New uranium mining alert

KAREN WATKINS

Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) celebrated the announcement last week that Australian Tasman Pacific Minerals Limited is downsizing its mining application by almost 90 percent.

In a prospecting rights applications update on Wednesday July 6, Tasman said it had withdrawn all its mining rights applications lodged in the Western and Northern Cape and lodged new mining rights applications in the Western Cape.

Earlier this year, Safcei flagged plans to mine for uranium in the Karoo Basin (“Uranium mining will impoverish thousands,” Bulletin March 24). They argue shallow mining of uranium would create huge clouds of radioactive dust that could travel beyond the Karoo.

Safcei’s hydrogeologist Dr Stefan Cramer said they had been surprised and curious at first and then elated.

Constantia activist Marilyn Lilley said the issue was linked with human rights to health, clean air and water.

Tim van Stormbroek of Ferret Mining, the consultancy doing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP), confirmed that Tasman RSA Mines had withdrawn all the mining right applications. However, two new mining right applications had been re-submitted for a reduced surface area for Rystkuil and Quaggasfontein. And five new prospecting right applications had been submitted over reduced surface areas for Tanqua, Matjeskloof, Rietkuil, Winterberg and Lombaardskraal.

“This effectively demonstrates the benefit of the EIA and public consultation processes in the evolution of such a project, and Tasman RSA Mines is still confident that it holds sufficient mineral resources within these reduced application areas to initiate an economically viable mining operation,” said Mr Van Stormbroek.

But Dr Cramer believes the company withdrew its mining rights application because of the widespread resistance against their plans, not only from individuals and Karoo residents but also from within government.

And because of this, Safcei is not resting on its laurels. Instead it is concentrating on protecting the smaller area identified by Tasman to end uranium mining before it begins.

“We also welcome that companies have recognised that they have to clean up the uranium mess left over from previous mining enterprises in the area. It’s important that this is done quickly and efficiently to protect the health of the Karoo inhabitants and their grazing animals,” said Dr Cramer.

Asked where South Africa will get its uranium should the country go through with its planned nuclear build programme, he said any uranium oxide produced from the Karoo projects would have to be exported for enrichment. Dr Cramer said uranium ore would have to be crushed on-site and converted into “yellow cake” which would then be transported by rail from Beaufort West to Cape Town to be export-ed to utilities in Western Europe and America.