The uranium giant stirs

Rössing mine, close to Swakopmund in Namibia, is the world's longest-running open pit uranium mine, started operating in 1976. Image credit: namibiauranium.com

With the price of uranium on the up, and demand expected to increase substantially in the next few years, Namibia’s spectacular uranium deposits are back in the news.

Several large uranium projects that were put on ice after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, are being revived and looks as attractive as they did ten years ago.

Australian mining company Bannerman Resources recently completed the Scoping Study for their Etango Uranium project, which is said to be the world’s largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the world. Etango will be a conventional open pit and heap leach processing operation with an initial throughput of eight million tonnes per annum (8Mtpa).

According to Brandon Munro, CEO of Bannerman, the company embarked on a review of various project scaling opportunities last year. “This Etango-8 Scoping Study represents the successful culmination of that work,” says Munro.

Developing the world-class Etango at an initial 8Mtpa throughput offers significant advantages.  It sharply reduces the upfront capital and funding hurdle compared to that associated with the original 20Mtpa Etango development evaluated in the Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) in 2012, and the DFS Optimisation Study in 2015.

Furthermore, it enables the company to predominantly mine shallower, higher-grade ore, which significantly reduces stripping and lifts the average feed grade to the processing facility.  The combined result is that the upfront capital intensity of the Etango Project per pound of annual production capacity has fallen materially whilst maintaining robust project economics.

“The Etango-8 Project is expected to deliver over 3.5Mlbs U3O8 per annum over an initial operating life of more than 14 years.  This may be a reduced scale compared with the original Etango, but it is still a world-class uranium project and amongst the largest development projects in the sector.  With a post-tax IRR north of 20%, the Etango-8 Project delivers attractive projected investment returns on a lower initial capital, funding and development risk profile,” says Munro.

“Importantly, while the Etango-8 Project provides a reduced scale of production entry, it does so without removing the option of subsequent expansion, including to the originally envisaged 20Mtpa Etango scale.  In short, the scalability of the world class Etango resource remains robust even with a more modular approach to development of the project.

“We are now proceeding to undertake a Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) on the Etango-8 Project.  This process will benefit significantly from the fact that the Etango Project has already been the subject of a definitive level of feasibility study, at a larger scale, in recent years.  As a result, we are targeting completion of a comprehensive PFS in quarter two of 2021,” says Munro.

The Etango Uranium project is situated on the flat Namib Desert sands, 38km by road east of Swakopmund, and is well located for external infrastructure requirements including road, rail, water, electricity, and a deep-water port. Road access to the site is via the existing C28 sealed road and a short gravel access road. The existing railway line from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund is about 30km from the Etango site and will provide an option for the transportation of U3O8 and key reagents to and from the port. Drummed uranium oxide from the Etango site will be shipped from the Walvis Bay Port, approximately 73km by road from the Etango site. Walvis Bay is one of southern Africa’s largest and busiest deep-water ports with over 35 years’ experience of importing mining and processing consumables and exporting uranium oxide.

Grid power will be drawn from the nearby high voltage electricity lines owned by the Namibian power utility, NamPower. A short spur line from the main electricity reticulation line will provide all power to site. Namibia is currently a net importer of electricity and is in the process of expanding its hydro-electricity generation capacity as well as planning for new coal-fired and gas-fired power generation capacity. Etango will source up to 5 gigalitres per year (GLpa) from either the existing 20GLpa desalination plant at Wlotzkasbaken or a second proposed 20GLpa plant to be located immediately north of the town of Swakopmund. Bannerman is part of the National Desalination Task Force working group comprising several mining companies and the Namibian water utility, NamWater, which has commissioned an engineering study on the second desalination plant.

 

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