Windhoek-Swakop Uranium’s produced its first drum of Uranium ore concentrates from its Husab mine on the evening of Friday, December 30, 2016. Capital investment in the project to date exceeds US$2 billion. Speaking at a presentation to mark the occasion, CEO Zheng Keping remarked: “We can proudly declare that the Husab mine is in production, bringing new vigour and vitality to the ancient Namib desert. This is the historic moment that we have been striving for, which will be engraved into our own memories, and the annals of the company and the nation.”
The first production marks a significant milestone in development of the mine, which began 10 years ago. The initial exploration and discovery took place in 2006. Following resource definition and preliminary engineering, and the acquisition of the company by CGN and CAD Fund, construction of the mine, processing plant and associated infrastructure began in 2012. Mining operations began in 2014, removing overburden to expose the uranium-bearing ores ready for the start of processing operations. During 2016, over 100 million tonnes of material were removed.
Construction of the processing plant was largely completed during Q4 2016, and commissioning commenced immediately thereafter. First production marks the successful operation of all sections of the operating chain, including the mine and all stages of the processing plant. During 2017, the plant will continue to be optimised, and throughput will progressively be ramped up towards the target production of 15M lbs U3O8 per year.
The Company benefits from the strong support of CGN as its majority shareholder as well as a key customer for its output. CGN has remained steadfast in its desire to see Husab become a reality despite difficult short-term uranium market conditions, and curtailment of projects and retrenchments elsewhere.
At the peak of construction, up to 4 500 contractors’ employees were engaged on the Husab project, the vast majority having been recruited from the region and elsewhere in Namibia. Workers have received additional construction and management skills training, which will benefit themselves and the country as those newfound skills are applied to future construction projects.
The Company has built its workforce for the long term operation of the mine. SU will be one of the biggest employers in the country, engaging more than 1 700 permanent staff and a further 400 contractors’ employees. As a new company, SU has sought to develop the availability of suitably qualified local employees. A record total amount of N$191 million has been committed to technical training, in particular for operators and artisans. Training will elevate the Company’s employees to become world-class employees in their areas of expertise.
Swakop Uranium contributes to reducing unemployment and assisting the country towards poverty alleviation. With an eye to the future, more than half of Swakop Uranium’s employees fall in the youth category. The Company currently hosts 9 interns, and will employ 22 graduates in 2017. This year, 14 undergraduate and 2 postgraduate bursaries will be awarded to Namibians, for studies in various mining industry-related studies. The focus in all these regards is on historically disadvantaged Namibian citizens.
A number of Swakop Uranium employees are given the opportunity to visit China and gain exposure to the high standards and quality applied at nuclear power plants. Returning employees enhance the Company’s management and supervisory practices to uplift productivity and work ethics.
The Company represents a partnership between the people and governments of the Republic of Namibia and the People’s Republic of China. The interaction has nurtured a unique culture, in which employees from both countries learn from each other with great agility, to breed a High Performance Culture of excellence and success.
First product is a precursor to the commencement of commercial production, and the mine’s economic contributions will assist towards the achievement of the National Agenda and Harambee Prosperity Plan. The Company will be a significant contributor to the national revenue through royalties on sales and corporate taxes. The mine is a catalyst for economic development of the country and the region. In 2015, Husab accounted for 11 percent of the total weight of good delivered through the port of Walvis Bay. Uranium sales from Husab will boost export revenues and make a significant contribution to the country’s GDP.
The company has established a social responsibility trust, the Swakop Uranium Foundation. In association with the local communities, the Erongo Development Foundation (EDF) and the Erongo Regional Governor’s office, the Foundation collaborates to help uplift the living standards of the communities, focusing on the poor, the elderly and disadvantaged communities. The Swakop Uranium Foundation set aside N$800 000 in 2016 to assist with areas such as youth unemployment, a Food Bank, drought relief, improving sanitation, vocational education training and rural enterprising.
Swakop Uranium and its employees are a significant part of the local community. The Company organises and supports its employees to take part in sporting events such as local and regional soccer, netball and volleyball tournaments, and encourages involvement in sport and social activities at various schools. The annual Husab marathon has become a fixture on the national athletic calendar.
Swakop Uranium’s contributions will be long-lived. The life of the Husab mine is currently projected at over 20 years, with exploration continuing to define further resources and provide job security and continued economic and social contributions for many years thereafter. The milestone of first production has been built from 10 years of development, but marks the start of a new phase in the history of the Husab mine.