Mining Uranium in Africa

High Grade Uranium in Africa

Uranium is one of the world’s most versatile and widely-used metallic chemicals. This metal assumes a silvery grey colour and it is purportedly 500 times more abundant than gold and 40 times more plentiful than silver. In Africa, uranium and gold are typically mined in the same fashion as both require massive quantities of ore which then produce very low yields of the precious metal. Uranium produces a concentrate and 1kg is typically produced from every 1 tonne of ore mined.

Uses for Uranium

Uranium has several applications in the military, for civilian use, and for power generation. Nuclear warheads and nuclear-powered submarines are both manufactured with highly refined uranium as one of its components. Because of its ability to glow in the dark, the main civilian use for uranium is decorative. The largest application for uranium around the world is in power generation. The fuel source extracted from uranium is an extremely strong source of energy and is widely used in technologically advanced nuclear power stations. It works by stimulating a chain reaction in which radioactivity creates heat that drives turbines that generate electricity.

The History of Mining Uranium

uranium oreIt only became known that Uranium is radioactive in the 1890s. The French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel left a bit of uranium on a photographic plate and the plate turned cloudy overnight. This was the first recorded discovery of ‘light’ or ‘rays’ emitted from uranium.

Where Uranium is Mined

Uranium is mined in Africa, Kazakhstan, Australia and Canada. Analysts estimate that uranium reserves across Africa encompass some 888K tonnes. Presently, some 18% of the global supply of uranium comes from three African countries: South Africa, Niger and Namibia. Niger is 4th in the world in terms of Uranium production (2014 figures) at 4,057 tonnes, and Namibia weighs in at fifth place with 3,255 tonnes. The world’s top uranium producer is Kazakhstan at 23,127 tonnes.

Uranium Mining in Africa

The Witwatersrand Basin in South Africa not only holds the biggest gold reserve in the world, it is also one of the main areas for uranium mining. Uranium is found in the Krugersdorp and Brakpan regions in Precambrian quartz-pebble composites. Although the deposits are low grade, the output is in particularly high tonnages. The ore is crushed and leached in the uranium mills where the concentrated uranium is formed into what is known as ‘yellow cake’. Only around a kilogram of uranium is yielded for every 1,000 kilograms of ore. One of the major players in African uranium mining is AngloGold Ltd. The company owns an underground mine that averages 674 tonnes of output annually. The biggest uranium project in Africa is the Ezulweni Project. Started in the beginning of 2007, Ezolweni is run from a mine in Randfontein in the Gauteng province of South Africa. It outputs approximately 83,969 tonnes every year.

Uranium Mining Set to Expand in Africa

Because of the massive reserves in the country, Africa has increased productions of uranium mining by 7% in the five years between 2000 and 2005. Despite the steady increase in output, the demand continues to outstrip supply. Fortunately there are vast untapped sources throughout the continent ready to be mined. Areva is one of the premier uranium mining companies in the world. In 2014 alone, the company produced 8,959 metric tonnes of uranium. The company has operations globally, but its African operations have taken off in recent years, notably with Areva Gabon, Areva Resources Namibia, South Africa and others. There are now two pressurized reactors at Koeberg (South Africa) which were constructed by Areva. In total, some 5% – 6% of the country’s total electricity supply is produced by Koeberg.

Other African nations where Areva is operating include CAR (Central African Republic) and Senegal. Namibia recently joined the Atomic Agency Board, thanks to an endorsement by the IAEA at its 59th Session in Vienna, Austria. Namibia officially holds a seat on the Board of Governors until September 2017.