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Lesotho’s uranium poser

The ministry of mines’ department of geological survey has confirmed the existence of uranium deposits in Lesotho, but says further studies need to be conducted before full scale mining and investment can be considered.

In addition, details of whether these surface indications are a primary accumulation and are commercially viable need to be resolved by drilling to investigate grades and persistence of mineralization in depth before inviting investors to undertake extraction.

This was revealed by the director of the department of geological survey, Ngakane Ngakane, who cast some light on the distribution and physical qualities of Uranium deposits that occur in the country.

According to Ngakane, the occurrence of uranium in Lesotho was first recorded by United Nations Exploration for Minerals Project in 1974.

“Minor showings and spot anomalies of uranium occur in all variants of the Clarens Formation sedimentary rocks, but mainly in sandstone. However, major prospects are concentrated in a zone at the boundary between Elliot and Molteno Formations, mostly found at Machache in Maseru and Kolo in Mafeteng, respectively.”

Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed of sand-size grains of mineral, rock, or organic material, which also contains a cementing material that binds the sand grains together and may contain a matrix of silt- or clay-size particles that occupy the spaces between the sand grains. “Such stone is mined for construction purposes at Lekokoaneng in Berea. The Clarens Formation sandstone is characterized by an off-white to cream colour.

“Uranium in Lesotho, like elsewhere in the Karoo Supergroup of Southern Africa occurs in sedimentary formations. Geological considerations meet the favourability criteria for accumulation of sedimentary type deposits.  In Southern Africa, uranium mineralization is known in the Karoo rocks in Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa among other countries,” Ngakane told theReporter.

The only limiting factor for the accumulation of large deposits, Ngakane said, could be the rarity of thick host sandstone beds. In New Mexico, for example, most ore is in sandstone greater than 30 metres thick. The ideal sandstone thickness should be at least greater than 15 metres. In Lesotho, sandstone units thicker than 15 metres are not common.

“However, it is no all doom and gloom. We need a drilling programme to determine the feasibility of exploring and/or extracting the mineral. How and when all this will happen will be determined by our budgetary allocation.

“For now we only rely on government allocations. But we are still encouraging private companies to invest in uranium exploration. Otherwise we do not see ourselves venturing into the exercise anytime soon.”

Although uranium is commonly known for its military use – powering nuclear bombs – it does have several civilian uses such as power generation. Many developed country in the world today use nuclear power for electricity supply in their respective countries.

Lesotho does not possess nuclear weapons, but is recognised as a non-nuclear weapon state by virtue of being a state party to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons since 1970.

This is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.  

Ngakane insists that Lesotho would not be in breach of the treaty if it were to conduct and uranium exploration, but warned any eventual extraction or mining would be done within the prescripts of the treaty to ensure compliance with its terms. 

There are several methods of uranium, but Ngakane says the open pit mining would be best suitable for Lesotho because of the mineral’s close proximity to the earth surface.

Civil organisation Transformation Resource Centre’s justice and socio-economic rights officer Rapelang Mosae, says the first consideration with regard to uranium mining is its impact on the health of host communities.

“Uranium mining is one of the most hazardous forms of mining meaning it is going to have detrimental consequences on the community as well as the workers so the question is what mitigating factors will be put in place. It is worth noting that in Lesotho access to health services is not a justiciable right so this means people affected adversely by such mining will not get recourse from govt.

“Our experience in mining has shown poor compliance by Companies with Environmental Impact Assessments this means that host communities will suffer from environmental degradation and pollution with no available recourse. Another essential consideration is whether Lesotho has the requisite skills to engage in such mining or are we going to see Jobs that should be reserved for Basotho being enjoyed by foreign nationals from whom our economy doesn’t benefit.

“Lesotho’s minerals are currently being exploited with Lesotho getting between 25 and 30 percent of the shares, this will need to be revised as well to ensure Lesotho’s economy grows from such. Lesotho also needs to pass a comprehensive Minerals and Mining Act that will, among others, stipulate the role of mining companies to the communities, they should clearly be duty bound to develop such communities not the current situation where such is done through corporate social responsibility which differs from company to company.

“As a least developed country Lesotho depends on such sectors and even the skills we possess are relevant to such. If we take that away, thousands of Basotho will suffer and Lesotho’s economy will take a dive,” Mosae concluded.

Meanwhile, theReporter approached investment promotion body, the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), to explain the role it would play if studies found uranium mining was possible and feasible, in view of its commercial viability – the ability of a business, product, or service to compete effectively and to make a profit. However, chief executive officer Mohato Seleke was not immediately available to comment.

He had, however, earlier told our reporter that the four sectors that LNDC is responsible for promoting investment in are manufacturing, processing, mining and commerce.

“It is just that over the years that we have not been as active in the mining sector as in manufacturing. It’s only now that we are making a big push into agro-processing and agriculture.”

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