By Shaaban Fundi
Once again the government of Tanzania is embarking into Uranium mining without a sound environmental impact assessment. While environmental impacts associated with the construction of a highway through the Serengeti National Park have not been completely and dully resolved, the same government is now proposing the mining of Uranium in the Selous Game Reserve which is one of the very few world heritage sites in Tanzania.
Just to recap the facts. When mining uranium, even the utmost grade deposits have less than 1% . Therefore, to obtain enough and useful amount of uranium, a vast amounts of ore have to be processed. In addition, the leftover (waste) rocks also known as tailings are nearly as radioactive as uranium itself. These tailings need to be secluded from the environment to avoid a cancer epidemic for 25,000 years or more.
I guess the minister in charge is not aware or chose to forget the facts.
Moreover, one of the elements along the uranium radiation chain is radon, a radioactive gas which can travel for hundreds of kilometers prior to decaying. Radon gas contamination issue actually happens at the mining site and its surrounding environment and not when uranium is enriched. Mine workers, villagers and animals near the mining site who breathe in this gas risk developing lung cancer and other kinds of lung diseases. Some vivid examples of health issues associated with uranium mining “tailings” are still evident in the Grand Canyon Region of the United States today.
In addition to polluting the air, water and earth with radioactive chemicals and heavy metals which can never be completely cleaned up, Uranium mining is also related with poisonous process chemicals, heavy metals and the use of vast quantities of water (read my previous article entitled “Uranium Mining Resource or Curse for Tanzania” to understand more about the water issue).
In the short-term, uranium mining sites ruin the ecology of the local region; in the long-term they pose a risk to a much wider area for thousands of years to come.
The health risks of uranium mining are by now fairly well-known, although still highly disputed by governments and the mining industry itself. It is a known fact that, uranium miners, the locals and the animals near the site suffer the maximum radiation doses of all in the nuclear fuel chain.
The major problems are inhalation of dust and radon gas, which leave alpha radiation emitters lodged in the body where they can do serious harm. As the pollution from the mines spread away from the mine site, local people and animals are also exposed to contamination. While uranium mining is highly related to cancer, low-level radiation is also associated with birth defects, high infant mortality rates and chronic lung, eyes, skin and reproductive illnesses.
What plans does Tanzania have in place to make sure that all these dangers are addressed, avoided or minimized before mining commences? What are the short and the long-term plans to mitigate or reduce the impact to human health, the environment and the beauty of the Selous Game Reserve?
Again…..just me thinking!!!!! What are your thoughts?