PROTECTING THE
ENVIRONMENT

Rössing Uranium is committed to protecting the environment in which we operate.

With cognisance on how our mining operations impact natural resources and the environment, we drive 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 14001:2015 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, as well as a 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 drive a wide range of preventative monitoring activities.

 

Ann-August Shikongo, Environmental Advisor, taking rainfall readings on the mine.


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 at our Tailings Storage Facility (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.

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 2021, the total freshwater usage target was set at 2,814,150 m3 of freshwater for all operations.

The actual consumption of fresh water came to 2,723,508 m3, which is 3.0 per cent below the planned target. The savings were made possible through continuous improvement efforts on our recycling methods, which comprised 59.5 per cent of the total water usage (see Figure 5).

Monthly freshwater usage, as depicted in Figure 6, was above plan for the first quarter of 2021. This is mostly attributed to low seepage recovery from the active paddocks during that period, for which the deficit had to be supplemented with fresh water. Low seepage recovery was because of faulty decant pumps, and active interfaces restricted slimes to settle for return dam solution recovery.

Worth noting further, is that the water usage per tonne of ore milled was above target for February and March.

For most of the remaining period in 2021, both the freshwater usage and water usage per tonne of ore milled were below target values. The resultant positive impact from the low calc trial project is evident during this period, as slimes settled relatively faster since its inception, subsequently increasing decant water recovery and reducing freshwater input requirements.

On average, we met the target on freshwater usage per tonne of ore, which was set at 0.3 with 0.282 m3/t recorded. Freshwater consumption performance from 1984 until 2021 is depicted in Figure 7. There has been a steady decrease in the overall freshwater consumed per tonne of uranium oxide produced for the past four years.

Khan River water use
Saline groundwater from the Khan River aquifer, in conjunction with biodegradable dust suppressant polymers, is used to suppress haul-road dust in the open pit. A total of 46,558 m3 of water was abstracted from the aquifer during 2021, which is 5.4 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 submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

 

Ann-August Shikongo, Environmental Advisor, taking rainfall readings on the mine.

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, 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 mining operations including blasting, 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 the dust fallout generated by our mining activities 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, but also includes 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 8, denoted by pink triangles).

The levels measured in 2021 showed that PM10 dust concentrations at the available stations were below the adopted World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 75 µg/m3 (see Figure 9). There were persistent challenges experienced with PM10 stations’ availability and performance in 2021. Full year monitoring was only possible at the Boundary station, although both the Arandis and CMC stations became available later in the year with no monitoring done at the Tailings station.

Fallout dust is measured at six stations at different locations along the mine boundary (see the yellow dots on the map, Figure 8). 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 South African National Dust-Control Regulation (SA NDCR) standard.

During 2021, values measured at the six stations ranged between 4 and 74 mg/m2 per day with a year-to-date average of 17 mg/m2 per day (see Figure 10).

All measured deposition rates were well below the adopted SA NDCR standard.

 

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) as internal reference limits.

Noise and vibration are monitored at various points on- and off-site. Environmental noise is monitored according to a specific procedure and reported monthly to help identify events when these levels have been exceeded.

In 2021, 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.

There were two occasions during which environmental noise readings exceeded the Rössing internal noise level of 45 dBA (Figure 11). These exceedances were attributed to natural background windy conditions experienced at the time of monitoring, rather than to excessive noise generated during mining activities.


Figure 11


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 2021, the total energy consumption of the mine was 1,229,744 GJ for 2,882 tonnes of uranium oxide drummed. This converts to an annual energy consumption of 427 GJ per tonne (GJ/t) of uranium oxide produced, which is 29 per cent below the projected internal target of 603 GJ per tonne uranium oxide produced (see Figure 12).

In the reporting year, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of production amounted to 52 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne (CO2 - e/t) of uranium oxide, which is below the internal of 69 tonnes CO2 -e/t of uranium oxide for the year (see Figure 13). 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.

Ecosystems and associated biodiversity at Rössing are managed through our Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) that follows the mitigation hierarchy, which aims to prevent, minimise, rehabilitate, and restore Rössing’s footprint, and impact on the ecosystem.

Rössing continued to be involved in various biodiversity awareness campaigns and projects that aimed to create awareness and strengthen the understanding of biodiversity amongst the workforce, communities, and the Namibian population.

The protection of environmental quality is important to Rössing.

 

Rössing made a donation to Vulture Namibia, a non-governmental organisation, for use towards vulture conservation in Namibia.

 

Donation towards vulture conservation in Namibia
A significant focus on sustainable development exists at Rössing, and is at the centre of our overall approach to business. Rössing seeks out opportunities that can achieve environmental quality and increase economic wealth and social well-being, today and tomorrow.

