PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT

Rössing Uranium is committed to protecting the environment in which we operate. Measures include a wide range of preventative monitoring activities.

We have a particular focus on water management and monitoring, especially considering the extreme rainfall conditions associated with the Erongo Region’s water-scarce, hyper-arid climate. We have a strong history of engagement and co-operation with our regulators and other stakeholders to ensure that the environment remains protected.

We manage impacts on the environment with guidance from, among others, Namibian legislation, the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, Rössing Uranium’s performance standards, and international best practices.

Through transparent reporting we provide our stakeholders with the assurance that our environmental impacts are monitored, and the necessary mitigation measures are in place to keep our environmental impacts minimal.

Our environmental management performance, measured against set objectives and plans, is discussed below.

 

WATER MANAGEMENT

Water management at Rössing is guided by a formal water strategy, a water management plan and a Rössing-specific environmental standard on water usage and quality management.

These management tools cover all activities related to water abstraction, transport, storage, and usage (potable and process), as well as impounded water and groundwater. The intent of the standard is to ensure efficient, safe, and sustainable use and protection of water resources and ecosystems.

In addition, Rössing adheres to all aspects pertaining to water in the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia. To that effect, we operate with a Waste Water and Effluent Disposal Exemption Permit 674 and Water Abstraction Permit 10200.

Knowing that our water requirements are substantial, our focus is on the sustainable and accountable use of this scarce and valuable resource, with minimal adverse effects on the environment.

We carry out various continuous monitoring activities, which include:

  • taking frequent flow-meter readings at various points in the Processing Plant to provide a continuous overview of our water balance data,
  • taking frequent water level measurements on our TSF and numerous monitoring locations across the mine site, extending to the Khan and Swakop Rivers, and
  • conducting water-quality sampling at various locations (starting at the source, the TSF) which we use to understand changes in water chemistry due to chemical reactions in the heterogeneous environment.

All spillages in the Processing Plant are captured and channelled to a large recycle sump for reuse. Effluents from the workshops are treated to remove oils and sewage is processed in the onsite sewage plant. These semi-purified effluents are used in the open pit for dust suppression.

At the deposition pool (active paddy) of the TSF, water is recycled and reused on a continuous basis in the Processing Plant, minimising surface evaporation and infiltration into the tailings pile. Water that infiltrates the TSF is recovered by pumping boreholes and open trenches installed on the facility itself to reduce the volume of underground water within the tailings pile.

Seepage control systems are also deployed outside the TSF. They include a surface seepage collection dam to capture water from the engineered tailings toe drains, cut-off trenches in sand-filled river channels and dewatering boreholes (situated on geological faults and fracture systems on the downstream, western side of the facility). All systems are designed to lower the water table to the extent that flow towards the Khan River is interrupted. The recovered water is reused in the Processing Plant.

Herbert Clarke (Operator) and Joseph Shaningwa (Senior Water Control Officer) sampling for water quality monitoring.

 

Freshwater usage
Our water demand is met by the local bulk water supplier, NamWater, via a pipeline from the base reservoirs in Swakopmund and is sourced from the Orano desalination plant near Wlotzkasbaken. Fresh water supply continues to be a challenge for our operation, as our demands are not always met due to engineered or otherwise natural challenges experienced by the suppliers.

In 2020, the total freshwater usage target was set at 2,883,500 m3 of freshwater for all operations.

The actual consumption of fresh water came to 2,511,966 m3, which is 13.1 per cent below the planned target. The savings were made possible through continuous improvement efforts on our recycling methods, which comprised 61.8 per cent of the total water usage (see Figure 10).

Monthly freshwater usage, as depicted in Figure 11, was below plan for most of the months. Worth noting, is the actual water usage for February, which was severely affected by interruptions in water supply. Also, we had our annual maintenance shutdown of the plant in November, after which production was interrupted by several unprecedented pipe bursts, resulting in lower water usage against the planned target.

On average, we met the target on freshwater usage per tonne of ore, which was set at 0.3 m3/t with 0.288 m3/t recorded.

Khan River water use
Saline groundwater from the Khan River aquifer, in conjunction with biodegradable dust suppressant polymers, is used to suppress haulroad dust in the open pit. A total of
169,458 m3 of water was abstracted from the aquifer during 2020, which is 19.5 per cent of the permitted 870,000 m3 per year.

