Nuclear technologies for more efficient exploitation of Zambia’s mineral resources

Written by on February 7, 2019

LUSAKA – The Mining Indaba in Cape Town this week will attract mining industry executives, government experts and financiers from across the globe.

One of the key topics of conversation will be how to harness the latest technology to further improve efficiencies in the sector.

Zambia’s vast potential for mineral resources is due to its unique geographic location. The natural resources include uranium, silver, copper, coal, lead, silver, zinc, emeralds and gold. Zambia is also a chief global producer of semi-precious gemstones and cobalt.

The country’s social and economic backbone has always been its mining industry.

The mining and refining of copper has been of immense importance in Zambia. The country is ranked seventh largest copper producer in the world.

Copper contributes over 75.7 percent of the country’s national foreign earnings accounting for up to US$6.1 billion in 2017.

Given Zambia’s population of 16 million people, its total $8.1 billion in 2017 exports translates to approximately $500 for every resident in that country.

China, the biggest destination for Zambian copper, consumes up to 40 percent of the world’s copper stocks. Decreasing demand from China, along with unstable oil prices and an oversupply of the metal, affects the copper price which shows a decline since early 2011.

To preserve Zambia’s export earnings, mining and processing of copper need to be done with maximum efficiency. A potential solution enabling improved efficiency is through the more efficient use of the inherent mineralogical data of the ore body, which ultimately governs mineral beneficiation performance.

From this prospective, nuclear technologies can be of precious help.

On May 15, 2018, the Republic of Zambia and Russia signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Chongwe.

“A neutron activation analysis laboratory operating on the basis of a multipurpose pool-type research reactor of 10MW will be an integral part of the future CNST. This laboratory enables scientists to define the chemical composition of any material using secondary radiation analysis,” explained Dmitri Vysotski, Director of Nuclear Research Reactors, Rusatom Overseas.

The analysis also makes it possible to determine the precious metals in rocks. Thus, the quality of copper ore can be estimated before it is exported and a justified pricing policy can be established, enabling Zambia to diversify its offering, find new export markets for its rich mineral resources and increase the country’s positive trade balance.

Globally, 226 research reactors are in operation in 55 countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Congo and South Africa.

Zambia will become the ninth African country to use nuclear technologies to address challenges in science, technology, industry, healthcare, education, agriculture and technology.

A multipurpose pool-type research reactor of 10 MW is an efficient, safe and reliable source of neutrons for scientific research and applications. Construction of a research reactor and the CNST as a whole is beneficial for any nation seeking technological progress and well-being of their people, added Mr Vysotski.

The CNST will also promote the growth of national education and science through the training of highly qualified experts in various fields.

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