A donation of N$50,000 was made to Vulture Namibia, a non-governmental organisation, for use towards vulture conservation in Namibia. The NGO will primarily use these funds on some projects of their mandate:

  • determine the movement of vultures from their natal sites to other parts of Namibia and neighbouring countries,
  • determine the survival rates of chicks and their longevity, and
  • create awareness about the plight of vultures and the important part they play in the ecosystem.

With this donation, Rössing aims to create a positive impact on biodiversity and contribute to conservation in Namibia.

Environmental Day commemorations
In support of the Environmental Day celebrations on 5 June 2021, the mine joined the world in commemorating the day under the theme ‘Ecosystem Restoration’, and to contribute to the restoration of the surrounding ecosystems.

Rössing takes part in environmental celebrations as an opportunity for promoting environmental awareness and environmental work. In 2021, Rössing approached Arandis town council and partnered with them to clean the outskirts of Arandis town-lands and the access road to the mine. The aim was to create an awareness in the community, especially around illegal dumping and littering in Arandis. The day served as a reminder to all that the world is fragile, and that as individuals and entities we need to collectively take care of our environment

While still complying with the regulations governing gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mine employees and the Arandis community came out in numbers and cleaned the town and the access road to the mine. The Arandis town council awarded Rössing with a certificate of appreciation for collaborating on the World Environment Day clean-up campaign.

Birdwatching Day
In 2021, Rössing successfully hosted its 20th Annual Birdwatching Day. This year marks the second year since the event was hosted virtually, and with that, expanding its reach from 600 to 1,165 school learners in terms of participation. An event which was previously a privilege limited to learners from coastal schools, is now open to learners across various regions in the country.

The Rössing Bird-watching Day aims to give participants an experience to view Namibia’s unique bird-life and to instill in the participants a long-term interest in birds, linked to conserving our local biodiversity.

This year the event zoomed in specifically on one bird, namely the vulture. With permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), Rössing filmed the vultures of the Namib around Ganab in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The focus was to create a documentary about the conservation of vultures in Namibia, with the goal of the documentary being to create awareness among participating learners and the Rössing Uranium workforce about the plight of vultures and the important part they play in the ecosystem.

Rössing recognised the Regional Directorates of Education, as well as the principals and teachers for facilitating the participation of their schools in this event. From our corporate social responsibility perspective, we believe that this event has the potential to plant a seed of interest in learners to pursue and take up professions that contribute to the conservation of Namibian wildlife.

Rössing’s commitment to Project Shine
Rössing was a founding member of the Project Shine initiative 14 years ago. With input from various stakeholders, the mine has sustained this project successfully over the years.

Project Shine, which is a clean-up campaign driven by the Swakopmund Municipality, aims to maintain the national roads between Arandis and Swakopmund, with the focus having now been extended to including clean-ups along the coast as well. The project is also involved in educational and environmental awareness in the community, and more co-sponsors are being sought to contribute to the continuation of the project in the future.

In 2021, Rössing donated N$100,000 to the project: the funds were earmarked for supporting Project Shine to execute its mandate of cleaning-up the roads and rolling out an awareness/education campaign. Rössing has also committed to supporting the project with an evaluator and a 4x4 vehicle on monthly evaluation sessions. By supporting such initiatives, Rössing aims to be the leader in environmental stewardship in Namibia.

Progressive rehabilitation
Progressive rehabilitation has been recognised as a key strategy for minimising mine closure liability or obligation and environmental risks. Mining activities disturb land through land clearance and infrastructures that supports mining activities. The open pit, waste rock dumps, TSF, infrastructure, and the Processing Plant account for most of the footprint (land disturbed) at Rössing. Ninety percent of the disturbed area at Rössing is in operational use; therefore, rehabilitation interventions are limited to demolishing redundant infrastructure and clean-up activities.

To leave all rehabilitation until mine closure is not best practise, therefore progressive rehabilitation is applied. Particular effort is made to demolish and clean up redundant and decommissioned facilities and infrastructure. Since this happens throughout the life-of-mine, mining activities are not interrupted and continue as normal.

The proactive, progressive rehabilitation campaign which Rössing has embarked upon in 2021 was mainly based on clean-up projects. Clean-up projects focus mostly on clearing land from waste which has accumulated at identified areas over the years, without necessarily rehabilitating the land.

The approach taken in 2021 was to pro-actively transport this waste to the final disposal areas and, in doing so, reduce the liability and associated cost at closure. Successful implementation of these projects requires thorough disposal strategies for future waste similarly generated through operations to avoid such waste from accumulating. Of the eight projects that were planned in 2021, six were successfully completed, and two are pending regulatory approval.


Land-use management

Rössing’s total footprint increased from 2,558.45 ha in 2020 to 2,579.58 ha in 2021.

