30 exploration licences remain for Stampriet Aquifer

18 November 2021 | Agriculture

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Concern is still being expressed over all the exploration prospecting licences (EPLs) issued for uranium prospecting across the Stampriet Artesian Basin.

There are more than 30 EPLs for uranium prospecting in the Stampriet Aquifer, registered under various names.

This follows after the agriculture ministry last week cancelled the drilling exploration permit it had issued to Headspring Investments, which is engaged in uranium exploration at Leonardville.

The Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Committee (SAUMC) says it should be noted that only drilling permits have been retracted and not the EPLs in their totality.

“We wish to express continued concern over all the EPLs issued to Headspring Investments, its associate companies and, in fact, over all EPLs issued for uranium prospecting across the Stampriet Artesian Basin,” the committee said.

It said that collectively, these cover a swathe of approximately 50 km wide and 500 km long, all along the northern and western margins of the basin where recharge of the aquifers takes place, a total area of 2.7 million hectares.

Uranium leaching

The committee said that the agriculture ministry explicitly expressed concern over borehole patterns mimicking that of an in-situ leaching technique when they cancelled Headspring’s permits.

“This raises the question whether Headspring and/or other EPL holders have already carried out in-situ leaching or are preparing for in-situ leaching without proper authority and permits.

“Uranium contamination and radioactivity cannot be detected through sight, taste or smell, but is recorded worldwide to have negative impacts on the health of humans, animals and plants. Rehabilitation and remediation processes in other countries have taken decades to complete at immense cost to the respective governments.”

The ministry found that Headspring Investments, which is a subsidiary of the Russian nuclear power corporation Rosatom, does not meet the conditions under which permits 11561 and 11562 were issued to it.

The two permits were issued to Headspring on 30 March this year for uranium exploration and geohydrological purposes.

Permits exceeded

It also appears that at least 70 boreholes were drilled for exploration purposes without a valid permit. Permit 11561 provided for only 19 boreholes.

Similarly, seven more than the allowed 18 boreholes were drilled for a geohydrological study.

Furthermore, the holes drilled for the geohydrological survey are located in a specific formation of each other and this corresponds to the in-situ leaching technique proposed in the environmental impact study.

It is precisely this leaching technique that will cause uranium and various other heavy metals and radioactive waste to end up in the aquifers as part of the extraction process

The exploration holes were also not drilled according to the conditions of the permit. This means that a borehole must first be sealed before drilling can take place elsewhere in this water-rich artesian basin.

The drinking water source of the Stampriet artesian basin, with its intertwined aquifer system, extends into Botswana and South Africa.

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