Uranium in Africa
(Updated March 2017)
- Africa has considerable mineral deposits, including uranium.
- Exploration and mine development is proceeding in countries which have not hitherto supplied uranium.
- Gabon has been a significant uranium supplier in the past.
The country papers on: Namibia, Niger, South Africa should be consulted for information in those areas.
This paper deals with other countries in Africa where uranium deposits having JORC or NI 43-101 compliant resources are known or understood to exist.
A lot of uranium exploration occurred in the 1970s, resulting in the discovery of the Tahaggart deposit, as well as other mineralisation. The government reports Reasonably Assured Resources of 26,000 tU in the under $80/kg category. In September 2009 the National Mining Patrimony Agency put uranium exploration leases in the southern Tamanrasset province out for tender.
A-Cap Resources' Letlhakane project in the northeast of the country comprises Gojwane and Serule orebodies, with Gorgon, Gorgon South, Mokobaesi, and Kraken prospects covering the former, totaling 61,000 tU at 0.015% in a flat shallow deposit, to 75 m over 9 km. It is open to the west. This includes 29,000 tU at 0.013% U as JORC-compliant indicated resource in Gojwane deposit. Serule contributed two thirds of the 72,000 tU inferred resource in mid 2012. In July 2013 the global total was upgraded to 22,160 tU at 0.017%U indicated and 96,750 tU inferred at 0.018%U, all at 100 ppm cut-off. The ore is carnotite in calcrete and amenable to alkaline or acid heap leaching.
Production at about 1350 tU/yr is envisaged, exported through Namibia. Australian-based A-Cap Resources has been seeking an experienced industry partner for the $350 million project. It applied for a mining licence in September 2015, in May 2016 the Department of Environmental Affairs approved the EIS, and in September a 22-year mining licence was issued. Construction is expected to start in 2018. China Growth Minerals Ltd (10.74%) and its parent Ansheng Investment Co Ltd (21.84%, largely from underwriting) are the two largest shareholders in A-Cap, which plans to list on the Hong Kong exchange. The company also has the Mea coal project about 120 km northwest and adjacent to its Southern Pans uranium prospect.
Along strike from this, Impact Minerals based in Western Australia is exploring some prospective deposits in eastern Botswana including Lekobolo, with uranium mineralisation down to 45m. Further south, it has the Shoshong and Ikongwe prospects in calcrete. Polo Resources owns 19.9% of Impact.
Central African Republic
Having taken over UraMin Inc, Areva was proposing to develop the $200 million Bakouma project in the east of the country, originally discovered by Cogema (Areva) and more recently taken forward by UraMin Inc of Toronto. It aims to start open pit mining at 1200 tU/yr, with ore grading 1.27%U. Following a test phase from 2010, the project was to ramp up to full production in 2014-15, but this is now delayed after expenditure of €107 million, due to low uranium prices and the need for further research on the metallurgy. It is a continental phosphate deposit unusual for its uranium content. Inferred resources of 36,475 tU at 0.02% were reported by Areva at the end of 2013. Areva Resources Centrafrique holds a 90% interest over ten discrete deposits, while the government holds a 10% free carried share. Civil unrest in the country is also a disincentive to development.
Congo, Democratic Republic
The Belgian Congo, as it then was, provided much of the uranium for the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s, particularly from the Shinkolobwe mine, 25 km west of Likasi in Katanga. There was some uranium mining subsequently by Union Miniere, to inependence in 1960, when the shafts were sealed and guarded. About 25,000 tU was produced in the two decades until then.
The deposit has been unofficially mined since 1997 for cobalt. A UN report in 2004 described the situation as anarchistic. This has prompted some concern by the International Atomic Energy Agency on account of the possibility that some uranium might be finding its way to countries with illicit weapons programs. In the south-eastern region of Katanga the geology is contiguous with the Zambian copper belt.
