Business Daily (Nairobi)

28 November 2011

Kenya: More Deposits of Rare Earth Mineral Are Found in Kwale

The rare earth mineral discovered in Kenya's coastal region extends beyond the 30 metres reported earlier to about 100 metres with the latest four drilled holes showing significant quantities.

This means that the country has potential to earn more than the Sh270 billion anticipated from the Kwale project.

Analysts said the rare earth mineral project in Mrima, Kwale County, was economically viable and will uplift the country's profile as a mineral producer once a mining licence is granted.

Canada-based minerals and metals firm Pacific Wildcat Resources plans to apply for a mining lease within this quarter for exploitation of niobium and rare earth mineral.

The high grade niobium found in the four holes drilled extends at depths substantially deeper than anticipated, supporting potential for a considerable resource target, Pacific Wildcat Resources Corp president Darren Townsend said in a press statement.

In an earlier interview, Cortec Mining Kenya, which co-owns the mines with Pacific Wildcat Resources, MD David Anderson said a recovery rate of anything above 0.5 per cent for niobium would mean the project is economically viable.

The two firms are giving the local community Sh1 million for development projects every month following a truce after strong opposition that local leaders had mounted against the project.

The community had opposed the project on grounds that it was not involved in the decision to set up and run the project.

A committee representing five villages was established, which formed a trust that will receive Sh2 million every month once the actual mining begins.

Niobium is used to create a strong alloy for making construction pipes and vehicle components. Alloys from niobium and steel are also used in making welding rods, stainless steel products, and optical lenses.

Rare earth is crucial in making high-tech electronics products such as specialised miniature nuclear batteries, laser repeaters, super conductors, and miniature magnets.

A global shortage of rare earth has triggered a spike in mining projects in recent years after China, estimated to account for 97 per cent of global rare earth supplies, tightened trade in the strategic metals sparking a sharp rise in prices. Acting Commissioner for Mines Moses Masibo said in a recent interview that the two firms will continue exploring for minerals in the area.

Strengthening steel

"Cortec will apply for a mining lease before the end of this year when the ongoing environmental impact assessment is complete," said Mr Anderson.

Niobium is also used in strengthening steel in the application of spacecraft parts.

Mr Anderson said the country's rare earth reserves only come third after Brazil and Canada. The minerals are contained in a small zone on top of a hill and the two firms will not have to evict people to exploit them, Mr Anderson said.

He said that in the event that extra land is required, it will be bought from the community. For the rare earth mineral, the firm expects a recovery rate of over one per cent. High grade rare earth was recorded at 4.85 per cent from the surface to 46 metres deep, and 5.69 per cent from 50.85 to 89.35 metres deep, the results indicated. Potential for rare earth drilling has been confirmed, said Mr Anderson.

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