Sibanye turns to uranium, once an ‘unloved’ resource

Sibanye turns to uranium, once an ‘unloved’ resource

Sibanye-Stillwater's Cooke 3 Plant.

Sibanye-Stillwater’s Cooke 3 Plant.

  • Sibanye-Stillwater has a range of renewable energy projects in the pipeline, including solar and wind.
  • The company has plans to be carbon neutral by 2040.
  • Uranium is an energy resource that Sibanye aims to explore from its existing asset base.

The global shift towards green energy has ignited an appetite for uranium production in Sibanye-Stillwater, with the company exploring opportunities in the resource which it says has long been unloved.

Sibanye is no stranger to uranium production. It shipped its first uranium oxide in 2014 from its Ezulwini plant. Speaking to investors on Thursday, CEO Neal Froneman, stated the growing commitment to nuclear energy especially in the Asia Pacific region, including its appeal as a green energy resource.

Froneman said Sibanye had “significant uranium resources” at its Beatrix West and Cooke Tailings, as well as processing infrastructure.

“We have a significant asset base to build on our uranium aspirations. Nuclear energy has emerged as an alternative zero carbon-based generation option to complement renewable energy…. and we [will] be progressing our uranium strategy.”

Sibanye’s Beatrix West was originally a uranium mine, but was turned into a gold mine after the collapse of uranium price collapse in the 1980s, Froneman said. Uranium is primarily sold as part of longer-term contracts with power utilities – and longer-term contract prices remain significantly higher than spot prices. Major producers of uranium in Africa are Namibia, South Africa and Niger.

“Uranium is moving from being unloved and is now being recognised as a green metal.

“We expect the uranium market to move into deficit within about five years, and we expect  the long-term forecast to exceed $60 per pound.” Uranium is currently trading at around $33 per pound.

The diversified miner hopes to be carbon neutral by 2040 and has outlined a plan which includes a shifts towards renewable energy and a 50 MW solar project for the company’s gold operations. A site for the project has been secured near the Kloof operations and the process of appointing a project developer to execute the project is underway.

The project is expected to reach commercial operation in late 2023. The company say it began planning for the project in 2014, but was delayed by regulatory constraints. 

The company’s renewable energy plans do not end there, earlier this year a request for information was sent out for up 250 MW of wind energy to identify shovel-ready projects that could be quickly brought into operation.

“We got an overwhelming response and we identified a number of projects across the northern, western and Eastern Cape. We are now progressing with a request for quotation for up to 250 MW of wind energy to secure these projects as part of our broader energy mix.”

These are expected to be brought online in 2024. 

Several mining companies have unveiled various renewable projects, in a bid to reduce their reliance on Eskom. The relaxation of self-generation regulations to allow companies to produce up to 100 MW of power without seeking a licence has injected new energy for power projects. 

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