Stilfontein's rotten patch turns green
Jan de Lange
Johannesburg – A gold producer almost the size of the former
Ergo, which has cleaned up Anglo American’s East Rand mine dumps, will arise on
the West Rand from the partnership announced by Gold Fields [JSE:GFI] and Gold
One International [JSE:GDO].
It will take at least a year for its plan to take shape as a
gold company – one with an anticipated reserve of some 8m ounces.
Stilfontein, probably the most polluted mining town in the
country, recently also had a taste of the impact of this type of cleanup
industry when Mine Waste Solutions (MWS) finished planting indigenous trees and
grass on 160ha along the N12 freeway outside the town.
Over the past two months this stretch of land, the site of
the former infamous Buffelsfontein Mine No 2 tailings dam, was planted with
trees such as Karee, Acacia, White Stinkwood, White Karee, Taaibos en River
MWS followed a laborious process to reach this point. The
old tailings dam lay on dolomite, which made the removal of the old tailings
difficult and expensive, said Melt Marais, environmental manager at MWS.
A wide-ranging rehabilitation plan was then developed over
18 months. Samples of the topsoil were analysed to determine the concentration
of heavy metals, acid and other substances.
This is the first of 15 slimes dams around Stilfontein that
MWS intends cleaning up. Another two alongside the freeway will be cleared away
this year, so that 330ha can be planted in 2013.
The Gold Fields Gold One partnership will eventually clear
up 60% of all the old mine dumps on the West Rand. Once the gold, uranium and
sulphate residue has been extracted, they will be dumped in a modern mega
tailings facility to the south of the South Deep shaft, near Glenharvie.
But impact and feasibility studies for the project will
first be undertaken this year.
Building of the infrastructure can start next year at the
earliest. This is a process that needs to be tackled with circumspection and
“Our tailings dams are around residential areas in
Randfontein. That's the first problem. Secondly, uranium and sulphates (metals
that have combined with other materials) which have never been extracted are
present in these dams create levels of radiation which need attention,” said
Gold One chief executive Neal Froneman.
Gold Fields’ gold resource in tailings dams is expected to
be around 4m ounces. Through the acquisition of Rand Uranium, a company
established by Harmony Gold Mining Company [JSE:HAR] seven years ago to process
the old Randfontein Estates mine dumps, Gold One will obtain most of its
mineral assets from tailings dams. (Harmony excluded only the Doornkop dams
from the deal.)
The Cooke uranium dam, which contains an estimated 89m
pounds of uranium, is one of the most significant assets that Gold One
acquired. The Cooke uranium project is however under review so that the mineral
resources can be accurately assessed, and especially for an engineering study
on the establishment of a metallurgical plant for extracting uranium.
The combination of studies so far done by Gold One, Rand
Uranium and Gold Fields, and the possibility that the existing metallurgical
infrastructure can be shared, makes it possible to determine the economic
viability of the project much sooner than was previously the case.
Gold Fields has already started its mega tailings dam south
of South Deep. Gold One Rand Uranium will probably use the same terrain, which
means that all the tailings dams will eventually be combined there, in one
place, under the auspices of the three companies and protected by modern
techniques and construction methods.
This will make it possible to hold to acceptable levels
future pollution by dust and radiation hazards, says Froneman.
“Many of the Gold One and Rand Uranium dams were built in
the 1920s and those of Gold Fields in the 1930s and 1940s. They are very old
tailings dams and standards were not like those of today. The mega dam will
have acceptable levels of sulphates and other elements,” Froneman says.
According to Gold Fields’ calculations over the past two
years, its tailings dams will be able to produce a resource of about 4.5m
ounces of gold, and 53.6m pounds of uranium.
The impact and feasibility studies will determine eventual
rates of production, but provisional estimates are that about 100 000 ounces of
gold and two million pounds of uranium will be extracted per year.
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