NAMIBIA has overtaken Russia as the fourth biggest uranium supplier in the world, on track to meet its target of becoming the world’s third largest supplier by 2015.According to a report by Cameco, the world’s top uranium producer, Namibia accounted for ten per cent of global uranium supply last year.
Russia supplied eight per cent, while Kazakhstan and Australia each supplied 19 per cent. The biggest supplier in the world was Canada, with 21 per cent.
The news comes as the sparkle in the local diamond industry continues to dull and Namibia increasingly counts on uranium mining to put some lustre back into its gloomy economy.
“Given the addition of new mines that are expected to come on board in the next couple of years, the Namibian uranium industry has considerable potential to perform much better,” Luise Nakatana, market analyst at Investment House Namibia (IHN), says in a new report on the sector.
Uranium means huge sums of money for investments.
Trying to ease fears of a prolonged economic meltdown, Old Mutual Namibia Group Economist Robin Sherbourne recently highlighted multibillion-dollar projects that are expected to drive Namibia’s growth over the next five years. Of these, some N$17,2 billion stem directly from the uranium industry.
Mega-investments in uranium projects also means lots of job opportunities.
According to IHN’s estimates, the uranium sector should employ nearly 4 310 workers within the next five years. This is nearly double Namdeb’s workforce in its heyday.
Uranium exports in 2007 totalled more than N$4,1 billion, 168 per cent up from the previous year, representing 16,5 per cent of Namibia’s overall exports for the year. Growth continued last year, with the export value of uranium increasing by 31,4 per cent to N$5,2 billion.
According to the Annual Report of the Bank of Namibia (BoN), the global economic meltdown has not hurt the uranium sector as the world still demands clean and cheap energy, and also because a number of nuclear power stations are already under construction around the world.
The competitiveness of uranium as an alternative energy source has convinced many countries to revisit their energy programmes in favour of the commodity, the BoN observes in their latest Quarterly Bulletin.
“These factors have enticed the (local) industry to improve production efficiency that has lead to record high volumes produced during the fourth quarter of 2008,” the BoN reports.
These positive developments are despite the fact that the uranium spot price dropped by 65 per cent during 2008.
Rössing Uranium has already indicated that they are not deterred by the economic turmoil and erosion in uranium prices. “The mine foresees excellent opportunity in a greener world,” Nakatana says in her report.
Rössing produced 33 per cent more uranium oxide in 2008 than in 2007, due to higher ore grades. They’ve extended the lifeline of the mine to 2021 and expects to increase nameplate production capacity to eight million pounds in 2012.
Langer Heinrich, Paladin Energy’s open cast mine about 80 kilometres east of Walvis Bay, plans to boost annual production from 2,6 million pounds to six million pounds in the next four years. The mine also intends to increase its current workforce of 360 by 20 per cent this year.
Forsys Metals Corporation’s Valencia mine is scheduled to start production during the second quarter of next year. It has a lifeline of ten years and will produce 2,9 million pounds of uranium oxide per year.
Full production at Areva Resources Namibia’s Trekkopje mine is expected to start in 2011. The mine, with an anticipated lifeline of 11 years, is expected to become one of the world’s ten largest uranium mines when it reaches full production of eight million pounds of uranium oxide per year.
The mine will probably also be one of the top five low-cost opencast mines in the world, IHN says.
The Rössing South deposit of Extract Resources is regarded as a world-class deposit and production could start as early as 2012.
The final feasibility study of Bannerman’s Etango project will be finished by the end of this year. A mine development decision will follow in the first half of 2010. If approved, the mine will start in 2011.
Feasibility studies are still underway at Marenica, West Australia Metal’s project next to Trekkopje. The mine is aiming for production status between 2011 and 2012.
Deep Yellow’s subsidiary, Reptile Uranium Namibia, is also still busy with feasibility studies at their Tubas/Tumas project near Langer Heinrich.
IHN expects the uranium price to increase in the future. However, they also expect future global market conditions to impact on the local industry.
“The state of Namibia’s uranium market is wholly dependent on the global outlook of the nuclear power generation industry,” IHN says.