The waste rock dumps’ footprint increased to the south-western side of the open pit. The increase is shown along the country rock contact in this area. Improvements in data collection methods have made the detection of this increase in the footprint possible.

The use of drones to survey the rock dumps has improved data coverage into areas previously deemed inaccessible, and has detected an increase of the rock dumps, which are believed to have already been there, but just not accounted for. The Rössing footprint was amended to reflect the correct size of the waste dumps. The TSF footprint remained unchanged in 2021.


Waste management

Mining operations are resourceintensive, 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 2021, a total of 20.3 million tonnes of mineral waste were generated by the mine. This includes 9.6 million tonnes of tailings and 10.7 million tonnes of waste rock. At the end of December 2021, the total cumulative mineral waste stored onsite was 1,001.8 million tonnes of waste rock and 483.8 million tonnes of tailings.

Tailings were deposited on the existing Tailings Storage Facility, hence the footprint remaining the same.

The rock dumps’ footprint, however, increased to the south-western side of the open pit. The increase is shown along the country rock contact in this area.

The footprints of the two mineral waste storage facilities have 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.

Rössing’s open pit that currently measures 3.5 km by 1.5 km and is 390 m deep.

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 reused, recycled, recovered and disposed of in accordance with Rössing’s standards, applicable laws, regulations, best practices, and permit conditions.

Waste onsite is being managed by an integrated waste management contractor appointed in December 2019. The waste contractor handles both hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams and ensure proper treatment and disposal. As part of good corporate governance, Rössing monitors all recyclable waste streams (such as used oil, scrap metal, wooden pallets, and packaging materials) sent off-site for treatment, recycling, or disposal by performing a verification assessment of contractors and facilities to confirm that the wastes are being managed correctly.

During 2021, a total of 2,984 tonnes of recyclable waste material (mainly scrap metal, paper and used oil) were removed from site by the contractor to the off-site recyclers. In terms of the recyclables, Rössing continuously promoted the 3Rs through donations of wood pallets (188 tonnes) to the vocational training centres (COSDEF, NIMT) and to the Urban Agricultural Project under the auspices of the Swakopmund Municipality. Recycling was also promoted through sales of haul truck tyres (24.5 tonnes) for re-use at the Walvis Bay harbour.

All recyclable and re-usable waste is transported from the mine site to the Rent-A-Drum sorting facility in Swakopmund and further dispatched to the contractor’s refuse derived fuel plant in Windhoek, while the non-recyclable waste, including domestic 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 2021, 3,608 tonnes of contaminated solid waste were disposed of on the TSF, while 699.6 tonnes of oil sludge soil were disposed of at the bioremediation facility for treatment. No hydrocarbon contaminated soil was successfully treated during the year, but an alternative disposal proposal is being considered.

A total of 15.0 tonnes of garden refuse were disposed of at a dormant landfill site, while building rubble (821.4 tonnes) was disposed of at the TSF and 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 2021, a total of 0.06 tonnes of medical waste was generated, which is less than the 0.34 tonnes generated in 2020.

The different types of hazardous waste streams generated onsite include PPE, filters, grease, redundant chemicals, batteries, used oil and other items, such as fluorescent tubes and e-waste.

We continuously ensure that our hazardous waste is managed correctly and disposed at a legally registered facility. A total of 135 tonnes of hazardous waste were recycled with the off-site approved waste handlers, while 93.05 tonnes of the non-recyclable waste were disposed of at the Walvis Bay hazardous landfill site. All waste generated and disposed in 2021 is categorised and depicted in Figure 14.

Closure planning

The current Rössing mining plan foresees cessation of production at the end of 2026, which is four 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. The closure planning and management addresses the major socio-economic considerations, both internally and externally. The proactive strategies are put in place and implemented in a progressive manner to limit future liabilities and prevent actual risk at closure.

Various infrastructure and features are classified as per the 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 which will be reworked to prevent access for humans and wild animals.

Other prominent domains needing to be considered in terms of closure are site infrastructure and the TSF, which also have dedicated closure intervention plans. 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 in the open pit. The Processing Plant and the mine’s infrastructure will be demolished as per demolition strategy and cost estimate. Waste disposal options, either in terms of recycling or disposal onsite, will be evaluated for cost effectiveness. 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’s 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 dedicated Life-of-Mine Extension project is currently underway and based on the outcome, a closure planning pathway will be determined. If the life-of-mine is extended to 2035, the same level of closure planning and management will continue. If the approval is not granted, the closure plan needs to be progressed to execution level, containing more technical detail and higher cost-estimation accuracy than the current plan with 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 the mine closure. The contributions are made to ensure sufficient funds are available at the time of closure.

At the end of December 2021, the fund had a cash balance of N$1,252 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 2021 stands at N$1,695 million, including retrenchment costs. This is based on the life-of-mine ending in 2026; if this is extended, different figures will be calculated.