Africa is a continent with significant mineral deposits, including uranium. It’s an exciting time in the uranium industry for Africa, as countries that have not yet supplied the mineral in the past are beginning to explore and develop mines.
Here is a look at a selection of countries on the African continent that have a history and future of uranium production.
South Africa is unique among the countries discussed here in that it has two of its own nuclear reactors, the first of which began operating in 1984. The reactors produce 5 percent of the country’s electricity. Though it faces financial hardship, South Africa intends to install 9,600 additional megawatts of nuclear power in the next decade. Energy consumption has been growing quickly for many decades in the country, and nuclear reactors help it meet increasing demands. Eskom, the state utility, owns the Koeberg nuclear plant.
Uranium production in South Africa historically occurred as a byproduct of mining for gold or copper, according to the World Nuclear Organization. In 1951, a company meant specifically to process byproducts for the production of uranium was founded. In 1967, this was a function assumed by Nuclear Fuels Corporation of South Africa, currently a subsidiary of AngloGold Ltd (NYSE:AU).
Important mining sites in South Africa include the Dominion Reefs project at Haartebeesfontein, owned by Uranium One and southwest of Johannesburg, Ryst Kuil in the central Karoo Basin owned by UraMin Inc., Ezulwini near Dominion Reefs, owned by First Uranium (TSX:FIU) and Randfontein. Each of these sites also produce another mineral in addition to uranium, as is typical for the country.
Uranium mining in Niger enjoys strong government support, which is a substantial boon to a country whose mines provide 7.5 percent of global mining output and produce the highest-grade uranium ores in Africa.
In 1957, uranium was discovered at Azelik by the French Bureau de Recherches Geologiques et Minières, which was at the time seeking copper. Further investigation yielded sandstone deposits at Abokurum, Madaouela, Arlette, Ariege, Imouraren and more. Niger’s independence from France, which took effect in 1960, did not halt the discovery activities that proceeded throughout that decade. Indeed, Niger first began to produce uranium commercially in 1971, according to the World Nuclear Organization.
Today, Niger is the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium. It is mined close to the towns of Arlit and Akokan, northeast of the capital Niamey on the southern border of the Sahara desert and in the Air mountain range. The concentrates are mostly exported to France for conversion.
One of the most important new uranium deposits in Niger is Abokorum, which of which are currently under license to CNNC International Limited (HKG:2302) and undergoing feasibility studies. Established owners of Nigerienne mines run the gamut from French to Japanese companies, and include Niger’s own Office National des Ressources Minieres du Niger.
Uranium was first discovered in Namibia’s Namib Desert in 1928. Intensive exploration in the late 1950s gave rise to significant interest in sourcing the mineral from the country – in 1966, Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) acquired the rights to the Rossing deposit in the desert. Significant Namibian deposits also include Trekkopje, near Rossing owned by the Areva Group (EPA:AREVA), and Langer Heinrich, owned by Paladin Energy Ltd (TSX:PDN), also near the first deposit, according to the World Nuclear Organization.
Namibia’s uranium mines are capable of supplying 10 percent of the world’s mining output of the mineral, according to the World Nuclear Organization. The Namibian government’s state-owned mineral exploration company, Epangelo Mining Ltd., would have exclusive control over new strategic minerals developments, including uranium as of 2011. However, World Nuclear Association states that this does not apply retroactively, or amount to nationalization of existing mines or leases, therefore, privately held properties for exploration and development still remain in private hands. Exploration licenses will be granted only to Epangelo, and companies still interested will need to establish a joint venture with the company. The country is interested in producing its own nuclear power at some point in the future, though there are currently problems with this plan.
On project that investors can look out for is the world-class Husab uranium mine in the Erongo region of Namibia. The mine is currently in the construction phase, however, when completed, Husab will be the second-largest uranium mine in the world after MacArthur River in Canada. Husab is a joint venture project between the Chinese and Namibian governments and was acquired by the Husab mining company Swakop Uranium from ASX-listed Extract Resources for a total of US2.1 billion. Husab is estimated to hold somwhere in the realm of 280 million tonnes of uranium ore that could take up to 20 years to mine.
While Tanzania is not a top uranium producing country in Africa, it is still an area that holds a significant amount of promise for several companies. A feasibility study is underway for the Mkuju River project in the Namtumbo district of southern Tanzania, owned by Uranium One Inc (TSE:UUU). Unfortunately, Russia recently announced that it would be scaling back on several expansion projects, which included development of Mkuju River. The Mkuju River project also incorporates the Nyota prospect, which is southwest of Dar es Salaam. The government has allowed the project to include a small amount of land from its world heritage Selous Game Reserve, with fees 10 times the reserve’s present budget supporting it. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved this decision in July 2012, according to the World Nuclear Organization.
Close to Mkuju River is another project known as the Mkuju Uranium project, which includes the Likuyu North deposit, owned by Uranex Ltd (ASX:UNX) that has shown great promise and significant mineralization.
Central Tanzania is the home of the Bahi and Manyoni projects, owned by TanzOz Uranium Australia Pty Ltd (ABN:18 149 231 827) and in varying stages of exploration and development. The country’s southeast region boasts the Madaba-Mkuju sandstone deposits, originally discovered in 1978 and now being explored. Another project in development is the Mtonya project, owned by Uranium Resources Plc (LSE:URA) and expected to be similar to the Nyota deposit.
The Tanzanian government quotes known resources of 21,000 tons of uranium in the country, and has an interest in developing nuclear power in the future.
Investors should note that while exploration and mining for uranium in Africa has played a role in the continent’s history, and will not doubt play a role in it’s future, recent prices for uranium have not made all exploration, development or mining projects feasible.
As a result, we have seen a scaling back of aggressive development plans as projects get put on hold until prices firm up. That being said, Africa is still very much an important uranium region.