The Etango Uranium Project is one of the world’s largest undeveloped uranium projects. It is located in Namibia, southern Africa, one of the world’s top 5 uranium producing nations with substantial mining infrastructure. Etango is one of the few uranium projects in the world with a completed Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) and environmental permitting and will be a top 10 producer once developed.
Based on the DFS, production is expected to be 7-9 million pounds U3O8 per year for the first five years and 6-8 million pounds U3O8 per year thereafter. It will have a minimum mine life of 16 years with significant expansion potential through the conversion of existing Inferred Resource as well as the deposit being open at depth and along strike.
Etango is considered by Bannerman to be a low technical and environmental risk project, with conventional open pit mining and sulphuric acid heap leaching at 20 million tonnes per annum.
The Etango licence area (EPL 3345) is approximately 500 square kms.
On 22 September 2014, Bannerman announced the award of the major contracts to construct and operate the Etango Heap Leach Demonstration Plant. Activities at the site commenced in early October and construction is on schedule for completion in March 2015. The photographs below show the work undertaken to date.
Progress to date includes completion of the:
- Primary, secondary and tertiary crushing of 3,300 tonnes of ore and waste,
- Rehabilitation of the areas where the ore and waste rock samples were sourced from,
- Civil construction of the 4 cribs and plinths to support the agglomerator and feed conveyors,
- Reagent mixing area including the acid proofing of the concrete foundation and bund, and
- The two evaporation ponds.
Key outstanding work currently underway includes the water, acid and electrical reticulation and the installation of the crib access steps and walkway, agglomerator and ore feed conveyor system.
Ore and waste material was 3 stage crushed to the orefeed specification assumed in the Definitive Feasibility Study (“DFS”). The material will be blended to reflect the assumed ex-pit orefeed to the planned heap leach operation.
Rehabilitation of the areas from which the ore and waste sample were sourced has been completed.
Heap Leach Cribs
Civil construction of the cribs has been completed and fitting of the shutter system to each of the cribs is underway.
Installation of the crib access steps and walkway, and overhead rail to facilitate movement of the feed conveyor (lying on the ground).
The double lined evaporation ponds have been completed.
Water, Electrical & Acid Reticulation
Installation of the water, electrical and acid reticulation is well underway.
The Etango Uranium Project is situated on the flat Namib Desert sands, approximately 38 kilometres (by road) East of the thriving coastal town of Swakopmund.
The Etango Project is well located for external infrastructure requirements including road, rail, water, electricity and a deep water port.
Road – The Etango Project site is located 38km from Swakopmund and access to the site is via the existing C28 sealed road and a short gravel access road.
Rail – The existing railway line from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund is approximately 30km from the Etango site and will provide an option for the transportation of U3O8 and key reagents to and from the port.
Port – Drummed uranium oxide from the Etango site will be shipped from the Walvis Bay Port, approximately 73km by road from the Etango site. Walvis Bay is one of southern Africa’s largest and busiest deep water ports with over 35 years’ experience of importing mining and processing consumables and exporting uranium oxide.
Power – Grid power will be drawn from the nearby high voltage electricity lines owned by the Namibian power utility, NamPower. A short spur line from the main electricity reticulation line will provide all power to site. Namibia is currently a net importer of electricity and is in the process of expanding its hydro-electricity generation capacity as well as planning for new coal-fired and gas-fired power generation capacity.
Water – Etango will source up to 5 gigalitres per year (GLpa) from either the existing 20GLpa desalination plant at Wlotzkasbaken or a second proposed 20GLpa plant to be located immediately north of the town of Swakopmund. Bannerman is part of the National Desalination Task Force working group comprising a number of mining companies and the Namibian water utility, NamWater, which has commissioned an engineering study on the second desalination plant.
*Operating cost includes all mining, processing, on-site and off-site infrastructure and general/administrative costs and excludes royalties (3% Government royalty) and freight and selling-related costs (together approximately US$1.10/lb) which, in accordance with industry accounting standards, are deducted from revenues for economic modelling purposes.
Figures are presented in US$ in real terms assuming a base date of the December 2011 quarter unless otherwise stated. Economic results reflect 100% of the Etango Project ignoring ownership and financing structure. Bannerman owns 80% of the Etango Project through a Namibian subsidiary.
The project design is aimed at maximising the efficiency of the mining and processing operations given the large material movement. The capital cost estimates reflect simple unit operations and industry-standard availabilities and utilisation rates of installed equipment.
