Rössing Plans N$200 Million Desalination Plant

A LOW uranium price of US$28 (N$297) and a high cost of N$90 per unit of desalinated water from Areva’s Erongo Desalination Plant (EDA) has forced Rio Tinto’s Roumlssing Uranium to consider building its own desalination plant.

This will be more affordable for the duration of Roumlssing’s ‘life’ – to be reviewed in 2024. In fact, according to the mine’s chief financial officer, Shaan van Schalkwyk, the mine could save up to N$16 million per year on water with the unit cost reduced to N$20. The proposed plant will cost about N$200 million.

The main water source on which most of the coast depends, the Omdel aquifer near Henties Bay, is running low, and competition for the resource between the coastal communities and the mines has resulted in deals with the EDA plant to supply water to the mines since the end of 2013.

NamWater also had plans to build a desalination plant, but forecast costs are slowing down implementation of these plans.

If Roumlssing’s plans get the Environmental Commissioner Teofilius Nghitila’s blessing in the form of an environmental clearance, this three million cubic metre desalination plant could be up and running by 2016.

The ‘savings’ on the water project could go a long way in helping the mine, which announced in June that it would cut 265 jobs, among others as part of a restructuring process, to keep its head above water.

The restructuring process starts today (1 August 2014). Other elements of the process include a reduction in the working cycle from 247 to a five-day operating cycle. As a result, annual production capacity will be halved from 4 000 tonnes to 2 000 tonnes of uranium oxide. It will also include revised mining and milling targets, annual leave plans to reduce the impact of public holidays and a number of other measures to improve efficiency and reduce costs sustainably.

According to Roumlssing’s managing director, Werner Duvenhage, it is hoped that the plan will cut about N$1 billion from fixed operating costs, but still leaves a shortfall of about N$90 million.

Last month, at the release of the mine’s 2013 report to stakeholders, Roumlssing showed that it managed to break even in the 2013 financial year recording a profit of N$32 million. The company had made losses in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

According to Duvenhage, the savings of more than N$300 million was due to a wide range of cost reduction activities across the mine that were implemented in 2012, and which also saw the retrenchment of 276 workers.

The desalination plant, which will be sourced from an Israeli firm, IDE Technologies, will be a quarter of the size of Areva’s 20 million cubic metre plant north of Wlotzkasbaken.

The proposed ‘modular’ plant, which will use reverse-osmosis technology will be situated at the Swakopmund salt works about six kilometres north of Swakopmund. It will be operated by Gecko Namibia, according to Roumlssing’s Manager for Engineering and Projects, Carlo van Heerden.

Gecko Namibia has plans to establish its Vision Industrial Park north of the salt works but according to Werner Petrick of SLR Environmental Consulting, who is managing the social and environmental impact assessment of the desalination plant, Roumlssing’s project has nothing to do with VIP.

SLR is currently having consultation meetings with interested and affected parties and stakeholders for the scoping report. This will then be followed by specialists contributions for the final SEIA that will be presented to Nghitila for approval. Once that is received, construction work can commence, which is expected from mid-2015.

According to Petrick, specialist studies done on the proposed NamWater plant will be included in evaluating the feasibility and impacts of Roumlssing’s plant.

Source : The Namibian