Although we abstract a low portion of the permitted volume, we continue to monitor the vegetation and water levels in the Khan River to prevent over-abstraction, based on the ecosystem response. In compliance with the abstraction permit conditions, annual reports derived from the water-level and vegetation-monitoring programmes are sent to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

 

We continue to monitor the vegetation and water levels in the Khan River to prevent over-abstraction, based on ecosystem response.

 

AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT

Rössing Uranium is committed to protecting the environment from the harmful effects of air pollution caused by its mining activities.

Dust is generated during blasting, the loading and dumping of ore and waste, as well as during the crushing and conveying of ore. Winds at speeds above 30 km/h potentially mobilise fine particles from rock dumps and the TSF and disperse them into the environment.

Dust particles can be so small that they become airborne, easily causing environmental effects such as reduced visibility, stain and damage to buildings, increased acidity in water bodies, and lessening of the soil with the resultant damage to plants.

In addition, noise and ground vibrations are created during blasting which is conducted when required, while the machinery deployed in the open pit and the Processing Plant generates noise continuously.

Therefore, dust emissions, noise and ground vibrations created during mining activities require an understanding of the impact they have on the people and the environment most affected. Hence, an air-quality monitoring programme (AQMP) is in place to measure and monitor air pollutants in the mining and surrounding areas. This guides us in implementing programmes to help reduce these impacts.

 

Environmental dust

Rössing is located in an arid environment and the climatic conditions make dust an inevitable reality in mining operations such as ours. Dust emissions are of concern to the residents of Arandis and Swakopmund, especially when high-velocity winds occur during the winter months.

To quantify dust fallout and allow mitigation when necessary, the AQMP is in place. Measures are taken to ensure that exposure levels do not exceed the adopted occupational limits and that the controls efficiently detect differentiations resulting from process changes.

Two types of dust are measured: firstly, a very fine dust invisible to the naked eye that is comprised of particulate matter less than 10 micron (known as PM10), and secondly, fallout dust, which is visible to the naked eye and comprised of lager particles, including PM10.

The measure of PM10 is the concentration of particles less than, or equal to, ten micrometres in diameter in one cubic metre of air. We continuously monitor PM10 dust levels at four monitor stations: three onsite and one in the nearby town of Arandis (see Figure 13, denoted by pink triangles).

The levels measured in 2020 showed that PM10 dust concentrations at all stations were below the adopted World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 0.075 mg/m3 (see Figure 14). There were no records for Arandis and CMC stations for the month of December, as it was faulty. For the same reason, there were no records from April to July for the Tailings section as well.

Fallout dust is measured at six stations at different locations along the mine boundary (see the yellow dots on the map, Figure 13). The dust-fallout limit is 600 mg/m2 per day with an annual average target of 300 mg/m2 per day, as required by the adopted WHO standard.

During 2020, values measured at the six stations ranged between 1 and 140 mg/m2 per day with an year-to-date average of 18.3 mg/m2 per day (see Figure 15).

All measured deposition rates were well below the adopted South African dust-control regulations.

 

Figure 14

Figure 15

 

Loide Hausiku (Environmental Advisor) monitoring environmental noise.

Noise and vibration

In the absence of Namibian legislation on environmental noise and vibration, Rössing has adopted or referred to the United States Bureau of Mines (USBM) RI 8507 criteria for safe blasting, and for operational noise to the relevant South African National Standards Code of Practice, SANS 10103:2008 (SANS, 1992).

Noise and vibration are monitored through a network of various points and studies. Environmental noise is monitored according to a specific procedure and reported monthly to help identify events when these levels have been exceeded.

In 2020, both air-blast and ground vibration levels were consistently below the limits of 134 dB and 12.5 mm/s, respectively. Blasting is only carried out in the open pit, and monitored at two places, namely onsite and in Arandis.

Environmental noise is measured over snapshots of ten minutes at six different sampling points or stations, namely Station 1 - Rössing Main Mine Access Road, Station 2 - Arandis Airport Gate, Station 3 - Khan River Valley, Station 4 - Khan River Rock Island, Station 5 - Khan Riverbed and Station 6 - Khan Riverbed.

Eleven noise measurement campaigns were conducted throughout 2020 (Figure 16), with no measurement in February due to the instrument being sent away for calibration.

There were exceedances against the Rössing internal noise level of 45 dBA, in January, June, July, August, October, and November. These exceedances were due to strong winds, aeroplanes overhead and cars driving to the airport, all of which are not be associated with the mining activities.

Figure 16

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

As part of the environmental commitment and priority given to protecting the environment, Rössing measures and manages its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy intensities. This assists in improving energy efficiencies and reduce GHG emissions.

