MAC: Mines and Communities

Tackling South Africa's Tchernobyl

Published by MAC on 2011-03-08
Source: Business Day, Mail & Guardian

Radiation of community reaches danger level

A South African community has been caught between a (radioactive) rock and a hard (waterless) place.

Last month, residents of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement in Gauteng province were informed that they were living with radiation levels which, in places, exceeded those of Tchernobyl.

Initially some community members refused to move, fearing they would be shifted to a waterless place (see article below).

In early March, however, the re-location was underway.

As reported at some length on this website, Gauteng province is awash with underground toxic mine waters, specifically threatening the citizens of Johannesburg. See: South Africa Plans Urgent Clean-Up Of Toxic Mine Liquid

But dangers associated with surface tailings - primarily affecting poor black communities -  have so far not been addressed with equal urgency.

Note: These massive waste dumps, built up over many decades and stretching across the whole of the Witwatersrand reefs, are the repository not only of gold and uranium tailings but a host of other toxic metals.

Historically, virtually all South Africa's uranium production has derived from mining gold, where the nuclear material was present in significant quantities. For years, uranium was  extracted because it "got in the way of the gold", but not processed at the time.

The one exception is the Palabora mine, owned 58% by Rio Tinto and 29% by Anglo American, where uranium is a by-product of copper.

Residents ignore radiation warning

Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement in Krugersdorp is built on top of mine tailings and is surrounded by land contaminated by mining activities and radioactive dumps

By Livhumani Mammburu

Business Day

21 February 2011

Residents of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement in Krugersdorp are refusing to be relocated to another area after warnings that radiation levels have reached dangerous levels.

World expert in uranium products, Professor Chris Busby, has reported that the community should leave immediately as radiation levels are 15 times higher than normal in the area.

Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement in Krugersdorp is built on top of mine tailings and is surrounded by land contaminated by mining activities and radioactive dumps.

The National Nuclear Regulator and Mogale City Municipality informed the residents last week on Friday that they have to relocate because of high levels of radiation in the area.

Attempts to get hold of Mogale City Municipality pokesperson Nkosana Zali for comments were fruitless as his cellphone was unanswered.

National Nuclear Regulator spokesperson Gino Moonsamy said he would comment on the story later once he had more details.

Last Year November Busby visited the informal settlement and tested mine dumps around Krugersdorp and warned that radiation levels were 15 times higher than normal.

Community leader at Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement Siza Mokhutshoane denies that the residents are refusing to move.

"The problem is that Mogale municipality is moving us to an area where there is not water. We know that the area where we are living now is not safe for human habitation. The residents said they are not going anywhere until the municipality make sure that there is water where they are being relocated," Mokhutshoane said.

Greenpeace Senior Campaigner on Climate and Energy Dr Rianne Teule who attended a meeting with the National Nuclear Regulator last week Friday told Business Day that it was important that the radiation contamination risk be reduced in the area.

Teule says the residents are being exposed to higher level of contamination.

"The residents are living on top of mine tailings. They get exposed to radiation. They also inhale dust from the mine tailings. The vegetables or crops that they grow in the area are contaminated and poses a health risk," She warned.

Mariette Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment she was happy to see the residents being finally relocated.

Liefferink said: "It is heartening to report that after more than 8 years of whistle blowing, lobbying, thousands of news media reports, hundreds of in loco tours and workshops, and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of pamphlets that the thousands of residents of Tudor Shaft Informal Settlement are in the process of being relocated unto safe land. The National Nuclear Regulator and Mogale City Municipality acknowledged their responsibility in this regard."

Mike Kantey, National Chairperson of the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy says for many decades the industry has been pretending that the nuclear industry is "clean, green and renewable", with "no emissions".

Kantey told Business Day that "the latest incident of elevated levels of radioactivity on a mine dump tells us scientifically that such a claim can no longer be upheld, since the very source of the nuclear industry (including weaponry) is uranium -- a highly toxic and radioactive substance, especially when it is brought to the surface and processed for the nuclear industry."