In 2009 Areva signed a uranium exploration agreement for Katanga with the government, focused on Shinkolobwe, but has since said that it will not embark on any plans for mining while the country remains politically unstable.
The country ratified the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in 1970.
No current uranium mining occurs in Gabon, but exploration continues. Historically, uranium mining in Gabon has been closely linked with Niger due to the role of the French Atomic Energy Commission and Cogema (now Areva NC).
The Mounana uranium deposits in southeastern Gabon were discovered in 1956 by French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) geologists and were mined from 1960 to 1999, producing nearly 28,000 tonnes of uranium. The best known of these deposits is Oklo, discovered in 1968, which produced over 14,000 tU. (Oklo is famous for its fossil nuclear reactors, which operated naturally in the wet sandstone orebody about two billion years ago.)
The Franceville Uranium Mines Company (COMUF) was formed in 1958 and undertook the mining and processing. It was 68.42% owned by Cogema and 25.8% by the national government.
The ore was mined largely in open cut operation but also underground, from five discrete orebodies with average ore grade of 0.37%. Milling was at Mounana. Production fluctuated from 400 to 1250 tU/yr, with a total of 12,147 tU coming from open pit mining and 15,725 tU from underground mining. Operations were shut down in mid 1999 due to a lack of economically recoverable reserves – Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) of 4830 tU @ under US$ 130/kg is quoted. The facilities were dismantled and the site is in the final phase of rehabilitation.
Extraction of the ore began at the Mounana open pit mine (1960-75), followed by the mine at Oklo (1970-85). Ore was also extracted from underground mines, first at Mounana, then at Oklo (1977-97), and at Boyindzi (1980-91). During the last two years, the open pit at Mikouloungou, 60 km away, was mined (1997-99).
Up to 1975 some two million tonnes of tailings were released into the local Ngamaboungou creek and Mitembe-Likedi River system, along with mill effluent. Then four million tonnes were emplaced in the Mounana pit. In 1990 a tailings dam was built across the Ngamaboungou creek for the balance.
In 1985 COMUF started works to stabilize the course of the Ngamaboungou creek with rock, and to cover the tailings deposits formed in the valley along the creek with a layer of 30 - 50 cm compacted laterite. The tailings deposit in the former Mounana open pit was covered with a cover of broken rock and laterite soil. Contaminated areas at the processing site were covered with a layer of 0.7 metres minimum of lateritic soil. The rehabilitation work was completed in July 2004, at a total cost of €10.7 million including €7 million from EU funds.
At the end of 2013 Areva quoted 5420 tU at 0.027% inferred resources at the Bagombe deposit.
Gabon is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and signed a safeguards agreement in 1979, but does not have a comprehensive safeguards treaty in force.
Several companies are exploring for uranium in Guinea. In August 2007 the government noted that Murchison United NL, now Forte Energy NL, had encountered some encouraging mineralization (or even "commercially viable deposits") at its Firawa prospect, 600 km east of the capital, Conakry. Forte has announced 7400 tU JORC-compliant inferred resource at Firawa, with 1-2% rare earth elements (REE) present which are as yet unquantified but are prospective by-product.
Toro Energy and Contico also hold exploration licences.
The government has commenced airborne geophysical surveys to locate uranium mineralization, and has launched a new mining code.
Paladin Energy, based in Perth, Australia, has developed the Kayelekera uranium mine in northern Malawi, west of Karonga. As of April 2011 this had reserves of 11,265 tU at 0.04% cut-off, within 15,000 tU measured and indicated resources in average 0.08% ore (JORC and NI 43-101 compliant). Inferred resources add 2900 tU. The orebody remains open to the west and exploration is proceeding here and on nearby leases, including Mpata to the east and Juma to the south.
The deposit was discovered by UK's CEGB and a feasibility study was subsequently undertaken in the 1980s. Paladin acquired the deposit in 1997, accepted a Bankable Feasibility Study early in 2007, and following environmental approval undertook a US$ 220 million mine development. The mine was opened in April 2009. Paladin (Africa) Ltd holds Paladin's 85% interest following the Development Agreement with the Government of Malawi, and the government holds 15%.
