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Paladin Energy puts second African uranium mine into care-and-maintenance

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Western Australia-based uranium mining company Paladin Energy announced on May 25 that it is winding down operations at the Langer Heinrich mine (LHM) in Namibia and placing it into care-and-maintenance.1

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the decision to mothball LHM is that Paladin claims it is the lowest cost open-pit uranium mine in the world.2 Moreover, the company wasn't even paying to mine ore ‒ mining ceased in November 2016 and since then medium-grade ore stockpiles have been processed.3 Alex Molyneux describes LHM as "world-class"2 … so evidently a low-cost, "world-class" mine can't even turn a profit processing mined stockpiles.

The cost of production was US$23.11/lb U3O8 in December 2017, and the average realized sale price in the second half of 2017 was $21.82.4

Paladin was faced with a choice between continuing to process medium-grade ore stockpiles (which would be exhausted in mid-2019) then shifting to low-grade stockpiles, resuming mining, or putting the mine into care-and-maintenance.

Anticipating the decision to mothball LHM, Paladin Energy CEO Alex Molyneux said in late-April: "The uranium market has failed to recover since the Fukushima incident in 2011, with the average spot price so far in 2018 the lowest in 15 years. It's deeply distressing to have to consider suspending operations at LHM because of the consequences for our employees, and the broader community. However, as there has yet to be a sustainable recovery in the uranium market, and with the aim of preserving maximum long-term value for all stakeholders, it is clearly prudent to consider these difficult actions."5

Paladin hopes to resume mining at LHM following "normalization" of the uranium market, which it anticipates in the next few years.2 But with no operating mines, Paladin may not survive for long enough to witness a market upswing. The only other mine operated by Paladin ‒ the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi ‒ was put into care-and-maintenance in July 2014.6 Paladin also owns a number of projects it describes as 'nonproducing assets', such as uranium projects in Australian states that ban uranium mining.

Paladin was placed into the hands of administrators in July 2017 as it was unable to pay EDF a US$277 million debt.6 In January 2018, Paladin's administrator KPMG noted that an Independent Expert's Report found that the company's net debt materially exceeds the value of its assets, its shares have nil value, and if Paladin was placed into liquidation there would be no return to shareholders.7 The company was restructured, with Deutsche Bank now the largest shareholder, and relisted on the Australian Securities Exchange in February 2018.2

Perhaps LHM will be sold for a song, either before or after Paladin goes bankrupt. A subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has held a 25% stake in LHM since January 2014. Last year, the CNNC subsidiary considered exercising its contractual right to buy Paladin's 75% stake in LHM, but chose not to exercise that right following an independent valuation of US$162 million for Paladin's stake.8

Uranium production at Paladin Energy's uranium mines in Africa (tonnes uranium):













Langer Heinrich




















Combined % world production












Source: Data compiled by World Nuclear Association data,

* Based on estimated world production of 60,000 tU.

Mine-site rehabilitation

Paladin hopes to restart both LHM and Kayelekera. But in 2016, Paladin's CEO Alexander Molyneux said that "it has never been a worse time for uranium miners"9 and the situation has not improved since then ‒ uranium prices have fallen further still, and the long-term contract price recently fell below US$30/lb for the first time since May 2005.10

Sooner or later, both the LHM and Kayelekera mine-sites will need to be rehabilitated. Yet it is extremely doubtful whether Paladin has set aside adequate funds for rehabilitation. Paladin's 2017 Annual Report lists a 'rehabilitation provision' of US$86.93 million to cover both LHM and Kayelekera.11

One problem is that the funds might not be available for rehabilitation if Paladin goes bankrupt. A second problem is that even if the funds are available, they are unlikely to be sufficient. For comparison, Energy Resources of Australia's provision for rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine in Australia ‒ also an open-pit uranium mine ‒ is US$403 million (A$526 million).12 That figure is understood to be additional to US$346 million (A$452 million) already spent on water and rehabilitation activities since 201213 ‒ thus total rehabilitation costs could amount to US$749 million (A$978 million) … and the current cost estimates could easily increase as they have in the past.

Rehabilitation of LHM and Kayelekera could be cheaper than rehabilitation of Ranger for several reasons, such as the relative size of the mine-sites. However it stretches credulity to believe that the cost of rehabilitating both LHM and Kayelekera would be an order of magnitude lower than the cost of rehabilitating one mine in Australia.

Paladin was required to lodge a US$10 million Environmental Performance Bond with Malawian banks and presumably that money can be tapped to rehabilitate Kayelekera.14 But US$10 million won't scratch the surface. According to a Malawian NGO, the Kayelekera rehabilitation cost is estimated at US$100 million.15

Paladin has ignored repeated requests to provide information on the estimated cost of rehabilitating Kayelekera, but the figure will be multiples of the US$10 million bond and it is extremely unlikely that Paladin's provision of US$86.93 million for the rehabilitation of both LHM and Kayelekera is adequate.

If Paladin goes bankrupt, it seems likely that most of the costs associated with the rehabilitation of LHM and Kayelekera will be borne by the Namibian and Malawian governments (with a small fraction of the cost for Kayelekera coming from the bond) ‒ or the mine-sites will not be rehabilitated at all. Even if Paladin is able to honor its US$86.93 million provision, additional costs necessary for rehabilitation will likely come from the Malawian and Namibian governments, or rehabilitation will be sub-standard.

