Lack of power and water cap Namibian uranium output

Friday, September 5, 2008

LONDON (Reuters) - A shortage of energy and water will cap future uranium mine expansion in Namibia, but the country hopes to ease the bottlenecks through desalination and a new coal-fired power plant, an industry body said on Wednesday.

The government has issued some 50 exclusive prospecting licenses for more uranium mining firms, but output of uranium is dependent on the availability of water.

"In a desert water is always a problem," said Wotan Swiegers, principal advisor for health and the environment at the Chamber of Mines of Namibia.

"Any new mine will depend on desalination," he said, adding that the government had granted French nuclear group Areva permission to build their own desalination plant.

"They (the government) have also invested in that and they have also decided in principle to build a second desalination plant," he said.

The only concern for the new desalination plants was the shortage of power as it is a very energy-intensive process.

"We are heavily dependent on South Africa for power," Swiegers told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the World Nuclear Association meeting in London.

The country faces a shortfall of power and imports electricity from South Africa, which has seen its own mining industry hit by shortages of electricity this year.

"We have got a shortfall of around 150 megawatts so we are definitely vulnerable to the changes in South Africa in the short term, but certainly in the long term we will be able to provide security in that field," he said.

Namibia is currently producing 385 megawatts and maximum demand at peak would be 520 megawatt, with an average consumption at around 420 megawatt, Swiegers said.

The country is planning to build its own nuclear reactor in the distant future, while in the near term a multi-fuel plant would be upgraded and a coal plant was being planned.

"The coal plant will be on-line in five years ... it will be modelled according to demand but it will be between 200 to 800 megawatt," he said.

"The government has also indicated they have certain nuclear ambitions in the sense that they would like to look at nuclear power," he added.

The Namibian government is setting up a regulatory system with the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said.

In 2007 the country was the world's sixth largest producer of uranium with around 2,879 tonnes, accounting for some 8 percent of the world's output, according to the World Nuclear Association.

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