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South African miners work a rock face in this May, 1998 file photo. (Peter Andrews/Reuters/Peter Andrews/Reuters)
South African miners work a rock face in this May, 1998 file photo. (Peter Andrews/Reuters/Peter Andrews/Reuters)

First Uranium halts S. African mine after worker killed Add to ...

First Uranium Corp. says one of its workers has been killed in an underground accident at the Ezulwini mine in South Africa, the fifth person to die at the mine in the past year, causing work at the project to stop while an investigation is conducted.

The Toronto-based gold and uranium miner said the employee died after a fall of ground at the mine. The incident follows the death of a drill operator in September and the death of another employee in an unspecified incident in August. A ground fall killed another worker in March and one more was killed in a tunnel collapse last November.

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Shares in First Uranium were down 1.5 cents or nearly 6 per cent to 24 cents (Canadian) in early trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange following a brief trading halt.

“Safety remains our No. 1 priority and we are working with the Department of Mineral Resources to determine the circumstances of the accident,” president and CEO Deon van der Mescht said in a statement.

The announcement came as First Uranium, which has faced several recent operating difficulties, reported a second-quarter loss of $30.6-million (U.S.) or 14 cents per share, improved from a year-earlier loss of $58-million or 32 cents per share. Revenues rose 62 per cent to $50.2-million from a year ago, $30.3-million on higher gold prices and a larger volume of gold sold during the quarter.

“At the Ezulwini mine, where production was constrained in the period under review following two tragic accidents, we have bolstered the management team to improve our ability to address the challenges inherent in an underground operation of this nature,” Mr. van der Mescht said.

In September, First Uranium warned it may have to take legal action against the South African government over the right to operate a mine-waste project after it received a letter from the Ministry of Mineral Resources informing the company its mining right for the Mine Waste Solutions tailing recovery operation was withdrawn.

First Uranium said its lawyers in South Africa have consistently said reclamation activities such as MWS are not classified as a mining project, and as such don't require a mining right.

In July, First Uranium said South Africa's nuclear regulator ordered it to halt operations at MWS due to alleged issues regarding pipeline maintenance and non-reporting. The regulator gave First Uranium conditional permission to resume a week later.

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