Australia's responsibility

The problem of inadequate provisioning for rehabilitation is most acute for Kayelekera ‒ it is a smaller deposit than LHM and more expensive to mine (Paladin has said that a uranium price of about US$75 per pound would be required for Kayelekera to become economically viable16). Thus the prospects for a restart of Kayelekera (and the accumulation of funds for rehabilitation) are especially grim.

Is it reasonable for Australia, a relatively wealthy country, to leave it to the overstretched, under-resourced government of an impoverished nation to clean up the mess left behind by an Australian mining company? Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.17 According to a 2013 U.N. report, more than half of the population live below the poverty line.17

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should intervene to sort out the situation at Kayelekera and to prevent a repetition of this looming fiasco. The conservative Minister's eyes might glaze over in response to a moral argument about the importance of Australia being a good global citizen. But there is also a hard-headed commercial argument for intervention to ensure that the Kayelekera mine-site is rehabilitated.

It does Australian companies investing in mining ventures abroad no good whatsoever to leave Kayelekera unrehabilitated, a permanent reminder of the untrustworthiness and unfulfilled promises of an Australian miner and the indifference of the Australian government. Australia is set to become the biggest international miner on the African continent according to the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group.18 But Australian companies can't expect to be welcomed if problems such as Kayelekera remain resolved.

Broader problems

Paladin exploited Malawi's poverty to secure numerous reductions and exemptions from payments normally required by foreign investors. United Nations' Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter noted in a 2013 report that "revenue losses from special incentives given to Australian mining company Paladin Energy, which manages the Kayelekera uranium mine, are estimated to amount to at least US$205 million (MWK 67 billion) and could be up to US$281 million (MWK 92 billion) over the 13-year lifespan of the mine."17

Paladin's environmental and social record has also been the source of ongoing controversy and the subject of numerous critical reports.19 The WISE-Uranium website has a 'Hall of Infamy' page dedicated to the company.20

Standards at Kayelekera fall a long way short of Australian standards ‒ and efforts to force Australian mining companies to meet Australian standards when operating abroad have been strongly resisted. Paladin's Kayelekera project would not be approved in Australia due to major flaws in the assessment and design proposals, independent consultants concluded.21 The consultants' report covered baseline environmental studies, tailings management, water management, rehabilitation, failure to commit to respecting domestic laws, use of intimidation and threatening tactics against local civil society, improper community consultation and payments to local leaders, and destruction of cultural heritage.

Sadly, these are familiar problems. Julie Bishop told the Africa Down Under mining conference in Western Australia in September 2017 that many Australian mining projects in Africa are outposts of good governance.18 The Australian government "encourages the people of Africa to see us as an open-cut mine for lessons-learned, for skills, for innovation and, I would like to think, inspiration," Bishop said.18

Such claims sit uneasily with the highly critical findings arising from a detailed investigation by the International Consortium of Independent Journalists (ICIJ).22 The ICIJ noted in its 2015 report that since 2004, more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in off-site skirmishes connected to Australian mining companies in Africa.23 There have been six deaths at Kayelekera19 and at least one death at LHM.24

The ICIJ report further stated: "Multiple Australian mining companies are accused of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa, according to legal filings and community petitions gathered from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana."23


1. Paladin Energy, 25 May 2018, 'LHM Confirmation of Care & Maintenance',

2. Charlotte McLeod, 25 May 2018, 'Paladin Energy Pulls Plug on Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine',

3. World Nuclear Association, 26 April 2018, 'Namibian mine prepares for care and maintenance decision',

4. Mariaan Webb, 28 Feb 2018, 'Paladin posts loss as Langer Heinrich sales volumes fall, costs increase',

5. Mining Technology, 30 April 2018, 'Paladin begins consultations to place LHM mine on care and maintenance',

6. Nuclear Monitor #847, 21 July 2017, 'Paladin Energy goes bust',

7. Matthew Woods for and on behalf of Paladin Energy, 2 Jan 2018, 'Directions Hearing and DOCA Update',

8. World Nuclear Association, 21 Aug 2017, 'CNNC decides against Langer Heinrich buyout',

9. Geert De Clercq, 3 Oct 2016, 'Desperate uranium miners switch to survival mode despite nuclear rebound',


11. Paladin Energy, Annual Report 2017, p.132,

12. ERA, 'Annual Report 2017',

13. ERA, 5 June 2018, 'ERA releases Closure Plan for Ranger mine',

14. Paladin, 14 Feb 2018, 'Reviewed Pro Forma Balance Sheet',

15. William Nyirenda / Citizens for Justice, 2 April 2014, 'Paladin lies to Malawi Government on its Kayelekera uranium mine',

16. Sarah-Jane Tasker, 8 Jan 2015, 'Paladin Energy alerts ASX to spill at Malawi uranium mine',

17. United Nations, 22 July 2013, 'End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Malawi 12 to 22 July 2013',

18. Eric Bagshaw, 10 September 2017, 'The Australian companies mining $40 billion out of Africa', Sydney Morning Herald,

19. Nuclear Monitor #847, 21 July 2017, 'Paladin Energy's social and environmental record in Africa',

20. WISE-Uranium, 'Paladin Energy Ltd Hall of Infamy',

21. Dr Gavin M. Mudd and Howard D. Smith, November 2006, 'Comments on the Proposed Kayelekera Uranium Project Environmental Impact Assessment Report',



24. Adam Hartman, 31 Oct 2018, 'Langer Heinrich worker dies',