The sources of GHG emissions at Rössing include electricity and fuel consumption, the transporting of reagents and uranium oxide, blasting (use of explosives), waste management areas (the sewage plant, rubbish disposal and landfill site), and the extraction and processing of ore. The intensity of emissions is reported per unit of uranium oxide produced.

In 2020, the total energy consumption of the mine was 1,251,283.42 GJ for 2,489.03 tonnes of uranium oxide drummed. This converts to an annual energy consumption of 503 GJ per tonne (GJ/t) of uranium oxide produced, which is 15 per cent above the projection target of 438 GJ per tonne uranium oxide produced. Energy consumption decreased in 2020 compared with 2019, which could be linked to the ore grade that decreased from 0.371kg/t in 2019 to 0.343kg/t in 2020, as well as to the decreased total mined tonnage, from 22.4 million tonnes in 2019 to 19.3 million tonnes in 2020 (see Figure 17).

In 2020, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of production amounted to 59.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne (CO2- e/t) of uranium oxide, which is above the target of 39 tonnes CO2-e/t of uranium oxide for the year (see Figure 18). This could also be attributed to the decrease in ore grade .

 

BIODIVERSITY MANAGEMENT

The protection of environmental quality, including biodiversity, is important at Rössing. We take pride in the conservation of biodiversity within the ambit of the Rössing mining licence, in the surrounding communities, as well as in Namibia at large. Biodiversity management is a practice of protecting and preserving the wealth and variety of species, habitats, ecosystems, and genetic diversity on the planet, which is important for our health, wealth, food, and the services we depend on.

In 2020, Rössing continued to enshrine biodiversity protection in the Health, Safety, Environment and Communities (HSSEC) policy by assessing and considering ecological values and land-use aspects in investment, operational and closure activities.

We continued to be proud members of the Namibia Environmental and Wildlife Society (NEWS), which gave us an opportunity to publish an article on waste management and the promotion of the reduce, reuse, and recycle tenets (3Rs) at Rössing. Our goal remains to create a positive impact on biodiversity and contribute to conservation in Namibia at large.

Rössing was involved in various biodiversity awareness campaigns, surveys, and assessments aimed at creating awareness and strengthening understanding about the importance of biodiversity amongst the workforce, communities and the Namibian population.

 

Environmental Day commemorations

In support of the Environmental Day celebrations on 5 June 2020, the mine promoted an initiative that aimed to strengthen food security in Namibia. The day was commemorated under the theme Biodiversity, with a slogan of ‘The Mighty Earth’.

Each employee was given a vegetable seedling to encourage them to start a backyard garden at their homes in towns, villages and farms. Backyard gardening has been identified as a means of providing year-round access to food for households with short paths to consumers.

Crop production is one key initiative, and smallscale gardening has huge potential to enhance food security, especially during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Considering that Namibia imports most of its food produce, employees were encouraged to get into the habit of growing their own food, as well as supporting or encouraging their communities to do so.

In support of this initiative, the first thirty employees to transplant their seedlings successfully received prizes.

‘Animals have right-of-way’ campaign

Due to human-wildlife conflicts on the Rössing access road over the years, we introduced the ‘Animals have right-of-way’ campaign. The aim of the initiative was to reduce human-wildlife incidents on our roads and to remind all employees, contractors, and visitors to be responsible on the road. Wildlife having rightof-way means that employees should be prepared to stop for the animal to cross the road. An ‘Animals have right-of-way’ billboard was erected as an awareness reminder for employees and the public. The campaign is intended to create a healthy respect for wildlife on our roads, and to keep us safe as the road users.

An accident zone was mapped, based on the vehicle-wildlife incidents on our road, to create an awareness for all road users to be cautious and to avoid collisions with wild animals.

An ‘Animals have right-of-way’ billboard was erected on the road to the mine as an awareness reminder for employees and the public.

The speed limit on the Rössing access road was also changed from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. The reduction of the speed limit will help to minimise the chances of colliding with animals by being able to stop the vehicle at ease.

The awareness campaign is a result of our continuous effort to manage vehicle-wildlife incidents on the Rössing access road, by acknowledging the responsibility of Rössing to ensure all wildlife in our mining license and accessory work areas is protected. The responsibility to protect all wildlife is linked to our license-to-mine, and it is also endorsed by our commitment as a company to the Environmental Management Plan and our HSSEC policy.

