Uranium was discovered in the Namib Desert in 1928, but it was not until intensive exploration in the late 1950s that much interest was shown in the area. After discovering numerous uranium occurrences, Rio Tinto secured the rights to the low-grade Rössing deposit in 1966. Ten years later, in 1976, Rössing Uranium, Namibia’s first commercial uranium mine, started production.
Today, Namibia has two significant uranium mines (Rössing Uranium and Swakop Uranium, after the Langer Heinrich Uranium mine was placed in care and maintenance during 2018), which together provide 8.4 per cent of the world’s uranium oxide output; in 2018 Rössing Uranium produced 4.1 per cent of the world's output.
The mine has a nameplate capacity of 4,500 tonnes of uranium oxide per year and, by the end of 2018, had supplied a total of 135,088 tonnes of uranium oxide to the world.
The mine is located 12 km from the town of Arandis, which lies 70 km inland from the coastal town of Swakopmund in Namibia’s Erongo Region. Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only deep-water harbour, is located 30 km south of Swakopmund. The mine site encompasses a mining licence and accessory works areas of about 180 km2, of which 25 km2 is used for mining, waste disposal and processing.
Mining is done by blasting, loading and hauling from the open pit before the uranium-bearing rock is processed to produce uranium oxide. The open pit currently measures 3 km by 1.5 km, and is 390 m deep.
Our partners and stakeholders include private citizens and their communities as well as non-governmental organisations, small-scale enterprises and multinational corporations. Thus, the benefits of our operations are felt locally, nationally, across the African continent and internationally.
Rio Tinto owns the majority of shares (68.62 per cent) in Rössing Uranium Limited. On 26 November 2018 Rio Tinto announced that it had agreed to the sale of its stake in Rössing Uranium with the China National Uranium Corporation Limited CNUC). The transaction is subject to certain conditions precedent, including merger approval from the Namibian Competition Commission. Subject to these conditions being met, the transaction is expected to complete in the first half of 2019.
The Namibian Government has a shareholding of 3 per cent and it has the majority (51 per cent) when it comes to voting rights. The Iranian Foreign Investment Company (IFIC) is a passive legacy investor in Rössing Uranium, holding a 15 per cent stake that goes back to the early 1970s in the financing of the mine. The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of South Africa owns 10 per cent, while individual shareholders own a combined 3 per cent shareholding.