"It therefore follows that nuclear energy can never again be classified as "clean and green", but must rather stand its ground on cost comparison alone, including the costs of mining, milling, uranium enrichment, and waste management.

"It is this last issue -- uranium and nuclear fuel waste management, which -- as we can see clearly now -- is the biggest headache for the long-term sustainability of the nuclear industry."

Reef Chernobyl 'will cost billions'

By Fiona MacLeod

Mail & Guardian

4 March 2011

Dangerous levels of radio­activity in Gauteng's mine dumps will take decades and billions of rands to clear, say the scientists who blew the whistle on the province's acid mine drainage problem.

In the wake of the government's decision last week to set aside R225-million to treat toxic water in underground mine voids, the focus fell on cleaning up hundreds of tailings dumps and slimes dams across the Reef. According to the government report on acid mine drainage toxic residues in mine dumps are seeping into underground water and exacerbating the problem.

Anthony Turton, a scientist who raised the alarm about acid mine drainage a decade ago, said this week that sorting out the dumps would be difficult. "The sheer scale and complexity of dealing with radioactive dumps is far worse than the water problem," he said.

Families were already being moved and legal action was being threatened over the best way to deal with this legacy of the gold rush more than a century ago. Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said the tailings dumps and dams were historically sited on unlined dolomite, resulting in heavy metals and uranium ­seeping into groundwater.

"There are at least 270 tailings dams on the Witwatersrand that will continue causing acid mine drainage for hundreds of years," she said. Liefferink pointed to the recent relocation of families from a tailings dump at the Tudor Shaft informal settlement on the West Rand after radiation levels were found to be 15 times higher than normal.

Thirty-five of 197 affected families had been moved in the past fortnight after a world expert in uranium products, Chris Busby, found that radiation levels at Tudor Shaft were comparable with "the Chernobyl exclusion zone -- higher in fact". Other informal settlements, including Bull Brand, Soul City and Baghdad, and an RDP housing settlement established close to Tudor Shaft, might also have to be moved.


Like the escalation of acid mine drainage problems a decade ago, the focus on radioactive contamination started on the West Rand. A recent study by the Council for Geoscience showed residential areas such as Carletonville, Westonaria and Khutsong had a high risk of contamination.

"All the tailings dams on the West Rand contain sediment high in uranium," said Liefferink. "But Tudor Shaft is mirrored by all the other goldfields of the Witwatersrand. Residents are exposed to dust pollution from the mine dumps, contamination of water and crops and pollution of soil and other materials they use for construction."

Health risks included cancers, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, neurotoxic syndromes and growth deficiencies. Turton and the Gauteng government have compiled a report on the reclamation of "mine residue areas" that will be released next week for public input. "Our task is to decide what to do with the mine residue," he said. "Billions of rands could be involved."

The options included red-lining radioactive hot spots, rehabilitating the dumps, or re-mining the dumps and creating licensed mega-dumps elsewhere. This could take up to 30 years, he said.

Liefferink's federation is opposing the remining and resiting of dumps and is taking legal advice on challenging 28 recent authorisations. "Because of the nuclear renaissance and renewed interest in uranium, applications for the remining of historic tailings have increased," she said.

"Gold Fields received a positive authorisation last week to remine 13 historic tailings dumps and deposit 750-million tailings within its centralised tailings storage facility."First Uranium is remining 15 tailings dumps and establishing a super dump in the Klerksdorp area, within 1km of the Vaal River.

"Rand Uranium and Mintails have also applied for the remining of historic tailings dumps and the establishment of super dumps." Radiometric surveys of previously reprocessed mine residue areas had, in some cases, shown elevated levels of residual radioactivity in the soils.

"The reprocessing activities could also result in the creation of two or more contaminated sites, where one previously existed," Liefferink said.

Solly Petra, the spokesperson for the department of mineral resources, said it could not answer questions about its research into the contamination of tailings dumps and its recommendations for remediation by the time the M&G went to print.

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info