Experience does not replace knowledge

Dr Stefan Cramer, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, Westlake

Referring to (“Setting the record straight,” Bulletin letters, April 12), a specialist debate can quickly turn off the general public.

Let me therefore briefly respond to some issues, Greg Moseley has raised in his letter.
My 50 years of professional experience goes beyond hydro-geology and extends into mining exploration and environmental impacts on four continents.

It includes documentation of the often horrific impacts mining has had on local people and environments. It involved also documenting the specifically dreadful damage to people’s health from uranium mining, including in my native Germany. And I have studied the Karoo uranium mining project intensively.

Greg Moseley criticises my language. Well, this letter was an opinion piece and not a scientific paper. If he had seen the horrors of dying uranium miners and had not earned his life’s income from mining, he would perhaps understand my choice of language.

On the size of the mining footprint, as with many other Karoo uranium mining details, Moseley’s speculations are patently wrong. The company application documents show a string of open pits extending for 70km from Ryst Kuil in the Western Cape to Kareepoort in the Eastern Cape, dissecting major river flows.

In addition, space taken up for a haulage network and for extensive waste dumps makes up for a total of several thousand hectares of valuable Karoo farm land for the 50-odd planned open pits and waste dumps. But the impact of dust dispersal, groundwater contamination and water abstraction extend far beyond the open pits. Ever seen the damage, done by reputable firms like De Beers and others, have inflicted on the West Coast?

Again, Moseley speculates – as a total outsider to this case – by attributing the reduction in size to exploration results. Company documents again show that they had simply not the capacity to do even basic surveys of approximately half of the terrains applied for.

Also, Moseley is ill-informed about land ownership. The company has bought up 273 700 hectares of farm land in anticipation of mining rights. These are part of the non-performing assets, for which Peninsula had to write off close to $10 million in its books.

Moseley’s swipe regarding Paarl Rock being radioactive is deliberately misleading. There, the radioactive substances are firmly and safely bound in a massive rock formation. In uranium mining, radioactive particles are liberated through drilling and blasting and find their way into our environment. It is totally different sitting on a slightly radioactive rock to inhaling fine radioactive dust from mining. As an exploration geologist, Moseley should know the difference.

This is also the reason why drilling into uranium deposits is not the same as drilling for water. The fine drill dust becomes radioactive when drilling through uranium deposits. Often this dust is not handled properly, as we could show in the case of Peninsula at the Rietkuil trial mine outside Beaufort West.

After all, Greg Moseley’s record is not so straight as he wants us to believe. Experience in the industry does not replace detailed knowledge.