Birdwatching Day

Rössing successfully hosted its first-ever virtual birdwatching day for Namibian school learners on 20 October 2020. More than 600 learners participated in the virtual event.

The 2020 birdwatching day also marked the 19th year that Rössing has hosted this event (although previously they were ‘in-person’ and not virtual). The local schools in Arandis, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay have always formed the nucleus of Rössing’s environmental education activities over the past 18 years.

However, due to COVID-19 regulations, the mine’s management decided to offer a virtual bird watching experience through the Rössing website, thus creating an opportunity for schools from all regions to participate in our environmental awareness initiative.

Participating schools watched a video on birdwatching prepared by Rössing and learners and then had to complete a questionnaire to participate in a competition. The video was narrated by well-known birdwatching guide, Peter Bridgeford.

The aim of hosting a birdwatching event was to give participants an opportunity to view Namibia’s unique birdlife and to instil a long-term interest in birds, linked to conserving our local and wilderness biodiversity. For Rössing, the bird watching event is a valuable Additional Conservation Action (ACA), contributing to the company’s Biodiversity Action Plan that strives for the protection of environmental quality, mostly in terms of biodiversity.

 

Progressive rehabilitation

Fifteen progressive rehabilitation projects were identified for execution in 2020. These projects are in various departments and owned by respective managers who report on their progress in quarterly progressive rehabilitation and closure steering committee meetings.

Despite various challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the projects were completed, with some slated for completion in 2021. The projects comprise various clean-up campaigns, the decommissioning of redundant equipment, as well as pilot trials aimed at informing mine-closure planning.

 

LAND-USE MANAGEMENT

Rössing’s total footprint increased from 2,552.59 ha in 2019 to 2,558.45 ha in 2020.

The rock dumps’ footprint increased in both the western and eastern areas of the open pit, with waste dump 2 increasing to 1.4 ha and waste dump 7 to 3.0 ha. This is due to the improvement in the method used to obtain the data. Previously, conventional survey methods were used with the rock contact being projected down onto a surface.

Presently, a drone is used to survey the rock dumps. Therefore, the new method used shows an increase, but there has been no increase in the footprint of the waste dumps. However, the Rössing footprint was amended to reflect the correct size of the waste dumps.

The footprint of the TSF has shown a slight increase with 1.4 ha due to starter walls being built for the future deposition in the Y3 Paddy. Various plant species of conservation value were rescued and replanted at the mine site.

 

WASTE MANAGEMENT

Mining operations are resource-intensive, consuming land, water, power, fuel, chemicals and construction materials to extract the metal held by the ore body. During the ore mining and metal refining processes, waste materials are produced, which consist of mineral wastes in the form of rock and process tailings, and other waste products generated by the services that support the mining process.

Mineral waste

During 2020, a total of 18.7 million tonnes of mineral waste were generated by the mine. This includes 8.7 million tonnes of tailings and 10.0 million tonnes of waste rock. At the end of December 2020, the total cumulative mineral waste stored onsite was 991.7 million tonnes of waste rock and 474.2 million tonnes of tailings.

Tailings were deposited on the existing Tailings Storage Facility. The tailings footprint has shown a slight increase of 1.4 ha due to starter walls being built for the future deposition in the Y3 Paddy. The rock waste was deposited on top of the existing rock dumps close to the open pit without the footprint being extended.

The footprint of the two mineral waste storage facilities has remained approximately the same since 2016. They cover an estimated area of 1,488 ha north-west of the Khan River and are approximately the same size as the town of Swakopmund.

Non-mineral waste

Non-mineral waste is waste material that is not generated from the mineral ore, for example redundant chemicals, conveyor belts, domestic waste, wood pallets, building rubble, scrap materials, used oils, and lubricants from maintenance activities. If waste is not stored and treated properly, it has a negative impact on the environment, as well as the health and safety of our employees.

Therefore, the aim of waste management at the mine is to promote the 3Rs to ensure that waste generated onsite is reduced, reused, or recycled and disposed of in accordance with Rössing’s standards, and all applicable laws, regulations, best practices, and permit conditions.

Waste onsite is being managed by an integrated waste management contractor that was appointed in December 2019. The waste management key performance indicators (KPIs) were aligned, and the variation agreement was signed in July 2020. The waste contractor will handle both hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams and ensure proper treatment and disposal. As part of good corporate governance, Rössing monitors all recyclable types of waste streams (such as used oil, scrap metal, wooden pallets, and packaging materials) sent offsite for treatment, recycling, or disposal by performing a verification assessment of contractors and facilities to confirm that the wastes are being managed appropriately.

