Concerns stack up about uranium mining

The entire Stampriet Artesian Basin, which stretches from Namibia to Botswana and South Africa, may be polluted with radioactive waste if uranium leaching is allowed near Leonardville.

04 October 2021 | Environment

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Proposed uranium mining activities near Leonardville have the potential of not only polluting drinking water, but also affecting the environment for at least 30 years.

Meat exports may be dealt a major blow if radioactivity is detected in meat due to polluted water.

The farmers’ association of Leonardville last week convened a meeting with Environmental Compliance Consultancy (ECC), who were appointed to carry out an environmental impact assessment for the proposed uranium mining by Headspring Investments.

Headspring Investments is part of the Russian company Uranium One, which in turn is part of the Russian state-owned energy giant Rosatom.

According to the Namibia Agriculture Union (NAU), the environmental consultancy firm has been commissioned to compile an independent report for submission to the mines and energy ministry and the environment ministry.

These ministries will then consider whether an environmental clearance certificate should be issued for the in-situ leaching of uranium.

In-situ leaching is a mining process used to recover minerals such as copper and uranium through boreholes drilled into a deposit.

Multinational risk

According to the NAU, the proposed project (‘Project Wings’), will affect the entire Stampriet Artesian Basin, which includes not only Namibia, but also Botswana and South Africa (60 000 km2 for Namibia alone).

“It is an urgent matter for discussion and raising awareness for the public in all three countries,” the union said.

According to the NAU, hydrologists recently informed neighbouring countries about the potential dangers arising from the project.

“Concerns have been expressed about the pollution of drinking water for humans and animals - pollution that according to the Russians themselves, could affect the environment for at least 30 years.”

The NAU says according to information obtained from other studies it could be even more than 30 years and therefore soil baselines and measurements of water quality are extremely important.

“It appears that Namibia at this stage has little to no data on the uranium content of the Stampriet aquifer water. All the landowners and towns on the aquifer are dependent on drinking water from this source.”

Groundwater at risk

Furthermore, the NAU says concerns were also expressed about the extraction process, during which the prospector can give no guarantee that the sulphuric acid used for the dissolution of the uranium will not end up in the drinking water.

The union says concern has also been expressed about the model Headsprings proposes to extract and 'pump out' the uranium, so that the solution can be 'harvested' above ground, before the water is pumped back into the aquifer.

“Headsprings constantly pointed out how clean and minimalist the process is above ground, but could not provide answers to a multitude of questions about what exactly is happening underground. It turns out that the mining process is based on models, which no one can control, as it happens underground.”

The NAU notes that according to guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), drinking water should not contain more than 3/100 000 g of uranium per litre.

Should leakage via dissolved uranium occur and reach the aquifer, the indicated value will be at least 100 times higher than proposed maximum values, the union says.

“At this point, a report is awaited from the ECC (currently in its infancy stage) which should address all the questions raised during public consultation.”

The NAU said it will summarise the concerns of its members and forward them to the environmental commissioner.

In the meantime, a group will be formed that will represent the interests of the Stampriet Aquifer's landowners and ensure collaboration with an environmental consultant, so that any available updates can be shared with members.

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