|Rössing Uranium in 2006 Message - MD Uranium Market Sustainable Development|
|Rössing the business Rössing in the community2006 Performance|
Health, Safety & Environment
“In 2006 Rio Tinto introduced the Integrated Heath, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ) Management System. This system has to be implemented at Rössing by September 2007, which leaves us with very little time. The HSE Department will use this challenge as an opportunity to increase awareness around Health, Safety and Environmental Management and establish an understanding amongst the workforce that every employee at Rössing is responsible for the successful implementation of the HSEQ Management System. I am confident that with a dedicated Rössing team this system will be implemented by September 2007.”
"A positive observation is that Rössing is willing to play a role in this process [of radiation protection], so that we as the regulators, Rössing, and all the newcomers to the industry can all put our efforts towards the creation of an environment of confidence amongst stakeholders – the workers, the Government, the public and the industry – and that we ensure our practices and conduct are within the framework of internationally accepted standards and recommendations as far as protection against ionising radiation is concerned.”
The increased activity in uranium exploration and mining prompted a continuous public and Earthlife Namibia interest in the health, safety and environmental standards and practices of uranium mines.
In the field of health, Rössing has been at the forefront for many years, with specific programmes to monitor and control occupational exposures.
The mine again maintained its ISO 14001 certification, which was first achieved in 2004. This can be attributed to the commitment of workers who take ownership in respect of implementing the ISO 14001 management system.
Rössing is one of the lowest-grade uranium mines in the world. As a result most areas are only slightly above the background level and thus most employees are not classified as radiation workers according to IAEA Standards on Radiation Protection. Higher radiation levels are present in areas where uranium is concentrated and there effective controls are in place to minimise exposure. The mine continued monitoring the radiation exposure of all individuals designated as radiation workers and a randomly selected sample of employees from the similar exposure groups which represents all employees.
The international occupational exposure limit as set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an effective dose of 20 mSv per year averaged over five consecutive years. At Rössing, the occupational exposure limit is also set at 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year, and in 2006 this exposure limit was not exceeded by any Rössing worker.
In the year under review, the radiation doses received by employees at various work stations at the mine were between 1.2 and 2.4 mSv, while employees in Final Product Recovery, where uranium is concentrated, received an average dose of 5.0 mSv.
The processes of mining, transporting, crushing and milling uranium ore prior to extraction result in dust generation mainly at the mine’s crushers. For control purposes, dust levels are measured at certain dust generation points.
As indicated in the 2005 Report to Stakeholders, the dust extraction system at the Fine Crushing Plant is old and in need of replacement. In 2006, the average dust level measured at selected dust generation control points within Fine Crushing was 1.49 mg/m3, with the target level being 0.7 mg/m3. Initial studies on whether to upgrade or replace this system have been completed and funds have been allocated to take the necessary steps for the replacement. This project should reverse the recent upward trend of dust source levels at the Fine Crushing Plant.
One of the control measures in place requires that workers in this plant are adequately protected by wearing respirators, allowing the standard of 0.5 mg/m3 of dust exposure to be maintained. The average personal dust exposure level measured during 2006 without respirators was 0.39 mg/m3. Since it is compulsory for all workers in the Fine Crushing Plant to wear respirators, the actual dust exposure was even lower. While the dust source control points are above the target, employees only spend a short time in those areas and are generally exposed to lower levels. The dust measurements are taken over a working shift.
Rössing’s peer education programme, which was started in 1996, received a noteworthy reward in 2006 for their activities from the Namibia Chamber of Mine’s Occupational Health Education Assistance Programme (OHEAP).
One of the mine’s peer educators, Petrus Useb, was chosen as the best peer educator in the OHEAP. This is testimony to the dedication and hard work of Rössing’s 48 peer educators. A number of new peer educators, Rössing employees and contractors joined the team and attended training courses during the year under review.
Rössing’s peer educators hosted the annual OHEAP Run/Walk event in 2006, with about 120 participants from various mining companies in Namibia taking part. Proceeds from the event were donated to local charity organisations.
The Peer Educator Fund, launched by peer educators in 2005 to support worthy causes in the community, continued in 2006 with a number of donations.
At the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ request for private companies to participate in the countrywide polio immunisation campaign in June and July 2006, polio vaccinations were administered to employees, contractors and visitors to the mine.
Safety at the workplace
The number of injuries reported in 2006 was as follows:
• Lost time injuries : 6
At Rössing, we believe that a management team demonstrating their commitment to safety and a workforce committed to safe work practices will lead to meeting production targets in an injury-free workplace.
To further enhance safe work practices, current initiatives were continued and strengthened and a number of safety initiatives were introduced in 2006. A few of the new initiatives were as follows:
Continuation with the quarterly internal housekeeping audit competition encouraged employees to further improve their housekeeping practices in their areas of work. The sections that performed best were rewarded.
