Rio Tinto mine mulls building Namibian desalination plant

Rio Tinto’s Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia is planning an environmental impact study for its proposed water desalination plant.

Rossing’s managing director, Werner Duvenhage, said having completed a “bankable feasibility study,” the company has applied for environmental impact licenses from the Namibian government.

The plant will have capacity to supply 3,000 Ml of water a year, more than the uranium mine’s annual consumption of 2,000 Ml.

Namibia, the world’s fourth-largest uranium producer, is running short of water for the coastal towns of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay, as sources in the semi-arid region diminish including aquifers at the Omaruru Delta and the Kuiseb River.

The government has been considering since September last year, acquiring France’s engineering giant, Areva’s water NAD 3 billion (US$ 253 million) desalination plant in the country, instead of constructing its own facility to supply the semi-arid Erongo region, it said in September last year.

Namibia planned to table an offer to wholly acquire the 20,000 Ml plant that Areva built with initial plans to secure supplies to its Trekkopje uranium project, which has since been mothballed because of low uranium prices.

Should the country build its own facility, Rossing won’t go ahead with its plans, Duvenhage said. “We are not into water supply; we are a mining company.”

Output of uranium oxide at Rossing, which mines 2.3% of global production, last year declined 36% from the previous year to 1,543 tonnes the company reported recently. It filed a loss of NAD 91 million dollars following a profit after tax of NAD 32 million a year earlier as sales dropped 19% to NAD 2.41 billion.