Friday, December 05, 2008

A continent of cheap labour and little regulation

This article reports that a "uranium rush" seems to be under way, based on the assumption that nuclear power might fill the world's current energy gaps in Namibia . Namibia's uranium oxide is exported in its raw form and enriched in countries with uranium converters such as France, the US, Canada and China.For almost 30 years, Roessing was the only uranium company in the country.A second uranium mine, Langer Heinrich, became operational in 2007 and 40 exclusive prospecting licenses and 12 mining licenses had already been issued by September 2008.

Exposure to even relatively low levels of radiation over a long period can be extremely harmful to the health of workers and communities living around uranium mines.Several workers who spent long years working at uranium mines developed serious health problems.Cancerous strains are commonplace as workers are exposed to dust and radon gas daily and thus develop diseases such as TB and lung cancer.Although mining companies usually deny any responsibility and refuse to compensate workers, there is increasing evidence of a link between uranium mining and workers' health problems.

Uranium mining uses an enormous amount of water.
In a recent article in The Namibian, the writer pointed out that the proposed uranium mine by the Canadian company Forsys Metal, would use 1 million litres of water each day.Situated on the Valencia farm in the Erongo region, the mine would consume in only three months the amount of water that the current users in the area would consume in 36 years.Given that all existing and envisaged uranium mines are in the Namib desert, one needs to ask if it is wise to spend Namibia's most scarce resource - water - on mining operations that may only bring short-term benefits.

Besides using huge amounts of water, uranium mining also leaves large craters as it relies on open-pit operations.Once mining activities cease, the huge holes remain.Furthermore, radioactive dust particles may be blown over many kilometres.

It is telling that Canadian and Australian mining companies seem to spearhead the new rush for Africa's uranium. Despite high quality uranium deposits in their own countries, they are focusing on Africa's uranium resources, with Niger, Malawi, Tanzania and Namibia the main targets. There seems to be only one explanation for this paradox: labour costs are higher, and environmental restrictions are more stringent in Australia and Canada.

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