Kayelekera production commenced in mid-2009, and in 2012 production reached 1103 tU, followed by 1134 tU in 2013. In mid-2013 C1 cash costs were US$ 39.20/lb. It employs a conventional acid leach treatment process, and was expected to ramp up to 1460 tU/yr. However, in May 2014 Paladin suspended production and put the mine into care and maintenance due to low uranium prices. This is expected to cost about $12 million per year ongoing, compared with operating losses of double that.
The Livingstonia uranium deposit is in similar geology some 100 km southeast of Kayelekera, but as yet unquantified.
The Falea uranium deposit in southwestern Mali, 250 km west of Bamako, is being explored by Vancouver-based GoviEx Uranium Inc. This was formerly a project of Denison MInes, which took over Rockgate Capital Corp in January 2014. Denison now owns 24.6% of GoviEx. Falea was discovered by Cogema in the 1970s. There are three licences: Bala, Madini and Falea.
Uranium is envisaged as a co-product with copper and silver. Measured and indicated resources (NI 43-101 compliant) are 6700 tU at average 0.1%U grade and inferred resources of 5160 tU at 0.06%U (2015). Radiometric sorting shows promise and several flowsheets are being considered to give three products. Original focus was on the central zone but in 2012 a further higher-grade north zone was identified. Mineralisation is in sandstones, mostly flat-lying, and the project is 20 km north of the Guinean border.
Areva is exploring the Saraya East uranium deposit, 80 km from Falea.
Forte Energy NL based in Australia in April 2012 released JORC-compliant inferred resource figures of 9000 tU at 0.020%U for its A238 uranium prospect in granites near Bir Moghrein in the north of the country near Western Sahara. There is a main zone of mineralisation over a strike length of 1.75km with mineralisation extending down to over 250m from surface with widths of over 60m within 50m of the surface. Forte also has 800 tU in the Bir En Nar deposit nearby. Areva holds 11.3% equity in Forte, and will join in any major development.
Australia's Aura Energy has a JORC-compliant resource of 19,000 tU at 0.028%U, nearly all inferred as of mid-2014, with 100 ppm cut-off for its Tiris project. This comprises two tenements – east and west – 200 km apart with shallow calcrete deposits on the Reguibat Craton in the north of the country, close to Algeria and Western Sahara. The exploration target would double the resource. The eastern deposit, mostly Oued Fl Foule Est, is the main one. In 2014 Aura announced positive results in beneficiating ore from the Reguibat project about sevenfold to concentrate fine carnotite, with tests showing rapid alkaline leaching. A feasibility study is expected in by the end of 2016, for a simple truck and shovel mine on the eastern deposit feeding $45 million plant, with production at about 300 tU/yr from 2017, over 15 years. In February 2016 Aura signed an agreement with Guangdong Power Engineering Co Ltd (GPEC) for engineering services and finance, the latter involving an offtake agreement for part of the production. GPEC is a subsidiary of CGN’s China Nuclear Power Engineering Group.
The government's Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) is encouraging exploration for uranium to build upon that done by French and Russian geologists prior to 1982. Three areas are under investigation: Haute Moulouya, Wafagga and Sirwa. The first two have palaeochannel deposits. Toro Energy holds tenements in Haute Moulouya area.
In October 2007 Areva signed an agreement with Morocco's Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP) to investigate recovery of uranium from phosphoric acid. The amount of uranium in Morocco's phosphates is reported to be very large, and the feasibility of recovering uranium as a by-product of mining them is under active consideration. In 2007, 27 million tonnes were mined for fertilizer.
Morocco also controls Western Sahara to its south.
In March 2009 Russia signed a cooperation agreement with Nigeria, including provision for uranium exploration and mining in the country. A further broad agreement in June 2009 envisaged the construction of a Russian power reactor and a new research reactor. See also Emerging Nuclear Countries paper.
