January 5, 2011

Plans to generate nuclear power

Namibia is set to develop its rich uranium resources and intends to pursue uranium enrichment locally. It also plans to build its own nuclear electricity plant. Nuclear energy experts from Finland's Nuclear and Radiation Authority are currently helping the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) to draft Namibia's first ever nuclear policy, which is to be completed mid-2011, together with relevant laws. Namibia plans to generate electricity from its own nuclear reactor by 2018.

"It is the expressed decision of the Namibian government to seriously consider the development of nuclear power in order to complete the national energy mix and provide sufficient energy for our development," said mining minister Isak Katali at an introductory nuclear policy conference. "The uranium and nuclear energy policy to be developed will cover the entire nuclear fuel cycle, being uranium exploration, mining, milling and nuclear energy (generation)," Katali added.

The nuclear policy will include the establishment of a nuclear waste management fund, black economic empowerment through equity participation in the uranium sector, skills transfer to Namibians and using uranium only for peaceful purposes.

Namibia is producing about 5.000 tons of uranium annually and was the world's fourth-largest producer in 2009, providing nearly ten percent of the global needs. The three reservoirs that will supply the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine with water. "It is no secret that our government made the decision to develop nuclear power locally - the demand for energy is growing," says Joseph Iita permanent secretary in the MME. "We have big uranium resources and we work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to achieve a strong policy framework for a safe and efficient nuclear policy for peaceful purposes only."

Namibia is signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in Connection with the NTP and Protocol Additional to the Safeguards Agreement. The country established the Namibian Atomic Energy Board in February 2009.

Some 66, mostly foreign companies from Australia, Canada and China companies have EPLs for uranium exploration in Namibia, mainly in the coastal Erongo Region. Only four uranium companies obtained uranium mining licences with two mines operational and two new mines under construction among them. The oldest mine, Rössing Uranium of British Rio Tinto started in 1976, only to be joined three decades later in 2007 by Langer Heinrich Uranium (LHU). LHU is owned by Australian mining outfit Paladin Energy, which produced 1,170 tons of processed uranium called yellow cake in 2009. The Iranian government has a 15 percent stake in Rössing Uranium. At least five more uranium mines are in the pipeline within the next three to four years and the national power utility NamPower is already expanding its power grid and electricity generation capability.

The new uranium mining areas are partly located in a proclaimed national park and one of the most popular tourist hotspots in the country. "Unless all this is well-managed and the necessary safeguards are in place, the uranium rush will negatively affect the environment - both at individual mine level and on a cumulative basis, which will affect sense of place, tourism, lives and livelihoods," says Peter Tarr, one of the experts who completed an in-depth study on the impact of the future uranium industry. (IPS)


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