Uranium One's water use permit application declined due to contamination concerns

December 29, 2022

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform has refused to grant Uranium One, a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom, which was granted exploration rights in 2019, a water use permit required for mining, saying the company failed to prove its uranium extraction method would not cause pollution.

“The permits that we’d given had conditions to make sure that we can monitor the activities and that we can assure ourselves continuously that no risk to the aquifer is happening. Now, unfortunately, the company did not conform to the conditions and we have now suspicion that the mining operation, which is called in situ leaching ... mining, in fact, I see there is risk to the aquifer by polluting it,” Minister for Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform Calle Schlettwein told VOA.

Schlettwein said farmers in Namibia’s eastern Omaheke region had petitioned against the technique.

In situ mining involves recovering minerals by dissolving them in an acid pumped into the ground and then pumping the solution back to the surface.

Roy Miller is a retired underground water geologist and member of the management committee of the Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Association (SAUMA) also petitioned against in-situ mining.

“Mine solutions do escape because of improper operations, leaks, equipment breakdowns, borehole problems, and geological problems. Spreading mine solutions become a major threat to the safety of the drinking water way beyond the confines of the mine area," Miller said.

Uranium One’s spokesperson, Riaan Van Rooyen dismissed the concerns, saying the extraction method was used in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer, without harming the environment.

“Because it is a fairly new way in Africa, there is no such mine. It is the fear of the unknown that is mostly of concern for the local farmers," Van Rooyen said.

Van Rooyen said halting the project would deprive one of Namibia’s poorest regions of about 600 jobs and a N$931 million (US$55 million) investment.

Uranium One is expected to appeal the Ministry’s decision against the water permit for uranium mining.

The ministry’s decision comes amid renewed interest in uranium as a sustainable, carbon neutral and environmentally friendly source of base-load energy.

According to the Bank of Namibia (BoN), Namibia’s uranium mining sector is expected to contract by 3.4% in 2022 before expanding by 7% in 2023

Mining remains the primary sector anchor of the Namibian economy and the largest contributor to GDP which amounted to 9.1% in 2021.-VOA/The Brief

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 January 2023 19:04

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