Several companies are exploring for uranium in Tanzania.
Uranium One is undertaking a definitive feasibility study for its Mkuju River project in the Namtumbo district of southern Tanzania, incorporating the Nyota deposit which is the main part of it, 470 km southwest of Dar es Salaam. Government environmental and other approvals are well advanced and Mantra Tanzania Ltd was granted a Special Mining Licence for the project in April 2013. The government has allocated 345 km2 of land inside the 50,000 km2 world heritage Selous Game Reserve to the project – 0.7% of its area – and with hypothecation of some $5 million per year of mine taxes (ten times the Reserve’s present budget) to its management, along with investing US$800,000 in anti-poaching activities. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee in July 2012 had accepted the Tanzanian government request to excise the area required for mining.
Uranium One expected to start mining in 2013, eventually producing 1400 tU/yr, but has deferred commercial production to 2018. CIM-compliant resources are 58,620 tU, including measured and indicated resources of 48,000 tU and inferred resources of 10,600 tU with average grade 0.026%U at 100 ppm cut-off (March 2013). Proven and probable reserves early in 2016 were quoted at 25,876 tU at 0.041%U. The resources are extensive, in sandstone at shallow depths, and present plans are to mine in multiple pits feeding a single mill with conventional acid leach and resin in pulp recovery. ISL mining using acid may be employed, especially for the 13% of resources outside designed pits and also below the water table. One-third of the total resource is below the water table, so the ISL potential could be greater, and the company early in 2016 was actively considering this. Capital costs were estimated at US$ 430 million for the treatment plant and infrastructure, open pit mining would be contracted. Cash cost is $25/lb for conventional mining but overall cost will be over $50/lb. A preliminary feasibility study on heap leaching lower grade ore as phase 2 of the project is under way, and results look very promising.
The project was commenced by Australia's Mantra Resources Ltd, which was taken over by ARMZ in mid-2011 for $1.16 billion, allowing Uranium One (then 51% owned by ARMZ, now wholly owned) to take over development of the Mkuju River project and other exploration activities. Uranium One had an option to acquire Mantra from ARMZ, but notified its intention to terminate the option in mid-2014. However, the Tanzanian government is claiming $196 million in capital gains tax from ARMZ, plus $9.8 million in stamp duty.
In the south, close to Uranium One's Mkuju River project and with similar geology, Australia's Uranex NL is developing its Mkuju Uranium project, with Likuyu North and other deposits which have significant mineralisation. A mineral resource estimate for Likuyu North in 2012 suggested about 2350 tU.
In central Tanzania some 80 km west of Dodoma and adjacent to its Bahi deposit, Uranex in 2010 reported inferred resources of 12,000 tU in a shallow deposit at Manyoni, which it hoped to mine in 2013. The Itigi prospect is 50 km west of Manyoni. Mining approval for Bahi was given by the government in 2009.
In the south-east, East Africa Resources Ltd based in Perth is investigating its Madaba-Mkuju sandstone roll-front deposits, originally discovered in 1978. In December 2011 Korea Resources Corporation (KORES) agreed to invest $3.5 million for a 50% stake in the Mkuju South project.
US-based Uranium Resources Inc (URI) in May 2013 announced inferred resources of 770 tU for its Mtonya project in southwestern Tanzania, most of which is potentially an ISL operation in similar geology to Uranium One’s Nyota deposit and 60 km south of it. URI subsidiary Uranium Resources PLC (URA) manages the project. Very little of the known mineralization has been quantified so far.
Kibo Mining Plc has entered into an agreement with Metal Tiger Plc regarding a 50/50 Joint Venture on its subsidiary Kibo Uranium’s Pinewood uranium-coal tenements near Songea in southern Tanzania. Metal Tiger is farming into 50% of Kibo Uranium Ltd for $800,000 over three years from early 2015.