Cost estimates have been prepared based on contractor and supplier quotations for all equipment, bulks and installation costs, and therefore reflect the current estimated costs of constructing and operating a uranium project in today’s mining environment:
The above capital cost estimate includes an “accuracy provision” of US$54 million for unknown but potential increases in quantities and costs, and excludes any owner’s contingency allowance. The DFS cost estimates have been prepared to a ±15% tolerance.
Sustaining capital over the full 16 year life of the operation totals US$381 million comprising US$361 million for mining fleet additions and replacements (net of final residual values), US$32 million in rehabilitation and closure costs, US$6 million for plant and external infrastructure, less US$20 million in recoupment of first fills and receipts of residual values for construction infrastructure.
Major DFS improvements over the PFS included increasing the ore throughput from 15 to 20 Mtpa, increasing the annual production on average by 22%, improving the mining and material movement efficiencies, better positioning of mine waste dumps and metallurgical testwork supporting a higher uranium recovery rate. As a result, the average life-of-mine operating cost increased by only 8% since the PFS despite the significant cost pressure experienced in the industry over the past 15 months.
The operating cost estimates are based on current quotations from suppliers for reagents and consumables:
Uranium Price Sensitivity
The Etango Uranium Project is highly leveraged to the uranium price. The life-of-mine breakeven point is approximately US$61/lb U3O8, approximately the current long term contract price for uranium. Accordingly, relatively modest increases in uranium prices going forward will have significant positive effects on the modelled operating cash flows and the underlying value of the Etango Project, as tabulated below:
Etango project site layout
There is considerable potential for the project mine life to be extended as the DFS has been limited to the following inputs:
- Measured and Indicated Resources of 336.2Mt at 201ppm for 148.8Mlbs U3O8. The existing Inferred Resource of 164.6Mt at 176ppm for 63.9Mlbs U3O8 has been excluded from the DFS but may be upgraded to Indicated status in the future and added to the mine plan;
- Pit optimisations at future higher uranium prices would enable an expansion of the mine design and significant extensions to mine life, based initially on existing Indicated and Inferred Resources but also on resources delineated in the future; and
- Processing throughput of 20Mt per year. The heap leach pad could be configured to process additional tonnes through raising the heap height and/or an expansion of the pad itself.
Drilling has identified the potential to define additional mineral resources within the Etango Project area that could further extend the Etango mine life in excess of 30 years, including:
- The area immediately to the west of the Etango deposit where recent drilling confirmed the continuation of the existing shallow dipping lode structure;
- The area immediately below the DFS pit at Anomaly A where recent drilling confirmed consistent mine grade mineralisation;
- Within the Ondjamba and Hyena deposits to the immediate south where both deposits remain open along strike and at depth; and
- The Ompo prospect to the east of the Etango deposit where mineralisation has been intersected in previous drilling.
The “Rössing type” uranium mineralisation at the Etango Project occurs within a stacked sequence of leucograntic sheets that have intruded the host Damara Sequence of metasedimentary rocks.
The uranium bearing minerals are predominantly uraninite and uranothorite and are hosted within granitic intrusions that vary in thickness from 3 metres to 135 metres. They occur over 150 metres to 1,400 metres in length and dip between -20 to -40 degrees to the west. The granite host unit is locally termed “Alaskite”.
Mineral Resource estimate
The Etango Project Mineral Resource estimate reported at a cut-off grade of 100ppm U3O8 was prepared by Coffey Mining and released in October 2010. The estimate comprises the following:
The Mineral Resource estimate is reported at a cut-off grade of 100ppm U3O8. Refer to the Competent Persons Statement at the end of this document for further information. Figures may not add due to rounding.
The Etango Project Mineral Resource estimate is reported inclusive of Ore Reserves (refer below). In accordance with Canadian technical reporting requirements, it is noted that Mineral Resources which are not Ore Reserves do not have demonstrated economic viability.
Ore Reserve Estimate
The maiden Ore Reserve estimate for the Etango Project of 279.6Mt at 194ppm for 119.3Mlb U3O8 is drawn only from the existing Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources. The Ore Reserve estimate represents an 80% conversion rate from Measured and Indicated Resources.
Figures may not add due to rounding.
