Amidst a whirlwind of anecdotal reports that construction is steadily grinding to a halt at Trekkopje mine, owned by troubled uranium giant AREVA Resources Namibia, the country manager, Hilifa Mbako, this week pointed to the contrary. The company denies that it plans to retrench and shut down operations at Trekkopje later this year.
“Areva Namibia has no intention to shut down operations or the construction process of the Trekkopje Mine, although there has been measured slow-down in construction, as a result of global market conditions. To date more than 70% of the contracts, procurement and construction have been achieved,” wrote Mbako.
According to AREVA the biggest delay in the commissioning of Trekkopje is the all-time low price of uranium, which is currently trading at U$52 dollars per pound, as opposed to U$120 dollars per pound when Areva purchased the Trekkopje mine from Uramin in 2007. Besides the downfall in global uranium prices, the Fukushima incident in March last year negatively affected the uranium industry. The incident in Japan reduced worldwide uranium prices by 29%. No new contractors have been appointed, as per the initial plan and schedule, due to the delay in the commissioning of Trekkopje. Engineering company Bateman, a Trekkopje joint-venture consisting of several construction contractors, including Grinaker LTA, Concor, Basil Real, Namibia Construction, Steffanutti, Wade Walker and South African based steel-producer, Cosira, are among the contractors still heavily involved in the finalisation of the Trekkopje project.
Mbako emphasised that though the delays appear negative, they are however short-term set-backs. “AREVA is in this business for the long-term with Trekkopje calculated to supply long-term global nuclear needs. As a result, future AREVA projects will be more robust and cost- effective.”
The Trekkopje mine has a projected life-span of close to twelve years, based on estimated current reserves and the mine’s three-phase operation has to date delivered over 400 tons of Sodium Diuranate Uranium (SDU) from the mini and midi pilot projects, which AREVA used as pilot studies for the successful future commissioning of the third and final plant.
Once fully operational the Trekkopje mine will process 100,000 tonnes of crushed ore per day, with an expected output of 3 000 tonnes of yellow cake per year. The plan is for the ore to be processed using an on-off heap leach methodology, whereby the spent ore is removed from the pad on completion of the leaching cycle. The leach pad facility will extend over 3 kilometers in length and 810 meters wide, making it one of the biggest alkali heap leach operations in the world. Full-scale production at Trekkopje Mine is planned for the last quarter of 2013. Concerning the possible retrenchment of about 1800 permanent and temporary workers currently employed by Areva, Mbako reassured Informanté that their jobs are safe. “No separation packages have been offered to workers. Upon commissioning of Trekkopje, 230 permanent jobs will be created to supplement the existing full-time workforce of 170,” Mbako promised.