date.
|Trekkopje (Image: Areva)
The drop in uranium demand as well as correspondingly lower prices after the Fukushima accident led Areva to slow down development of the Trekkopje project in October 2011. The company said that the slowdown would "allow more time to optimize the technical and economic drivers of the future operation" and that it was it was "engaged in an intensive program to find innovative solutions for the launch of the mine."
However, the company has now announced that, "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."
The Trekkopje project currently consists of a pilot phase, called MIDI, which first produced uranium concentrate in January 2011. A total of more than 400 tonnes of uranium was to be produced in the MIDI phase, which was to continue until the end of 2012 to build up the workforce and determine the project's economic feasibility. Following this, the calendar for the full-scale production phase, called MAXI, was to be determined according to conditions in the uranium market.
A mining licence for Trekkopje was granted in June 2008. The mine was originally expected to start production in early 2010, with an initial output of 3000 tonnes of uranium per year. However, in February 2011, Areva said that the mine was not expected to reach full capacity until 2013.
The ore at Trekkopje has very low uranium content, and the challenging project will be the world's first uranium mine to use a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate heap leach process. Some 100,000 tonnes of rock per day would need to be processed in order to produce the planned output of 3000 tonnes of uranium per year.
The company said that it will continue with construction work at the site until the end of the year. However, all existing installations - the pilot project MIDI and the final phase MAXI - will then be put under a structured care and maintenance program, at a cost of $10 million per year. This would allow the project to resume "in the best possible conditions as soon as the overall market environment allows it."
"The Trekkopje mine nevertheless is a strategic asset for Areva and the group will reassess the economic situation on a regular basis," the company said.
Areva inaugurated Namibia's first seawater desalination plant in April 2010. The plant - jointly owned by Areva and local company United Africa Group - will eventually produce some 20 million cubic metres of potable water per year. This would be sufficient to allow Areva to operate the Trekkopje mine without having to pump any water from the soil, as well as supplying about 6 million cubic metres of water annually to other miners in Namibia's Erongo region. Despite its decision to postpone the Trekkopje mine, Areva said that this desalination plant "will remain in operation to produce water for local industries and populations."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News