The history of modern uranium is relatively new, as the radioactive properties only became known in the 1890s, when Antoine Henri Becqerel left a sample of uranium on top of a photographic plate. This marked the first discovery of “rays” or “light” emitted from uranium, as the plate became cloudy overnight.
Uranium, a silvery-grey metal, is a chemical element which is weakly radioactive, and is formed only in supernova explosions. Uranium is 40 times more abundant than silver, and 500 times more common than gold, and is present throughout the earth’s crust as a component of most rocks, soils, rivers and oceans.
Gold and uranium mining in Africa is typically accomplished together, as both methods process large amounts of rock for small yield quantities. Ore-containing uranium is crushed and leached in a uranium mill, where the uranium concentrate “yellow cake” is formed. Uranium mining in Africa typically yields only about one kilogram of uranium for every 1 000 kilograms of uranium ore.
Reserves of uranium are calculated according to its recoverability out of these materials at a cost of less than US$ 130 per kilogram. Some regions, such as Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia, have higher parts per million, while uranium mining in Africa is dependent on about 888 400 tonnes of reserve across the continent.
Up to 2009, 27% of the total 50 572 tonnes of uranium ever mined came from Kazakhstan. Canada, Australia, Namibia, Russia, and Nigeria are also considered major producers of uranium. Currently, uranium mining in Africa by the countries Niger, Namibia and South Africa produce 18% of the world’s demand of the metallic chemical.
A main centre for uranium mining in Africa is focused along the Witwatersrand Basin, which also holds the world’s largest gold reserves. Here, uranium is found in Precambrian quartz-pebble conglomerates in the Brakpan and Krugersdorp regions. Uranium mining in Africa is viable with these quarts-pebble conglomerates, as deposits are low grade, but characterised by high tonnages.
AngloGold Ltd is a key figure in uranium mining in Africa, owning an underground mine with an average annual output of 674 tonnes. Currently, the largest project for uranium mining in Africa is the Randfontein mine in Gauteng, also known as the Ezulwini project. Established in January 2007, the mine has an inferred uranium output of 83 969 tonnes.
Possessing major reserves, uranium mining in Africa – in 2005 – increased production by 7% from the year 2000. Taking figures from 2009 into account, the steady increase in output shows that with demand increasingly outstripping supply, uranium mining in Africa has a bright and productive future, as this vast resource is still largely untapped.
Future projects involving uranium mining in Africa include one of the world’s largest suppliers of nuclear fuel, Areva, setting up a uranium processing plant in the Karoo region – establishing an even bigger market for uranium mining in Africa as a buyer of processed ore.
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