Global trends, such as rising uranium prices and the growing demand for nuclear energy from emerging economies, have resulted in significant investment in the uranium mining industry in Southern Africa. New uranium mines are being developed, even as existing ones are being expanded, in order to cope with the surging demand.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (Production and Investment Forecasts for the Uranium Mining Industry in Southern Africa) notes that there are 13 uranium development projects in the Southern African region — covering Namibia, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique — that are collectively worth $8.65-billion. Namibia, Malawi and South Africa are the largest uranium producers in the region, while development projects in Botswana and Mozambique are likely to result in these countries soon becoming significant uranium producers.
"Spiralling global energy requirements and the need to diversify the energy mix to reduce dependence on coal and oil have has resulted in increased demand for uranium in the past decade," noted Frost and Sullivan’s Mining Research Analyst Yeukayi Kadzere.
"The Southern African region is perfectly positioned to benefit from these trends due to its extensive uranium deposits."
The heightened demand for nuclear energy, particularly in emerging economies such as China and India, and the strong emphasis towards decreasing carbon emissions will accelerate the development of uranium projects in Southern Africa. These trends will potentially push up uranium prices while advancing the development of Southern Africa’s uranium mines between 2012 and 2015.
"Increasing foreign direct investment and the expansion of uranium mines in Southern Africa will result in production levels rising sharply in the medium-to-long term," remarked Kadzere.
"Major international mining companies are making significant efforts to boost uranium production through the enhancement of expansion and exploration programmes in Southern Africa."
As new expansion programmes become fully operational the region’s uranium production capacity is expected to reach approximately 21 260 tonnes by 2016, up from annual production capacity levels of 6 628 tonnes in 2010.
Amidst the general optimism a key concern will be to avoid another Fukushima-type incident which has raised public fears about the safety of uranium.
"Uranium mining operations can be adversely affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis that are outside plant management’s control," cautioned Kadzere.
"In addition, inexpensive and safer substitutes, such as thorium, could present serious challenges for the uranium mining industry in the long term."
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