MAC: Mines and Communities

Radiation fears after fire at Namibia's Rössing mine

Published by MAC on 2015-02-17
Source: The Namibian, All Africa.com (2015-02-16)

There has been a fire at Rio Tinto's Rössing mine, following on earlier problems such as the failure of a leach tank in 2013 (see: Australia: Rio Tinto's Ranger Mine suffers radioactive acid spill).

High-profile investigation into Rössing fire

By Adam Hartman

The Namibian

16 February 2015

ALTHOUGH the impact of the fire which erupted at Rössing Uranium's final processing plant may not be as serious in terms of radiation exposure, a full-scale high-profile investigation was nevertheless launched to ensure that all concerns around the incident are addressed.

Corporate, public and private radiation experts arrived at the site on Friday after a fire broke out in the final production plant, commonly known as the 'kitchen' where uranium oxide undergoes a heat treatment in which excess moisture is burnt off or evaporated before being drummed for export.

Experts involved, among others, include the director of the National Radiation Protection Authority Axel Tibinyane, Wotan Swiegers of the Namibian Atomic Energy Board, and the mine's own radiation expert, Gunhild von Oertzen.

Regardless of the extent of the possible impact, experts are applying step-by-step inspections and precautions as per international requirements.

Initial assessments show that the fire was isolated in the roaster where most of the damage was contained.

The fire broke out at about 13h00 last Thursday. The mine's emergency response teams brought the situation under control. As a precautionary measure, the fire brigades of Swakopmund and Arandis were called, but by the time they arrived at around 15h30 the fire had been extinguished.

There was speculation that a diesel leak could have led to the fire but how this happened still needs to be assessed.

Although fears of radiation exposure to the workers, the environment and the surrounding communities was a concern, The Namibian understands from experts that it would rather be minimal - unlike if it had been a chemical spillage like happened more than a year ago at Rössing; or had it been a nuclear reactor that had been on fire.

Affected employees were evacuated and there were no injuries. Those who could have inhaled smoke had lung and urine tests done on them for possible radiation exposure, but it is understood doctors were satisfied with the results.

Mining operations in areas not affected by the incident continue as normal, and although the final processing plant did incur damage that may take some weeks to repair, The Namibian understands that the process in front of the roaster has not been affected and that yellowcake can still be drummed for export. It is just the dried-out uranium oxide that may not be produced for now.

Inquiries were directed to the mine's management as it is understood that “something like this should not happen”, and the circumstances leading to the fire still have to be scrutinised.


Radiation fears after fire at Rössing mine

By Adam Hartman

The Namibian

13 February 2015

A FIRE broke out at about 13h00 yesterday at the Final Product Recovery (FPR) plant of Rössing Uranium, raising radiation exposure fears among the community.

Emergency response units brought the “situation” under control while affected employees were evacuated and the fire was extinguished, according to a press release from the mine.

As a precautionary measure, the fire brigades of Swakopmund and Arandis were alerted to render support if necessary. There were no injuries to employees. The origin and cause of the fire and possible damage to equipment or the FPR building are currently being assessed.

Mining operations in areas not affected by the incident continue as normal.

Fears of radiation exposure were raised by people as far as Swakopmund, but attempts to get further comments from the mine regarding the alleged radiation screening of workers, and the possibility of mine closure for an extended period due to radiation fears were unsuccessful.

Rössing suffered from a leach tank failure in December 2013.

Apart from minor first aid administered at the scene, no employees sustained injuries or came into contact with hazardous material during or after the incident. The mine's milling operation was stopped after the leak until restoration work was done.


Namibia: No Uranium Spills, Says Rössing

By Eveline de Klerk

All Africa.com

16 February 2015

Walvis Bay — Rossing Uranium has quelled fears of radiation exposure after a fire broke out at one of its recovery plants last Thursday. Rossing Uranium Managing Director, Werner Duvenhage, said over the weekend that no uranium spill was detected during the fire.

Duvenhage said none of the final product that is already drummed and stored outside the facility was affected by the fire. The plant that caught fire is the Final Product Recovery (FPR) plant, which handles processed uranium for export.

"As part of standard safety procedures at the mine, teams entering the FPR plant are required to wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Rössing's Occupational Medical Surveillance Programme also provides the mine with relevant information so that it can control and manage potential health risks," Duvenhage said.

According to him, the initial assessments of the affected area at the FPR plant showed that the fire was confined to the roasters inside the facility.

"Most of the damage was contained here. The FPR plant is one component of the mine's processing plant. The roasters are used to burn off excess moisture in the final product, before drumming takes place," he said.

He added that the exact cause of the fire remains unknown at this stage, however, as part of the business recovery and response plan, further assessments and a thorough investigation, involving the relevant experts, is currently underway.

"Work in unaffected parts of the mine continues as normal and all relevant authorities were informed about the incident. No employees were injured during the fire. There was also no uranium spill. None of the final product already drummed and stored outside the FPR facility was affected. The FPR plant is a restricted access facility. All employees and contractors undergo pre-employment medical examinations to ensure they are fit to work. These are followed-up by regular risk-based medical examinations. The safety of Rössing employees and our neighbouring communities remains, as always, our first priority," Duvenhage said.

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