The Ore Reserve is stated at an effective date of April 2012 and was estimated in accordance with the standards and guidelines in the Australian JORC Code and Canadian National Instrument 43-101 with a modelled mining loss of 2.6% of metal, mining dilution of 4.9% of the total ore tonnes, a cut-off grade of 70ppm U3O8, a processing recovery of 84.5%, a metal price of US$75/lb U3O8 and the DFS cost estimates outlined herein.
The conventional open pit mining operation will utilise 550t hydraulic back-hoe excavators and 220 tonne diesel/electric haul trucks. Drilling and blasting will be conducted on 12 metre benches and mining on 4-4.5 metre flitches to minimise ore dilution. With this configuration, the mining rate is scheduled at a maximum 100 million tonnes per year.
The Etango deposit outcrops at surface and, as a result, processing commences 3 months after the first production blast. The open pit is relatively shallow with an average end-of-mine depth of 240 metres below surface, and a low average waste to ore strip ratio of 3.3.
- the absence of clay in the ore;
- the mineralisation is free of acid consuming carbonates (or marble), thereby keeping sulphuric acid consumption relatively low at 18kg/tonne of ore processed;
- the predominantly uraninite (UO2) mineralisation is located at grain boundaries allowing rapid and high recoveries at relatively coarse particle sizes; and
- consistent leach characteristics across the entire deposit.
Heap leaching also does not require fine grinding, solid-liquid separation or a tailings storage facility. The process is therefore relatively simple, efficient and cost-effective.
The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism issued Environmental Clearances in April 2010 and August 2011 for the Etango Project and the associated external infrastructure, as proposed in the 2009 Prefeasibility Study.
The independent Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was subsequently updated, based on the DFS design. The assessment concluded that the environmental and social impacts can be readily managed using industry-standard practices and procedures.
In July 2012 the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism issued Bannerman with formal environmental approval for development of the Etango Project. Receipt of the environmental approval followed lodgment of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (“ESIA”) and associated Environmental Management Plan (“EMP”) early in the June 2012 quarter, as well as the public consultation process conducted in the March 2012 quarter. The public consultation process involved Bannerman making available a comprehensive report and associated specialist studies, as well as presentations to key stakeholders and local communities in Namibia. Feedback from the public meetings was incorporated in the final ESIA and EMP documentation.
The environmental approval for the Project complements the environmental approval received last year for the Etango Project’s off-site infrastructure.
The environmental approval is a necessary step in obtaining a Mining Licence for the Etango Project. Bannerman has now also lodged the DFS with the Namibian Ministry of Mines and Energy, in support of the existing Etango Mining Licence application.
A detailed project schedule has been developed as part of the DFS. This indicates an engineering and construction period of approximately 30 months from project approval to plant commissioning. Key tasks include the following:
- Early engineering for long lead item vendor data, commencing approximately 6 months prior to project financing and development approval;
- Project financing and appointment of EPCM contractor;
- Detailed engineering, procurement and construction management;
- Production blasting and initial mining activities;
- Plant commissioning; and
- Production ramp-up.
Development of the Etango Project will, based on the DFS, deliver the following significant direct and indirect economic benefits to Namibia:
- Creation of substantial new jobs in both the construction and operating phases. In the former, an average of 800 new jobs, with a maximum of 1,500 jobs, is anticipated. In the operating phase, an average of 1,000 new on-site jobs will be created. The majority of employees are expected to be recruited in Namibia;
- Education and skills development of Namibians working in the operation, with the annual training and education budget incorporated in the DFS capital and operating cost estimates;
- The economic “multiplier effect” of mine and employee expenditure in the local communities and in Namibia generally. Economic modelling by independent experts has indicated that the mine operating phase will create approximately a further 1,500 indirect jobs in the local communities;
- Mineral royalties to the Namibian Government equal to 3% of net revenues, equating to approximately US$14-20 million (N$100-150 million) per year at a base case uranium price of US$75/lb U3O8;
- Company taxes of over US$0.5 billion (N$4 billion) over the life-of-mine at a base case uranium price of US$75/lb U3O8;
- Employee PAYE taxes of at least US$8 million (N$60 million) per year over the life-of-mine;
- Other taxes including import duties;
- An expansion of Bannerman’s existing reputable corporate social responsibility program which focusses on education and tourism related activities at regional and national levels; and
Commencement of the Etango Project, along with other new uranium mining developments in the region, would be expected to lift Namibia to the world’s third largest uranium producing and exporting nation.