In April 2005, the Company announced the go-ahead of a US$2.3M Bankable Feasibility Study (BFS) as a result of the economics shown by pre-feasibility work. After completing a Development Agreement with the Malawi Government, the BFS together and an Environmental Impact Assessment, the Mining Licence, ML152, covering 5,550 hectares was granted in April 2007 for a period of fifteen years. Construction of Kayelekera began in June 2007 at a budgeted cost of US$200M with total construction taking almost two years. During this period Paladin completed major infrastructure upgrades to the local roads, initiated mining earth works and commenced commissioning. The construction project workforce peaked at around 2000 persons, with more than 75% of workers being Malawian nationals.
Open pit mining commenced in June 2008 to develop initial stockpiles, with the first blast occurring on 24 July 2008. Commissioning began in January 2009 with first production achieved mid April. The Kayelekera Mine was officially opened on 17 April 2009 by the late his Excellency, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, President of Malawi. Transport of the first containerised drummed product consignment to Walvis Bay, Namibia via Zambia took place on 17 August 2009.
Nameplate capacity is 3.3Mlb pa from the processing of 1.5Mt pa of sandstone and associated ores by grinding, acid leaching, resin-in-pulp (RIP) extraction, elution, precipitation and drying to produce saleable product.
During the last year of operation, the project made exceptional progress on cost reductions mainly on the acid supply front, where the project became acid independent through and increase in onsite acid production and a nano-filtration plant was commissioned plant which assisted with acid recovery from the back end of the plant. In addition to acid management, other improvements were also realised in the milling, leach and RIP efficiencies, particularly with completion of modifications in the RIP section.
Kayelekera produced 10.9Mlb of U3O8 between 2007 and 2014. Once uranium prices offer sufficient incentive for restart, production, with some RIP/elution upgrades, is expected to be at least 2.5Mlb pa.