Namibia rejects Russian company’s mining permit

Raises environmental concerns over extraction methods
Namibia ranks third in terms of uranium reserves, after Kazakhstan and Australia. Rossing Uranium is one of the mines in the country. Photo: iStock
Namibia ranks third in terms of uranium reserves, after Kazakhstan and Australia. Rossing Uranium is one of the mines in the country. Photo: iStock

Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform has rejected Russia’s atomic energy agency’s application for a uranium mining permit over concerns about potential groundwater contamination, according to local media reports.

One Uranium Group is the Russian State-owned nuclear power enterprise Rosatom’s subsidiary. It was granted exploration rights in 2019. But in December 2022, the ministry refused to give it a water-use permit required for mining, saying the company failed to prove its uranium extraction method would not cause pollution.

No further permit would be granted because the method of mining the company proposed, known as the in-situ leaching, was raising environmental concerns, the ministry said. 

Calle Schlettwein, Namibia’s Minister for Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform, said:

The permits we’d given had conditions to ensure we could monitor the activities and assure ourselves that the aquifer was not endangered. Unfortunately, the company did not conform to the conditions and we now suspect the mining operation, which is called in situ leaching...there is a risk to the aquifer by polluting it.

Farmers in Namibia’s eastern Omaheke region, according to Schlettwein, have petitioned against the method, which involves recovering minerals by dissolving them in an acid pumped into the ground and then pumping the solution back to the surface.

Another petition against in-situ mining has been filed by Roy Miller, a retired underground water geologist and member of the management committee of the Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Association. 

Namibia ranks third in terms of uranium reserves, after Kazakhstan and Australia. The country's uranium mines are Rossing Uranium, Swakop Uranium and Langer Heinrich, which is on maintenance at present.

After more than 10 years of exploring the uranium potential of Namibia’s subsoil, the Russian state nuclear group Rosatom has applied for a permit to mine uranium in the east of the country, far away from the rest of the country’s uranium operations.

Uranium One Group is the operator of the Wings exploration project in Namibia. Under this project, the search and exploration of uranium deposits are carried out within the Sampriet Artesian Basin (SAB) located 300 kilometres southeast of the metropolitan city of Windhoek.

The company has come under criticism over drilling and its impact on the Stampriet aquifer from various stakeholders. But the company denies these allegations.

Geological exploration, experimental and design activities will be completed by 2026, according to the latest data, whereas the start of uranium mining is planned for 2029. 

Uranium One Group said:

The exploration drilling is of a very small diameter and has no impact whatsoever. The Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism have done their due diligence and have renewed four Exclusive Prospecting Licences and four Environmental Clearance Certificates.

The company projects that the mine will produce about 3,000 tonnes of uranium per annum. In total, it will increase Namibia’s GDP by around 2-3 per cent.

Based on 2021 production figures, Namibia could well produce over 10,000 tonnes of uranium per annum when Uranium One Group comes into production.

Uranium mines Dalur was the first Russian company that mined uranium using the in-situ leaching (ISL) method. During a media visit for Namibian journalists, the company claimed intergovernmental organisation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had recognised in-situ leaching (ISL) as the most environmentally friendly method.

An environmentally friendly chemical called Bentonite is used to prevent any possible contamination of underground water sources, claimed Rosatom’s Head of Corporate Communications of Mining Ivan Krupyanko. 

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