The process of extracting natural resources such as uranium from the ground tends to raise public concern about potential environmental impacts. Rössing plans for and deals with environmental impacts during mining development, during the operational period, and during and after mine closure.
The extension of the mine’s life resulted in increased activities in almost all areas of the operation. All these increased production activities had an impact on the mine’s ability to reach targets related to water and energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions for the year under review.
“Sometimes we have problems with our power supply from South Africa when they experience problems on their side; then they request us to scale down on our demand by, for example, 10%. We have identified a few big customers, and Rössing is one of them, and they are immediately contacted to reduce their usage, also by, say, 10%. Rössing in particular has come out strongly as a very good partner in this relationship. We are very happy with their cooperation and hope that this relationship will continue.”
Total energy usage at Rössing covers the consumption of both electricity and fuels. The consumption is expressed in MJ/t of ore processed to give a measure of energy efficiency for mining and production at Rössing.
The Rio Tinto target is a 5% reduction in total energy used per tonne of product by 2008 compared with 2003 consumption levels, when five-year targets were initiated. In 2006, energy usage was 113.6 MJ/t of ore processed. This was well above the annual target limit of 91 MJ/t of processed ore set by the mine to conform to the Rio Tinto targets.
Although Rössing performed well in respect of achieving its goals for 2004 and 2005 in terms of energy usage it was unable to sustain this performance in 2006 owing to factors associated with the extension of the mine’s life, as mentioned above.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Greenhouse gases emitted at Rössing during 2006 amounted to 50 tonnes of CO2-e/t U3O8 produced (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne uranium oxide produced), which was well above the target of 42.0 t CO2-e/t U3O8 produced. As mentioned earlier, Rössing is currently out of line with its long-term greenhouse gas emission target reductions of 20% by 2008.
Climate change is a global concern and it is also one of Rio Tinto’s priority environmental issues. The group requested all its businesses to draw up a three-year work plan by the end of October 2006. Such plans require business units to document their programmes and actions that address business risks and opportunities that could arise from the effects of climate change.
Rössing’s Climate Change Action Plan for 2007 to 2009 was submitted to the Rio Tinto Climate Change Leadership Panel for review. Throughout the year, it was challenging for the mine to achieve its greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage limit targets. Therefore, the plan put in place some actions to be taken and programmes to be implemented during 2007 and beyond to assist with achieving these goals.
Managing water together
“Water usage, especially the issue of a sustainable and safe supply, is an area of concern for us – definitely. We formed a Bulk Water Users’ Forum and Rössing is one of the stakeholders, and that is one of the permanent points on our agenda. We asked NamWater to reassess the whole scenario regarding the availability and sustainability of water, including the effect that the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine will have on the water supply to the Central Coastal Area. But we, the bulk users, have quarterly meetings and NamWater is a stakeholder in the Forum. At the next meeting we will definitely ask NamWater some serious questions.”
“Rössing has a very good recycling programme in terms of how they reclaim much of their water, which is highly appreciated. They indicated to us that they want to reclaim more water from their tailings dams, but I think they have one of the best water reclamation programmes in place. In the past, before I started with NamWater, I worked for Rössing and several of the other mines in Namibia, so I know that Rössing has one of the best reclamation plants in the country.”
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Bulk water supply to the coastal area is presently based on groundwater abstracted from the river beds in the lower reaches of two west-flowing river systems: the Kuiseb River, some 20 km south of Walvis Bay, and the Omaruru River at Henties Bay, 80 km north of Swakopmund.
The Omdel water supply scheme in the Omaruru River delta currently supplies water to the three towns of Swakopmund, Arandis and Henties Bay, and the two existing mines in the area, Rössing and Langer Heinrich Uranium. Water supply to Walvis Bay is drawn from the Kuiseb River. Consumption by the three coastal towns together accounts for about 68% of water usage, while Rössing uses an additional 28% of the total.
The Coastal Bulk Water Users’ Forum was established before 2000 to address issues concerning the then planned sea-water desalination plant and now continues sharing information and facilitating planning of current and future water usage in the Central Namib area.
Planning Rössing’s future water demand and allowing NamWater, the national water supplier, to ensure a reliable and sustainable supply have become challenging tasks in this time of changing mine-life projections, production increases and possible process changes. The development of the world uranium market in 2006 opened up a longer-term future for the mine and resulted in an extensive re-evaluation of uranium production and tailings disposal processes, which in turn will affect future water use. Some water demand management projects that were planned in previous years and in line for construction in 2006 were superseded by new and more effective measures. Plans for the new projects will be firmed up in 2007.
