Russians still ‘poo-hoo’ over Mkuju River uranium project

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THE government has said suspension of the $1.2 billion uranium prospecting at the Mkuju River project under Russian firm Rosatom has nothing to do with newly enacted laws on natural resources rather than on purely economic terms.

In an exclusive interview with the ‘Daily News’ in Dar es Salaam yesterday, Commissioner for Minerals Benjamin Mchwampaka revealed that the company’s subsidiary, Mantra, had since written to the government expressing its intention to suspend the project for five years due to falling uranium prices on the global market.

The commissioner said that on December 14, 2016, Mantra submitted the letter to the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Minerals and Energy to express its intention after the prices fell from $65 to $23 per pound of uranium.

“The feasibility study showed that the project would be profitable only if the price remained at $65 per pound … but it then went down globally,” Mchwampaka added.

He explained that upon submission of its request to the ministry last May, the government’s mining advisory board suggested that “the suspension should be agreed on condition that the global Uranium prices go back to $45 per pound” and that Mantra undertakes to maintain its licensed area until it resumes the mining operations.

However, Mchwampaka says that advice has remained ‘silent’ since the termination of Prof. Sospeter Muhongo as minister – who should have app r o v e d those recommendations, in the first place, not his deputy … that’s what the law says,” he said, adding: “… this happened before the new laws were passed by parliament … recently.”

He said the body’s recommendations still await a ‘substantive’ minister yet to be appointed to fill-in the vacuum left by Prof. Muhongo. The mineral laws just enacted include the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act, 2017; the Natural Wealth and Contracts (Review and Renegotiation of Unconscionable terms) Act, 2017; and the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act 2017.

Last year, this paper quoted Uranium One Chief Operations officer, Mr Andrey Shotov as saying the project would elevate Tanzania to “the top five producers” of uranium in Africa after the completion of the Mkuju River project – then billed to have more than 1,000 employment opportunities for the country’s jobless youth.

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