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Rössing Uranium in 2006
Rössing Uranium mines uranium ore from 500-million-year-old granitic rock in the Namib Desert in central Namibia, southern Africa. Uranium oxide concentrate of a low radiation level is produced at the mine and transported via rail and sea for further processing to conversion and enrichment facilities in other parts of the world, where it is used as nuclear fuel in the power plants of Rössing’s global customers. In 2006, the mine’s production made up about 7% of world production of primary produced uranium.
The mine site is located about 70 km north-east of Swakopmund, and encompasses a licence area of about 18 km2, of which 2 km2 are used for mining, waste disposal and processing. Mining is done by blasting, loading, and hauling from an open pit that measures 3 km by 1.5 km and is 330 m deep. In 2006, 12.0 million tonnes of ore and 16.8 million tonnes of waste were mined, and 3,617 tonnes of uranium oxide produced by a sulphuric acid leaching process. This was achieved by the work of 939 permanent Rössing employees and an average of 660 contractors throughout the year. This reflects a 9.2% increase in permanent employee numbers, from 860 at the end of 2005.
The extraction of minerals from the earth goes hand in hand with the use of natural resources. In 2006, a total of 3.3 million m3 of water, 205,614 MWh of electricity, and 5 ha of land were used. Respectively, this relates to 28% coastal water use, 6% of total electricity used in Namibia, and an increase in 0.2% land use in the mining licence area.
Rio Tinto owns the majority of shares (69%) in Rössing Uranium Limited. The Namibian Government has a 3% shareholding, but it has the majority (51%) when it comes to voting rights. The Government of Iran owns 15%, which was acquired during the set-up of the company in the early 1970s. The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of South Africa owns 10%, while individual shareholders own 3%.
The shareholders have no production off-take rights.
The mine’s uranium is sold through Rio Tinto Uranium, which markets uranium for Rio Tinto from Rössing as well as from Energy Resources of Australia, Rössing’s sister mine in the Northern Territories. Rössing’s uranium was sold to European, United States, Japanese and Asia-Pacific nuclear power producers.
After three years of not being able to declare profits, sales in 2006 allowed the mine to contribute N$158 million to tax revenue coffers.
Other inputs to Namibia’s economy were through employee tax (N$54.3 million), while the expenditure in development work of the mine and Rössing Foundation in the Erongo Region and in Namibia amounted to N$8.8 million. N$948.8 million was spent with Namibian suppliers of goods and services.
Rössing Uranium Mine celebrated its 30th year of production in 2006. The mine produced its first uranium in 1976 after intensive exploration in the Namib Desert that commenced in the late 1960s had been completed. Full production was reached in 1978 and, until the 1990s, Rössing made significant contributions to Rio Tinto and Namibia, both economically and socio-economically. The downturn in the uranium market in 1990 caused the company to scale down, while unfavourable uranium prices as well as exchange rates forced the announcement of the mine’s closure in 2009. However, at the end of 2005, the renewed upswing in the uranium market price experienced since 2003 allowed the shareholders to extend the mine’s life until at least 2016.
During 2006, exploration began on uranium occurrences within the mining licence area that were known since the late 1970s but were not viable at the time due to unfavourable market conditions. Good progress has been made in these investigations, and plans are being developed to further extend Rössing’s mine life beyond 2020.