The uranium being extracted at Lumwana mine in Zambia as a by-product of copper ore, is merely being stockpiled and not processed, says Mines and energy minister Christopher Yaluma.
Yaluma told lawmakers on February 25 that although there were stockpiles of the uranium product at the mine in north western province, it was not yet being processed until further notice. Since the commencement of copper production at the mine, uranium stock pile has increased to over 5 million tons. “Uranium was and is still, however, considered as ‘waste’ to the copper project by the mine owners,” Barrick Gold.
Equinox had completed a uranium feasibility study in 2008 that showed output of 2 million pounds a year of uranium oxide and 15,000 tons of copper could be mined simultaneously from the discrete uranium-enriched zones.
However, the Canadian Mining company that acquired the Lumwana Mine from Equinox Minerals for C$7.3bn in July 2011 has until now decided to process uranium later when the uranium plant has been built and the policy guidelines are given by Government.
Equinox Minerals was acquired by Barrick Gold Corporation which now owns the mining licence covering 1,355km² which includes two major copper deposits, Malundwe and Chimiwungo, as well as 25 exploration prospects.
The licence is valid for 25 years (from January 2004) and is renewable for a further 25 years. Equinox Minerals secured a long-term (99 years) land title to 35,000ha in May 2008, for its township and mine operation areas.
In recent years there have been concerns from various stakeholders over the radiation effects of the uranium product on the people and the environment being processed and mined in Zambia.
The Council of Churches recently undertook a study on uranium and urged the Government to devise a policy on uranium mining. It argued that mining of the yellow metals should only commence when a specific policy is in place.
Nevertheless, the previous Government had given two licenses for the exploration of uranium to Denison Mines (Zambia) and African Energy Resources. Additionally, there are 140 large and small-scale prospecting licenses which include uranium as one of the minerals to be explored.
Previously, former mines minister Kalombo Mwansa told Parliament that Zambia has not given out any license for the mining of uranium because it is a dangerous mineral, although in some parts of the country, including Gwembe district chiefdom, there are a lot of uranium deposits.
Mwansa further told the lawmakers that Zambia has been consulting the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so that a policy could be framed and approved before any uranium mining could be done in the southern African country and largest copper producer.
Experts say before mining for uranium starts, a developer would be required to come up with an environmental impact assessment report and consult with local communities where the mineral would be mined.