Uranium exploration and mining in Tanzania is safe

18Sep 2016
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Uranium exploration and mining in Tanzania is safe

This article revealing uranium scientific facts and an expert’s view about uranium exploration and development in Tanzania was published for the first time in The Guardian November 17, 2009;

Dalali Kafumu

following an article of one Zuwena Shame in The Guardian of November 13, 2009 regarding the preparedness of Tanzania for uranium mining.

I have decided to rewrite the article in response to another misleading article or advertisement by Mr Kiando Mshana that was published in The Guardian of September 14, 2016 appealing to the President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli to stop the uranium resource development in Bahi basin.

The reason put forward by the writer being that; in the wake of the government moving its headquarters to Dodoma there is a great possibility of contaminating the population of Dodoma and Singida areas by radon gas emissions from the would be Bahi uranium mines.

My take is that the article was written by an environmental activist who do not have the true scientific facts about uranium and uranium mining. It was intended to crooking the facts and impart negative perceptions to the public about the development of these resources. Mr Mshana’s views does not contain an iota of truth about the subject; as he lacks the scientific facts about uranium mining and the radon gas.

The article narrates the possibility of radon gas from Bahi uranium mine spreading to Dodoma city and cause fatality in human life. This is being irrational as radon gas when released in open air quickly distributes itself into the troposphere and do not cause any environmental risk to human life.

Mining of uranium at Bahi if undertaken will cause no harm to human life and indeed any life and especially at such long distance to Dodoma. I find the views of the writer as a theoretical propaganda designed to stimulate a public reaction against development in the country. As an expert once again I am obliged to educate the public by giving out the scientific facts.

The scientific truth is that radon-222 gas isotope is not only the result of uranium mines but it can be found in other mines like, iron ore mines and phospherite mines. Radon gas is also very common in resident houses in big cities; known as indoor radon especially in Europe and it causes no health risk as long as windows are kept open radon gas quickly escapes into air.

As I read with incredulity and was astounded by the misconceptions ingrained therein the comments made by Kiando Mshana made me remember the article of one Zuwena Shame that appeared in The Guardian of November 13, 2009 regarding the preparedness of Tanzania for uranium mining that equally astounded me by then.

The writer in 2009; quoting one Dr Chris Busby made comments in a two-day conference on uranium awareness attended by mining stakeholders, local and foreign geological experts, as well as university and secondary school students, carried factual errors and did not depict the real situation.

As the Commissioner for Minerals by then in 2009 responsible for regulating the mining industry it was my duty to inscribe and give an expert view on this subject to put the facts on the table and ensure that the Tanzanian public is not misled by inaccurate commentary by some uninformed writers.

The commentary painted an untrue picture that uranium ore that would be mined in Tanzania was a very dangerous substance and if allowed to join the natural environment it will be a health and an environmental disaster.

The truth is quite different, as a geo-scientist and all other geo-scientists; we all know that uranium ores occur in nature in a variety of enriched oxides and uranyl sulfate carbonates; abundantly as uraninite and schröckingerite minerals in sedimentary rocks and as Pitchblende minerals in metamorphic and igneous rocks.

Both ore occurrences are known to have no harm to human life as the radioactive uranium element is locked in the bonding between uranium and oxygen elements to form uranium oxides (uraninite, pitchblende, schröckingerite and other uranium minerals). It is only when uranium ore is processed to obtain uranium metal that is when uranium becomes dangerous due to its strong gamma radiation emission as the uranium metal disintegrates into stable varieties of uranium (U) and lead (Pb) elements.

In Tanzania uranium deposits of economic value are geologically known to occur in the Central (Dodoma and Singida Regions) and in the Southern (Ruvuma, Lindi and Mtwara Regions) parts of the country. Today Uranex (T) Limited Company and Mantra Tanzania Limited were then developing these deposits for mining by the year 2013 in the Manyoni-Bahi and Madaba-Mkuju areas respectively. Today these projects have been put on halt due to dropping uranium prices in world markets.