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The Swakop River groundwater study concluded that anomalous uranium levels found in groundwater just west of its confluence with the Khan River are related to uranium-bearing rocks.
The investigation of groundwater resources and water quality in the lower Swakop River farming area, which was requested by the local farming community and started in 2004, continued throughout 2005 and 2006. As reported in 2005, an anomaly showing uranium concentrations of around 0.15 mg/l was found just west of the Khan River confluence, while the background uranium concentration in the Swakop River groundwater was 0.05 mg/l.
Analysis results from continued groundwater sampling obtained during the last two years confirm that the anomaly is a naturally occurring phenomenon in this part of the Swakop River. The results show that the anomaly did not move downstream as it would have if caused by a potential contamination plume. This points towards a local occurrence of uranium, which is also indicated by the regional geophysical map (Sheet Walvis Bay) published by the Geological Survey of Namibia in 2005. The map shows higher radiation levels related to the local geology, indicating the presence of uranium-bearing rocks in this area.
The natural uranium found in the Swakop River groundwater moves very slowly in geological timeframes downstream with the groundwater flow, because it is attached to the sand and clay particles that fill the river bed. Further work during 2007 will investigate the relationship between uranium in the river sand and in the groundwater. The aim is to confirm a state of ‘equilibrium’ between the river sand and groundwater concentrations, as well as between the daughter and parent radionuclides in the sand, a condition that can only be reached in geological timeframes of thousands of years. Confirming the presence of uranium in the area since geological times and being unrelated to the timespan of Rössing’s operation will finally conclude the study.
An assessment completed during 2006 by Dr J van Blerk, a South African radiation specialist appointed by the Swakop Farmer Working Group, has already confirmed these equilibrium conditions for the farming area where soil samples have been analysed.
Concerns about water quality
Comments at Open House meetings and in previous stakeholder reports indicate that more information is needed about issues such as groundwater quality, since many stakeholders are concerned about the potential impact of Rössing’s activities on the environment.
In 2006, Rössing received a letter from the Permanent Secretary of the latter Ministry, which stated the following:
“Rössing Mine is a leader in water demand management and pollution control in the mining sector in Namibia and perhaps even the whole world. This work ethic, especially as far as water pollution control is concerned, serves as an example for all existing mining developments in Namibia, and especially for new mines that will most probably be developed in the Central Namib in the near future. … Not once did Rössing fail to meet its obligations in terms of the existing water law in Namibia.”
Worldwide, there is an acceptance of the principle that a company’s responsibility for a product does not stop at the factory gate, but that it extends right through to the product’s ultimate disposal. This principle of product stewardship applies especially to products that can have a long-term effect on the environment or society, like nuclear energy for the generation of power.
World Nuclear Association Working Group
Rössing Uranium is part of a working group of the World Nuclear Association (WNA). The WNA aims to promote the peaceful worldwide use of nuclear power as a sustainable energy resource for the centuries to come. As stated in their objectives, the WNA is concerned with nuclear power generation and all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including mining, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, plant manufacture, transport, and the safe disposition of spent fuel.
Research on public perceptions of the nuclear industry
As part of its activities in the WNA Working Group, Rössing commissioned an independent research study to determine the perceptions and opinions of the Namibian public regarding the global nuclear industry.
The public’s general lack of awareness about the nuclear industry was a point well-taken, and certainly in line with the objectives that the working group (and WNA in general) is trying to address. Other results highlighted the following issues:
• The positive role of the nuclear industry in lessening the world’s energy crisis;
After the results were shared with the WNA, a representative of another company, who was
Rescuing plants of biodiversity value
Across the Atlantic in southern Africa, a band of horticulturalists took up a special kind of digging ahead of mining operators preparing the expansion of the Rössing Uranium mine.
A local firm, Ben Tjimune Horticultural Services, was contracted to remove plants of biodiversity value from the future mining site so that they would not be destroyed by the big diggers.
The hills where mining will extend contain a number of succulent plant species like Euphorbia virosa (gifboom), Hoodia parviflora (small-flowered hoodia), Commiphora (koedoebos) and some aloes.
The hoodia, for example, is one of Namibia’s endangered species found on the mine. Because plants take a long time to establish themselves in the desert climate, illegal harvesting could threaten this plant population in Namibia.
Biodiversity conservation is one of Namibia’s environmental priorities in respect of land management and, therefore, plays an important role in the Life-of-Mine Extension Project. The plant rescue operation took place in the pioneering area and will be extended to the tailings expansion area in 2007.
The plants found in the pioneering area were identified, their positions put on a map, and then they were removed to a temporary area. All the rescued plants have been replanted either in the mine gardens or in areas close to their natural environment.