During 2020, a total of 732.5 tonnes of recyclable waste material (mainly used oil and scrap metal) were removed from site by the contractor to the offsite recyclers. Domestic waste is transported from the mine site to the Rent-A-Drum sorting facility in Swakopmund. The recyclable and reusable waste is dispatched to Windhoek at the contractor’s refuse-derived fuel plant, while the non-recyclable waste is disposed at the municipal landfill site in Swakopmund.

Contaminated waste includes both radioactive and non-radioactive contaminated waste materials (such as empty paint containers, air filters and processed mineral waste) that is generated from mining, workshops and as well as from the Processing Plant areas.

In 2020, 1,557.7 tonnes of contaminated solid waste was disposed of on the Tailings Storage Facility, while 213.7 tonnes of oil sludge soil were disposed of at the bioremediation facility for treatment. No soil was successfully treated during 2020. Garden waste (18.8 tonnes) was disposed of at a dormant landfill site, while non-contaminated building rubble (382.1 tonnes) was disposed of at Waste 5 at the open pit.

The medical waste stream is managed by the medical personnel onsite and is transported to Medixx in Arandis before it is dispatched to Walvis Bay for incineration. During 2020, a total of 0.34 tonnes of medical waste was generated, which is less compared with 0.45 tonnes in 2019.

The different types of hazardous waste streams generated onsite include used oils, filters, grease, redundant chemicals, batteries, and other items such as fluorescent tubes and e-waste. A total of 127.8 tonnes of hazardous waste was recycled with the offsite approved waste handlers, while 46.5 tonnes of the non-recyclable waste was disposed of at the Walvis Bay hazardous landfill site.

Loide Hausiku (Enviromental Advisor) at the waste bin donated to Westside High School in Swakopmund.

Training and awareness

Rössing supported the Community Skills Development Centre (COSDEC) by donating 10.3 tonnes of redundant wood pallets towards the joinery and cabinet-making workshop in Swakopmund.

To ensure compliance on waste management, regular inspections are carried out in workshops, storage, and disposal areas.

Employees and contractors who are involved with hazardous materials handling and waste handling are trained so that they understand the environmental hazards and risks for routine activities and emergency actions.

An estimate of 300 employees, including contractors, attended the hazardous material and waste management training.

A waste sorting stand was donated to West Side High School to promote the 3Rs.

The stand was fabricated by using offcuts from the plate shop and covered with redundant wood pallets collected from site.

 

CLOSURE PLANNING

The current Rössing mining plan foresees cessation of production at the end of 2026, which is six years from now. The mine closure plan is in place and is reviewed and updated from time to time. The plan guides and consolidates the information on closure planning, and as such it functions as a tool to gather developing knowledge on a continuous basis.

Various infrastructures and features are classified as per different domains and therefore, a plan exists for each domain. For example, in terms of the Open Pit domain: the main feature is an open pit, which will not be backfilled and is envisaged to remain a mining void but will be reworked to prevent access for humans and wild animals.

In another domain, the Tailings Storage Facility domain, the tailings will be managed in a manner that will prevent aeolian and fluvial soil erosion, while seepage will be recovered and allowed to evaporate. The Processing Plant and the mine’s infrastructure will be demolished. Recyclable materials will be decontaminated before selling them. Materials not leaving the mine site will be disposed of safely and sufficiently covered so that they cannot cause harm.

Closure planning has always been part of the business strategic planning over the years. However, with recent changes in majority shareholder and current life-of-mine approaching, extensive closure plan reviews were held to ensure practical and achievable targets/objectives.

Rössing developed implementation plans for mitigation measures and calculated the associated closure costs, which were, to a high degree of certainty, confirmed to be sufficient. A detailed closure plan at pre-feasibility level, containing more technical detail and higher cost-estimation accuracy than the current plan, will be developed in 2020/2021 alongside some key studies, as well as other scientific investigations.

The Rössing Environmental Rehabilitation Fund remains well in place, with annual contributions to the fund calculated according to the current total projected costs associated with mine closure. The contributions are made to ensure sufficient funds being available at the time of closure.

At the end of December 2020, the fund had a cash balance of N$1,120 million and the net present value of the present closure obligation (referring to the full amount of close-down and restoration costs) to which Rössing is committed to at the balance sheet date of 31 December 2020 stands at N$1,601 million. This is based on the life-of-mine ending in 2026; if this is extended, different figures will be calculated.