In Madaba and Mkuju in Songea District, uranium ore occur as uranite in sedimentary rocks of Karoo geological formations and in Manyoni District and Bahi District, uranium deposits occur as schröckingerite and uraninite in Quaternary mbuga geological sediments.

These deposits are near surface and form part of the human living land surface that provides water aquifer systems for water sources as well as land for cultivation for food resources for the people in these areas. In these areas people have lived on uranium deposits, cultivating and drinking water from the uranite rich rocks and soils since time immemorial.

Today communities in the Manyoni and Bahi (Central Tanzania) and Madaba and Mkuju (Southern Tanzania) areas still live happily on uranium ore rich soils and water bodies without any harm.

If these uranium ores were such dangerous people in these communities would have been affected long time ago. It is therefore, a fact that, exploration and mining of uranium ore is harmless, it is like exploring and mining gold or gemstones of which the mined minerals are safe.

Several African countries including Niger, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Malawi explore and mine uranium ore and produce yellow cake for export, and there is no harm to the scale proposed by the writer. Uranium ores are mined and concentrated into yellow cake; a yellow to brown enriched uranium oxide that need to be sent for processing into uranium metal in processing plants.

After processing the yellow cake a radioactive (very dangerous) uranium metal is obtained and can be put into good used in nuclear reactors to generate electricity, in industrial material testing, food and agricultural industry and for scientific research and medical treatment.

It is therefore true that world nuclear powerhouses like Canada, the USA, Australia, Yugoslavia and others developed countries use uranium minerals mined in their countries as well as imported from other countries for generating electrical power.

There are other peaceful uses of uranium metal that include: - in the food and agriculture industries in which it is used for food preservation and control of pests; in the industry and research where uranium is used in testing and analyzing industrial materials as well as dating of geological and archaeological materials; and in health and medicine in which uranium is used in diagnosis of illnesses, sterilization and treatment of diseases like cancer.

Countries which are not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty promote the military applications of uranium in the generation of nuclear weapons and powering of war submarines. In utilizing uranium at this stage care must be taken to ensure utmost safety.

Unsafe handling of uranium metal may result into fatalities and spending billions of shillings on treating those affected as commented in the article. The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania is all set to mine uraninite and schröckingerite in sedimentary basin strictly to concentrate yellow cake for export.

The country is not yet ready to develop and own a reactor for generating power as this move needs a certain level of affluent and technology so as to keep and maintain the reactor including the ability to dispose of uranium residue from the reactor to a standard that avoids possible accidents like those are being referred in the commentary.

The government is therefore prepared to exploit the country’s uranium deposits, with all the requirements put in place that includes the Uranium Regulations under the Mining Act that have been drawn to regulate the exploration, mining and export of uranium ores in Tanzania.

The Environmental Act and the Radiation Control Act will be put into good use to make sure that exploration and mining of uranium ores adheres to environmental management standards as well as to the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA) requirements of handling and transporting uranium rich materials.

Uranium exploration activities in the country will be carefully regulated using the above mentioned regulatory framework to ensure that no damage of natural environment occurs by controlling effluents from mining sites not to enter rivers and water bodies.

Commentaries made by Mr Mshana and Ms Zuwena have erroneous facts that tend to stir up and frighten the public for no reason. The argument put forward by the writer quoting the good doctor and other sources seem to come out of ignorance or having incoherent facts.

The comments may also spring from activisms sentiments that are driven by colonial mentality to ensure third world countries are kept at the foot of economic development.

Today the uranium prices in the world market seems to dive and most uranium projects put in limbo; but I assure Tanzanians that the Tanzanian Government is a responsible Government and is well set to exploit the uranium resources of the country at that material time for the benefit of the country’s economy and its people while protecting the environment as well as its people’s lives and acceding to international best practice.

Dr Dalaly Peter Kafumu is an expert Geologist and Member of Parliament for Igunga Constituency

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