Namibia's uranium production to triple by 2017

Uranium production in Namibia is expected to triple by 2017 with the ramp-up of the massive Husab mine, states a senior government official.

“We are of the opinion that, in spite of weak commodity prices and relatively slow growth in external demand, the coming into operation of large-scale mining projects will support decent levels of economic growth. Namibia's output of uranium in 2017, for example, is projected to be more than three times the volume produced in 2015, thanks in large part to the Husab uranium mine,” Calle Schlettwein, Namibia's finance minister, said recently in parliament.

He added that tourism and export-oriented industries are expected to do well in 2016 due to the recent depreciation of the Namibia dollar.

According to Namibia's central bank, production of the nuclear fuel will rise 62.9 percent in 2016 and 89.5 percent in 2017.

Figures quoted by The Namibian show uranium oxide production expanding by a factor of 3, from 3,713 metric tonnes in 2013 to around 11,000 MT in 2017. Namibia is the fourth largest uranium producer in the world behind Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia and Niger.

Meanwhile according to China General Nuclear Power Holding Corp., the country's biggest producer of nuclear energy, first production of uranium oxide at Husab was expected to start in February, with full ramp-up expected in 2017. The mine is 90 percent owned by CGN and 10 percent by Swakop Uranium, which is developing it.

However the timeline may have been pushed back due to a fire at a ball mill in one of the processing plants under construction, at the end of December.

The $2-billion project in the Namib Desert could potentially produce 15 million pounds of U308 annually, thus overtaking Niger and Australia, Bloomberg reported. It is claimed to be the third largest uranium-only deposit in the world, with measured and indicated reserves of about 140,000 tonnes. The open-pit mine with two pits is expected to have 20-year life.

Canada’s Cameco Corp (TSX:CCO), the country’s biggest uranium producer, has been signalled in the past as potential buyer for offtake output from the project, located 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of Rio Tinto Group’s Z20 deposit in the Namib-Naukluft national park.

Uranium mineralization was first discovered in the Namibia’s Rossing Mountains, Namib Desert, in 1928 by Capt. G. Peter Louw. Uranium exploration official started in 1960s with Rio Tinto obtaining exploration rights for the Rössing deposit in 1966. It started production in 1976.

The Rössing mine is currently Namibia’s longest running and one of the world’s largest open pit uranium mines.

Image of the Namib-Naukluft National Park by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen