Uranium ‘Not Ruled Out’

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Namibian government is not opposed to using uranium for electricity generation, a senior government official says. The recent increased interest in the resource for power generation has seen companies renewing licenses for Namibian deposits that were thought to be uneconomical. Joseph Iita, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) told New Era yesterday there was a direction to look at uranium for power generation. “It is not ruled out. It could be a medium term plan,” he said adding, “I believe that we can meet power needs for Namibia and the whole of SADC.” He said although Namibia may not have the required skills for a nuclear power plant, the country could start talking to other countries for expertise. He said in the near future, the country will have three additional uranium mines to the existing RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing Uranium mine. Langer Hienrich starts production this September, while two others, Trekkopje and Valencia are in the feasibility stages. With problems facing the country regarding generating electricity, Iita said, “It could not have been for nothing that God gave us this resource because we don’t have rivers which many countries use for hydro-electric power.” He said with the increase in the spot price of the resource, many companies have shown interest in the field although their applications would have to go through an evaluation to determine their seriousness. Increased mining activities in the field will mean an increased contribution of the mining sector to the national GDP, a reduction in the unemployment rate, skills transfer and improved infrastructure such as roads. An economist said about 11 percent of workers in the mining sector is employed in the uranium sub-sector. At the moment, RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing Uranium remains the biggest employer in the uranium sub-sector, with 830 workers compared to 7 449 in the whole sector, which translates into 11 percent of the total mining sector. Daniel Motinga, Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Research said the general mining sector employs roughly 2 percent of the total employment in Namibia because the sector has become substituting and highly capital intensive since the late to the early 1990s when offshore diamond mining became more prominent. Statistics indicate that the numbers of people working in the uranium sub-sector have been dwindling since 1995. More than 1 200 people were employed in 1995 at RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing, which has now gone down to 830 workers. Overall however, the mining sector accounts for over 40 percent of Namibia’s export earnings and about 10 percent of GDP. In terms of the new uranium mines however, Motinga said the mines would be much smaller compared to RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing and would therefore employ fewer people. “So in terms of employment, they may not have such a huge impact,” added Motinga. Despite these developments, environmentalists feel the interest in uranium comes at the expense of the people’s health, the environment and water. Among their fears are that uranium may seep into underground water supplies, thereby contaminating it, cause lung cancer through inhalation of radon gas and also what would happen to the mines when they are decommissioned. Bertchen Kohrs of Earthlife Namibia said yesterday workers need to be properly informed that they are working with very dangerous material. “Although they are given protective clothing, experience has it that they sometimes take it off because they are uncomfortable,” said Kohrs. She added that there were concerns of lowering the water table because of the boreholes that have been drilled. But the PS said environmental issues are guaranteed in the Namibian Constitution and the mines ministry did not give any licenses unless the mining companies complied with the environmental impact assessment requirements of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.