MAC: Mines and Communities

African Uranium

Published by MAC on 2005-11-21

African Uranium

By Chikondi Chiyembekeza

21st November 2005

While Robert Mugabe welcomes the discovery of a uranium deposit in Zimbabwe, a Malawian human rights organisation claims that prospective mining of the deadly mineral may breach the ILO rules on the health and safety of workers

Kayelekera Uranium Mining May Contravene ILO Treaty

The anticipated mining of Kayelekera uranium deposits by an Australian mining company, Paladin Africa Limited in the northern region district of Karonga may be in gross violation of the ILO convention treaty on the safety and health of mineworkers.

The International Labour Organisation convention treaty in question is number 176 of 1995.

Government gave permission to the company, which is a subsidiary of the Paladin Resource Inc to mine uranium, located 40 kilometers west of Karonga. The mine will open in 2006.

According to estimates, the deposits of uranium may support 10-11 years of mine life.

The mining has triggered diverse views from a cross-section of people and organisations, among them, the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).

It has been established that communities within the surrounding areas of operation and others were not consulted, neither were they aware of what the progress has been.

CHRR understands that the minister of mines and his lands counterpart personally visited the Paladin mining camp in Kayelekera; however, no official statement has ever been made concerning those visits.

"We wonder whose interests they serve," says CHRR in a statement signed by the acting Executive Director, Undule Mwakasungura. "The secretiveness in which the government and Paladin are operating leaves a lot to desired. Besides, we were informed at the camp that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out and the report was ready though we never managed to get a copy," complains CHRR.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Mines, Natural Resources and Environment has dista-nced itself from the project saying, this is not the government project. "The role of Government is to regulate mining activities and ensure that these activities are sustainable," says the ministry.

The ministry adds that the project is at the bankable feasibility study stage where the developer is looking at the project to come up with the mining and engineering designs. "An EIA is one of the requirements for the project to go ahead. The company will produce a comprehensive EIA, which will be scrutinized by experts including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," said the ministry, hinting that the carrying out of the EIA involves wider consultations with different stakeholders.

The ministry has also assured that a team of experts will review the EIA report and will make recommendations for mitigating against negative impacts, in line with international standards. "International experts will be employed to monitor environment compliance. Government will also develop capacity in terms of personnel and equipment in this field to ensure that the environment is protected." However, the NGO says the economic benefits of uranium mining cannot outweigh the "social concerns and hazards associated with them" like radiation exposure to the general public and mine workers, contamination of both ground and surface water and the general environment impact as a result of the disposal of mill tailings.

Government has since been called upon to be objective and impartial in making the decision of permitting and licensing the company to engage in "hazardous project." On the dangers, CHRR says uranium ores emit radon gas and other harmful and highly radioactive by-products and that uranium mining is significantly more dangerous that any other hard rock mining that requires adequate ventilation system if the mines are not an open pit.

When uranium enters the body, it can lead to kidney damage, are easily absorbed by the lining in the lungs, and may cause cancer.

Government has countered saying if proven viable, Kayelekera mining will not involve activation of radiation. "The uranium ore will be mined using open cast method. The ore will be crushed and ground to powder. The powder will be treated with sulphuric acid to dissolve the uranium, which will be recovered from solution," educates government.

The product, continues government, is what is called uranium oxide concentrate (yellow cake) and it is in this form that uranium will be sold and transported in special containers. "The way uranium is chemically found in the ground is the way it will be transported the enrichment process will not and cannot be done locally in Malawi, therefore there will be no activation of radiation," asserts government.



Zimbabwe Finds Uranium, To Make Electricity - Mugabe

21st November 2005

HARARE - Zimbabwe has discovered uranium but intends to mine the commodity only to generate electricity, not for use in making nuclear weapons, President Robert Mugabe said in remarks broadcast on Sunday.

"We have found uranium, which is used to make electricity (and) the bombs that you hear about ... but when we mine it we would not want it to be used in bomb making ... We would use it to give us electricity," Mugabe said on state television.

The television said Mugabe spoke at a function at a plant owned by state power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. It did not give details.

Zimbabwe imports 35 percent of its electricity from South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and DRC to augment domestic supplies but ZESA has battled to pay for imports in recent years as a result of biting foreign currency shortages.

The crunch has resulted in frequent power cuts that have disrupted industrial production as the southern African country battles its worst economic crisis in decades.



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