MAC: Mines and Communities

Mixed feelings about new uranium mine

Published by MAC on 2006-03-08

Mixed feelings about new uranium mine

by Elma Robberts, Windhoek / The Namibian

8th March 2006

HUNDREDS of Arandis residents flocked to the town hall on Monday evening to have their say on the possible repercussions that the proposed Trekkopje Uranium Project (TUP) holds for the community.

If approved, Namibia's third uranium mine will be located 30 kilometres north of Arandis and will primarily affect the small mining town, Spitzkoppe and surrounding conservancies.

The townspeople had mixed feelings about the development: fear and hope were expressed in equal measures.

Concerns centred around radiation levels that could increase significantly with a second uranium mine in the area.

"We [Arandis town] have many people who are dying of cancer.

What will happen if we're exposed to double the current radiation levels?" remarked one participant.

"The owners of the mine won't live in Arandis and won't face the health threats that we do," he said.

Another predicted that increased radiation levels would deter possible investors and do more harm than good to the community's already dwindling socio-economic development.

President of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Risto Kapenda said: "We can not only consider the matter of bread on the table.

Jobs are important, but the life of everyone and everything in the area is equally important."

The possible impact on exclusive breeding areas for animals inside the mining site was also questioned, as well as the extent to which the planning process will take into account opinions from the communities in surrounding conservancies.

Some participants were very vocal in their support of a new mine.

"Who of you people present here is opposed to new jobs?" challenged one man.

"We can open a fourth, fifth or tenth uranium mine because our youngsters urgently need jobs and we've seen that jobs in Namibia are reserved for family members [of those in high positions]," he charged.

"It will be good if the mine opens," a woman said.

"But everything must happen here in Arandis: offices and accommodation must be here in town.

The people of Arandis are desperate for employment."

"The new mine is no problem," said another woman.

"We need bread on our tables and right now the bread is running away.

We must grab the opportunity for development to make Arandis look like a town again."

A suggestion that employees should own shares in the company was met with spontaneous applause from some when a man stated: "Jobs don't create wealth, ownership does."

Project Manager Daniel Limpitlaw said another mining town would not be developed closer to the proposed mine.

"No new town will be created to service the mine," he said.

"That was [a characteristic] of the old style of mining.

We will work according to the modern practice of utilising existing towns."

TUP Manager for Public Participation Marie Hoadley said it was too early to answer questions regarding radiation levels, the number of job opportunities, a projected date for the start of operations and other issues.

"It is still early days," she said.

"Many technical components must still be investigated.

It will take many months, maybe even years, before the first bit of uranium comes out of the mine."

During this stage of the project, a list of stakeholders must be drawn up, after which their input will be gathered for the preliminary environmental impact assessment.

"We're not even at the stage of doing a pre-feasibility study yet and the extent and impact of the development can't be predicted right now."

On the question of the mine's lifespan, Limpitlaw said: "The longevity depends on economic factors, but we expect the mine to be operational for at least 13 years."

Hoadley invited all stakeholders to add their names to the list of those whose input should be gained in the planning stages.

"A stakeholder is anyone who can be affected by any activity of the mine, whether good or bad," she explained.

The interest of people in the Erongo Region was triggered by the recent announcement that Gulf Western Trading plans to renew its mineral licence to further explore the uranium deposits at the farms Trekkopje and Klein Trekkopje.

The company will trade as UraMin Namibia as part of UraMin Inc, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Shallow uranium deposits in the area have been explored since the 1970s but the global price for uranium has only recently gone up enough to make mining feasible.

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