(New Era)-Having rounded up its Social and Environmental Impact Assessments Report (SEIA), Rössing Uranium mine has moved a step closer to the achievement of its envisaged development targets as part of the mine’s life expansion project.
The report, which has now been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) for consideration, highlights the impact of the mine’s envisaged development on the fragile environment, amongst others.
Rössing aims to expand its operations to at least 2026, and has designed various projects to achieve this.
Phase 1 of the expansion project will see the establishment of a sulphuric acid plant, ore sorter and an SK4 pit. Rössing mine’s metallurgical process uses sulphuric acid leaching to extract the uranium from the ore. An onsite pyrite burning acid plant was in use until 1997, after which it was converted to burn sulphur imported through Walvis Bay and railed to the mine.
It was mothballed in 2000 when prices of imported acid became unfavourable against production costs.
Public concerns had been raised at the time, when sulphur spillage next to the railway line was found.
Current economic evaluations show that value may be gained by establishing a new sulphuric acid production plant at the mine, while continuing to import additional acid if required.
The existing on-site acid storage facilities will be upgraded and will be utilized to store the acid produced, while offloading and handling facilities at the mine will be installed or upgraded to deal with the envisaged developments.
For the ore sorter, a pre-screening plant and a production ore sorting plant comprising four screening units and two ore sorter clusters will become necessary, the report states.
While the entire Erongo Region stands to benefit from the Rössing mine’s expansion, the town of Arandis will derive most benefits from the exercise.
Arandis was established in 1976 to serve the needs of Rössing uranium mine through accommodation for its employees.
Until 1992, when the town was given to the Government as an independence gift, the town was wholly supported by the mine, and this support extended to health services, schooling, service provision, recreation and infrastructure maintenance.
In 1994, Arandis was proclaimed a fully-fledged town and the local authority struggled to deliver services with an inadequate budget, a lack of capacity and non-payment by residents.
The role that Rössing played in the support and functioning of Arandis in the past had built a strong dependence on the mine and the wave of retrenchments in the 1990s further impacted on the town. In effect, the town experienced two ‘quasi-closures’ and displayed some of the characteristics of communities impacted by closure, such as the erosion of the local authority’s revenue base, increased demands on local government as the number of indigents increased, the breakdown of social networks and community cohesion and the failure of development of alternative economic activities.
Due to the proximity to the mine, dependency on Rössing has remained one of the town’s most marked characteristics.
The proposed expansion project has now raised expectations that the mine’s activities will restore the prosperity of the town.
Rössing has operated the open-pit uranium mine in the Erongo Region of Namibia since 1976. Although of considerable extent, the Rössing ore body is of a low grade and consequently large volumes of rock have to be mined and processed to extract the powdered uranium concentrate that is the final product.
As a result of an increase in uranium prices on the international market in recent years, Rössing is now able to consider the possible financial benefits from an expansion of its operations.
The previous mine plan predicted an operational period ending in the year 2016. According to this plan, a sustainability assessment was undertaken and approved in 2005. Rössing is now looking at a mine plan beyond 2016 and consequently the associated social and environmental issues are being reviewed.
In terms of the Namibian Constitution and related environmental legislation, in particular the Environmental Assessment Policy (MET 1995) and the Minerals Act (No. 33 of 1992), the proposed expansion activities would require authorization from the responsible authorities before they can be
Insofar as the environmental acceptability of Rössing proposed expansion project is concerned, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism would need to issue clearance for such expansion.
A Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) study has thus been commissioned by RU for their proposed expansion project, as required by the Environmental Assessment Policy (MET 1995) but also informed by the principles of Namibia’s Environmental Assessment and Management Act 2, as well as the internal standards and guidelines prescribed by Rio Tinto, Rössing Uranium’s parent company.