The government announced a new uranium mining law to be put in place in November 2010 to assist diversification of its mining sector. It quoted known resources of 21,000 tU at the above sites. It has also expressed an intention to investigate the use of nuclear power.
GoviEx Uranium Inc of Canada is planning to develop its US$ 118 million Mutanga uranium project in southern Zambia, close to the Zimbabwe border, when uranium prices improve beyond $65/lb. This was previously being developed by Denison, which announced a NI 43-101-compliant resource in March 2009, based on shallow orebodies: Mutanga, Dibwe and Dibwe East. Measured resources for the whole Mutanga project confirmed in September 2013 are 500 tU at 0.04%U, indicated resources 2235 tU and inferred resources 16,000 tU. In March 2012 Denison announced 10,870 tU inferred resource for Dibwe East, between the other two. Following successful licence renewal, a feasibility study was undertaken for an open pit mine with acid heap leaching. The project has two contiguous 25-year mining licences, environmental approval and radioactive materials licence. The Mutanga pit would be 750x550 m and the Dibwe pit 10 km southwest would be 1500x300 m. The project, formerly known as Kariba, was developed by OmegaCorp prior to its acquisition by Denison and then GoviEx.
The Chirundu project also close to the Zimbabwe border is exploring the Njame and Gwabe deposits and reported 4300 tU as measured, indicated and inferred resources. A mining licence was granted for the project in October 2009, with a view to a 500 tU/yr acid heap leach operation. It includes the Siamboka prospect. A feasibility study was commenced but then deferred due to low prices. The company is also exploring the Kariba Valley/Chisebuka deposit 250 km along strike southwest, on the other side of the Mutanga mining licence tenements. African Energy Resources now holds 100%, but in March 2017 agreed to sell the project to GoviEx. The sale will result in almost contiguous tenements of approximately 140 km in strike length parallel with the border, including three mine licences, containing combined mineral resources of 5800 tU of measured and indicated resources and 17,400 tU inferred resources.
African Energy Resources also has the Northern Luangwa Valley project in northern Zambia, with the Sitwe North prospect. The uranium mineralisation occurs in multiple horizons and is open in all directions.
Equinox Minerals, based in Perth, Australia, is operating the US$ 762 million Lumwana project in NW Zambia. This is primarily a large copper mine, with two open pits 7 km apart. In 2010 it produced 146,690 tonnes of copper. Following a bankable feasibility study on uranium recovery the company announced 3800 tU indicated resources at 0.079%U and 2570 tU in inferred resources. The uranium is in discrete uranium-enriched zones that are being mined separately from the copper ore and stockpiled. An environmental impact assessment of the uranium project was approved in December 2008 and treatment of uranium ore to produce 700 tU/yr was planned from 2010. However, investment in the $230 million uranium mill was deferred due to low prices and difficulty in financing this part of the project. The Malundwe open pit is the first of two uranium sources within the overall project, where the mineral is in discrete veins in the broader copper mineralisation. In January 2011 the company said that it had 4.6 million tonnes of uranium ore stockpiled containing 0.09% uranium and 0.8% copper. "This uranium-copper stockpile may be treated at a later date, if and when the Company builds a uranium plant." Meanwhile it is being classified and expensed as "waste" to the copper project. In mid 2011 Equinox was taken over by Barrick Gold Corp. for C$ 7.3 billion, in the face of a rival bid from China's Minmetals.
Zambia has upgraded its mining legislation to take in uranium, following detailed consultation with the IAEA. It started issuing uranium mining licences late in 2008. It is signatory to the NPT and has been a member of the IAEA since 1969.
The 2014 Red Book notes 1400 tU as reasonably assured resources in the $130-260/kg bracket, and also speculative resources of 25,000 tU. Other reports mention a deposit at Kanyemba, north of Harare, in which Iran has expressed some interest.
OECD NEA & IAEA, 2010, Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand