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Uranium mining: Is it really for our benefit?

28th December 2011
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Tanzania plans to use its uranium deposits to generate alternative energy with technical backing from the International Energy Agency, (IEA) but how is the country prepared to handle the minerals.

Literatures on uranium stipulates that the radioactive metal can easily change its shape and cause negative impact if care is not taken

In his discussion with President Jakaya Kikwete last year former IEA director general Mohammed El Baradei stressed on the peaceful use of uranium.

El Baradei stressed that the production of nuclear power was too costly for a single African country.

The IAEA has proposed that African countries that want to build nuclear power plants should do so in zonal groups.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre Legal Officer in-charge of Corporate and Environment Flaviana Charles says the metal posses dangers not only to human beings but to animals and environment.

Already companies including Mantra (T) and Uranex (T) limited are exploring the minerals in various parts including Namtumbo (Mkuju River Project) Bahi and Manyoni, a move which has been criticised by majority of the members of public including legislators.

“We have decided to take the initiative to raise awareness to the public on this new mineral expected to start being mined in the country,” says Charles. She says extraction of uranium requires a wide land.

“It requires cutting so many trees, construction of roads, infrastructures and human activities which will contribute in cutting down natural forests home to the number and variety of plant and animal species,” she says

The director says failure to control cutting down of forests leads to loss of plants that depend forests for their existence , animals and insects to a great extent.

“This is very dangerous because it can lead to annihilation of some animals, plants and insects in the history of this world,” she observes

The extraction involves the use of chemicals like mercury and sulphuric acids in various processes many of which flow into sources of water located closer to mines and pollute water.

“This polluted water kills animals, insects and natural vegetation in a particular environmental area,” she says.

Research and experience of countries mining uranium confirms that extraction of uranium is dangerous to the environment and other biodiversity including destruction of land due to having big holes and remains of mines, water pollution, radiation and poisonous gas, and excess use of energy and water that in turn affect other uses to the ordinary people.

She says the mining has great affects to farmers and pastoralists whose land are taken for one investor and be left struggling with land disputes.

“But the mining also has direct impact to the community and workers in the uranium mining through various way including inhaling polluted air,” says Charles.

The history has it that companies mining uranium had never solved problems associated with extraction of the minerals and also they had never employed good way of settling remains of the minerals after the mining activity is complete.

Some of the companies run away from implementing their social cooperate responsibility to the communities .

All this entail that until now there is no proper way of destroying completely remains of uranium and therefore it is difficult to control effects of the mineral that will end thousands of years.

It has been reported that Uranium mines in Namibia use a lot of water than the actual demand of water by Namibians.

The director says the extraction of the mineral has unnecessary costs which impact countries’ economy citing expenses of cleaning up the environment and avoidance of effects that are caused by remains of big uranium mines.

Sungusia gives an example of the poor use of taxpayers money with reference to Czech since 1989 to 2003 where about euro million 750 equivalent to 1575billion Tanzanian shillings was spent.

Secondly, there is a lot of land disputes as it requires a big land to get small amount of the mineral. For instance to get one kilogramme of uranium, it requires to extract 10 tonnes of soil.

Now one can ask how much part of land would be needed to extract 3million tones of uranium.

“We need to learn from the effects that have happened in other countries which are mining the mineral like the United States of America, Canada, Niger, France, Namibia, Australia, Central Asia and India,” he says

He says the whole process of mining uranium has great effects to the health and environment.

It involved going against human rights and great danger to the whole world and contradict the process of ending use of nuclear weapons.

Taking example of the mining of the mineral in the US, it is said it left behind thousands of abandoned mines and billions of cubic yards of radioactive tailing wastes.

It said in one of the most dramatic scandals, 300,000 tons of tailings were used for streets, public buildings and foundations of homes in Grand Junction Colorado. Close to a billion dollars was spent cleaning up this nightmare.

This industry has a history riddled with scandals, accidents and environmental contamination that the public has had to pay for, says one of the literatures on Uranium Mining.

Uranium Mining industry itself is a complete disaster. Large mining companies are allowed to take public lands and dispoil them, making huge profits, leaving behind huge mining pits, water and soil contaminated with heavy metals and radioative radon.

So many calls have been raised advising the government to stop extraction of uranium since it has not been prepared for that. Harold Sungusia LHRC director of advocacy and reforms advises the government to stop uranium extraction in Bahi district, Dodoma and Manyoni in Singida and called for a serious environmental assessment before implementing the uranium extraction project in Namtumbo district, Ruvuma region.

According to him, the mines in Bahi and Manyoni districts are surrounded by villagers and the government is not prepared to relocate them.

He says they had conducted research in Nzega, Geita, North Mara Gold Mine, Namtumbo, Manyoni and Bahi districts and realised that mining activities benefited more investors than Tanzanians.

Sungusia says the government was duty-bound to educate villagers on the impacts and benefits of uranium and take precautions against health hazardous to be caused by uranium wastes.

“Take an example of Niger, they are now suffering from the impacts of uranium extraction, including high levels of environmental degradation,” says Sungusia.

But according to the government uranium extraction in Namtumbo district, Ruvuma region, will continue as planned despite a growing outcry from well-wishers in and outside the country. According to a preliminary feasibility study conducted by Mantra Tanzania Limited, a total of £65.5 million of uranium had been found with a lifespan of the mine to last for 12 years.

The government plans to mine it but there are health and environmental risks after Mantra (T) Ltd completed the pre-social and environmental impact assessments approved by the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC).

Tanzania accented its nuclear ambitions in March 2009, saying plans were underway to start uranium extraction ready for the country to revert to one of the world’s highly rated renewable energies.

Energy and Minerals minister, William Ngeleja introduced the new mining consultative committee saying the government expects to start extracting uranium in three years.

But the Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority (Ewura) Acting director general Anastas Mbawala reacted to the minister’s pronouncement, saying that mining and subsequently setting up a uranium processing industry is not an easy job.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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