Windhoek- Solvay’s Okorusu Flourspar [sic Fluorspar] Namibian mine could partially resume mining operations in February 2015 if studies to determine commercial viability of a new ore body 100 metres below surface are completed.
“We will conduct exploration for the last remaining portion of the body that has not been looked at, we need to conduct research and determine that we can extract fluorspar economically.
We can have a solution by December and complete feasibility by January,” Mark Dawe, Okorusu managing director, said in an interview.
The company may start “waste stripping by around February” to clear an estimated 1,8 million tonnes of rock to reach an ore body about 100 metres below surface.
“February is a possibility. There is an ore body that we know is there, it’s deeper and much richer,” Dawe said, from the mine site, an open pit operation situated north of central Namibian town of Otjiwarongo, about 280 kilometres from Namibia’s capital, Windhoek.
Okorusu produces acid grade fluorspar for export to Solvay’s plants in Italy and Germany, where it is used to produce hydrofluoric acid, an ingredient in manufacturing of refrigerants, plastics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Okorusu shut down operations citing depleted commercially mineable ore, and is laying off 407 workers. The company would retain 30 workers for care and maintenance, exploration and research and development.
Whilst Namibia has not witnessed any mining closures recently, operations such as Glencore Xstrata’s Rosh Pinah zinc and Rio Tinto Plc’s Rossing uranium mine have retrenched workers this year.
Rosh Pinah cut 124 full time jobs this July during a restructuring exercise while Rossing shed 265 jobs citing a weaker demand for uranium, which is processed into fuel for nuclear power plants.
Okorusu is “going to be generous with the retrenched workers” and negotiations with unions are being finalised, Dawe said, but refused to disclose financial losses from the closure as well as workers layoffs.
The remaining deposits are of “lower grades” and would be “expensive to process”, Dawe said.
Separating fluorite from the gangue minerals is “not economic under the current unfavourable market conditions with low demand and pricing.”
Resuming operations would also depend “on improved market conditions and pricing for acid grade fluorspar”, Dawe said.
Solvay, a chemicals manufacturer based in Brussels, is not considering selling off the mine, which has been in production since 1988, Dawe said.
“Disposal is not a solution, we want to explore further,” he said.
Okorusu would intensify exploration efforts and metallurgical research and development to assess potential for beneficiation of the remaining low grade ores and to continue searching for more viable ore resources.
“The possibility of restarting mining and processing operations will depend on both the successful outcome of this intensified research and development work as well as on improved market conditions and pricing for acid grade fluorspar. Should the comprehensive feasibility study warrant restarting of mining and processing operations, Okorusu will endeavour to rehire as many of its employees and contractors as possible,” the company said in a statement.