Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flogging Nuclear Energy to the African Continent



If nuclear power is okay for South Africa, what about Zimbabwe? Or how about Rwanda, or Sierra Leone? If we are concerned about South Africa's ability to provide safe transport for nuclear fuel and waste, risks of sabotage and smuggling of nuclear materials - what about nations in Africa that have been torn by civil war? What about a neighbouring nation like Zimbabwe where inflation is now at 7000%? South Africans may not be aware that despite poverty and starvation, Zimbabwe is somehow still considering the hugely expensive option of nuclear power. How comfortable do South Africans feel about President Mugabe sitting with a potential finger on the nuclear button? 


The nuclear industry's multi-million dollar marketing programme (courtesy of the taxpayer) is making security in Africa about as predictable as a game of roulette. Spin the nuclear wheel of fortune and the dial could point to any one of a number of African countries, where despite a majority of impoverished people, certain governments have still managed to spend millions on weaponry.


Countries in Africa currently prospecting for uranium, include: Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and of course, Zimbabwe.


In Harare Zimbabwe's Minister of Energy Michael Nyambuya said nuclear energy was an option, although Zimbabwe still had to verify uranium deposits. The company responsible for prospecting uranium in Zimbabwe is Omegacorp Ltd.

However, the same names pop up in each country - like Uramin, Brinkley Mining, Paladin and Areva. And while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) has gone out of its way to reassure South Africans that an expanded nuclear programme in this country would be "safe", there is no way that they can make any guarantees concerning other nations. Despite this, Necsa and the fabled Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project intend - not only to manufacture nuclear reactors for South Africa - but also to export to the rest of Africa.


What about the Congo? This country's uranium mines produced material for the nuclear bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II. They were officially closed since 2000, but illegal mining continued. Negotiations between the Congo and Brinkley Mining ground to a halt when the government official who set up the deal was imprisoned on charges of illegally selling uranium.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is suspected of trying to reopen the Shinkolobwe uranium mine with help from North Korea. (In 2000, North Korea denied reports that it might be importing uranium from Congo to manufacture nuclear weapons).

In Malawi, five Non-Governmental Organisations oppose uranium mining. They are extremely concerned about Malawi's natural heritage including treasures such as Sere Stream, Rukuru River and Lake Malawi. "This is an ecological disaster in waiting," they said. They were aware of the detrimental impact uranium mining would have on the health of workers and nearby communities, radioactive mine wastes, environmental damage and water contamination.


In Niger, the uranium mining industry has been plagued by violence. In April 2007, heavily-armed men attacked a camp of uranium prospectors in northern Niger, killing a security guard and wounding three other people. Between 20-30 men from the Niger Movement for Justice raided French nuclear company Areva's camp. A Chinese employee from a uranium mining company was captured on July 6, 2007, by the same group. 


Despite this, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has directed his energy ministry to establish a nuclear unit and in Zambia, Albidon Ltd and African Energy Resources Ltd have begun feasibility studies for uranium mining. The Omega Corporation wants to open up a uranium mine in Siavonga with an investment of 60 million US dollars and Equinox Minerals Ltd is considering extracting uranium from Lumwana in Zambia.


In South Africa, Uramin Inc wants to expand into the Beaufort West area of the Karoo and produce 1745 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. Interestingly, an American comapny - SRK Consulting - was to conduct the feasibility study. 

The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) granted Uranium One a new order mining right for the Dominion Uranium Project for 30 years covering an area of 14 000 hectares. First Uranium intends to produce 342 tonnes of uranium annually. This year, Uranium One produced ammonium diuranate (ADU) at Dominion Reefs Uranium Mine near Klerksdorp. This was shipped to the Nuclear Fuels Corporation of South Africa (Nufcor SA) to be processed into U3O8 (yellow cake) in Nufcor's calcining plant.


Just as there is no smoke without a fire, so there is no nuclear without the uranium fuel. Unfortunately, the nuclear industry has been selling nuclear as a "sustainable" energy source, which it obviously is not. In fact uranium reserves will be depleted before coal reserves run out and the nuclear industry is even asking for coal to power its nuclear smelter at Pelindaba.


The nuclear industry has also been marketing itself as "safe" which again has proven to be a false claim. South Africa has one nuclear reactor at Koeberg and yet at least three men have been caught and stood trial for smuggling nuclear materials. If, as the South African government intends, the nuclear programme in this country expands to include 30 nuclear reactors for South Africa and others marketed to Africa, how much illegal nuclear trade will go on?


The construction of "dirty bombs" and international terrorism is only one of the deadly faces of the nuclear industry. Wherever uranium mines are sited, radioactive contamination spreads to soils and water sources and the dust is blown by the wind into the homes of nearby communities. Primary cancers are recognized as a health hazard of uranium mining and the inhalation of uranium dust is second only to tobacco smoking for producing lung cancers.


From the cradle to the grave, the nuclear process is deadly. And for Africa - regarded as the cradle of life - this would seem to be the final desecration of a once beautiful and fertile continent.


Yours sincerely



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