AN announcement last Tuesday of a recent agreement between Australian company Deep Yellow Limited (DYL) and the Namibian government's mining arm, Epangelo Mining Company, for further development of the Aussinanis uranium project near the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre has intensified the threat such a project would have on this world-renowned centre, conservationists feel. Environmentalists fear that the construction of a mine in the area will mean the loss of the invaluable treasure of environmental and geological knowledge.
The deposit is about five kilometres from the research centre, and about one kilometre from the Topnaar village of Sout Rivier. Uranium was discovered in the area about three years ago. DYL announced last week that is had reached an agreement with Epangelo to progress Aussinanis. The Namibian government is Epangelo's sole shareholder, while DYL's operations in Namibia are conducted by its subsidiary Reptile Uranium Namibia (RUN). RUN has transferred its Aussinanis and Ripnes exploration prospecting licences (EPL's) to a newly established company, Yellow Dune Uranium Resources. According to the announcement, Epangelo has acquired an initial five percent of Yellow Dune to fund tests to demonstrate that the Aussinanis deposit can be upgraded. If these tests are successful, Epangelo would become the operator of the joint venture and would earn up to 70 percent in Yellow Dune by funding a pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility study.
DYL's managing director, Greg Cochran, welcomed the establishment of the new joint venture with Epangelo, recognising it as an opportunity for the state-owned entity to develop its operational capability with the support of DYL and its Namibian subsidiary, RUN.
"We have had ongoing discussions with Epangelo since its inception to find opportunities of mutual interest. We believe that the Aussinanis joint venture is an ideal opportunity that will assist Epangelo to pursue its vision whilst deepening the strong ties we have with Namibia and its people," Cochran said.
Eliphas Hawala, Epangelo's managing director, said the agreement was "yet another significant step" that Epangelo as a newly established company has achieved, "well on the way towards becoming a major player" in Namibia"s mining industry - particularly in nuclear fuels mineral development.
"We are very pleased with the opportunity we have to become the holder of the majority stake in the Aussinanis project by funding additional steps. Our focus is to ensure that this project becomes one of Epangelo's operating projects; as supposed to shareholding ventures that we have done in the past. The result of the current test work will be crucial in projecting our technical direction and opportunity to grow our technical base in the nuclear fuels industry," Hawala said.
A former executive director of Gobabeb, Dr John Henschel, is seriously concerned about the impact mining would have on a valuable facility such as Gobabeb.
Besides being invaluable to the environmental conservation of the central Namib, Gobabeb also plays a major role in the implementation of environmental management plans related to development in protected areas such as the Namib-Naukluft Park.
The research at Gobabeb focuses primarily on the climate, ecology, geology, and geomorphology of the Namib Desert.
Since 1997 Gobabeb has been a SADC Centre of Excellence, facilitating the promotion of suitable lifestyles and practices through the wise management of natural resources in arid environments throughout Namibia and the entire SADC region.
"Years of training and research at Gobabeb have established a treasure of knowledge that is far more worth than a couple of years of uranium," Henschel told The Namibian. Henschel said the area should be solely used for research and training, as well as conservation in the Namib-Naukluft Park.