Namibia: Controversy over uranium mining rages on

The Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Committee has denounced Uranium One Chairman Andrey Shutov over an article in which he advocated uranium mining by in situ leaching in Namibia.

In an article published in The Namibian on December 13, Shutov highlighted the benefits of uranium mining in Namibia.

Uranium One is Russia’s state-owned uranium exploration, mining and processing agency, according to the committee.

“…the development of new deposits will make a significant contribution to ensuring Namibia’s economic security and contribute to the continued sustainable development of the nation,” Shutov explained in the article.

He said Russian geologists had identified promising Kazakh-type uranium deposits in the Stampriet Basin.

“The deposits could be developed via the most environmentally advanced in situ leaching (ISL) method.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recognized this technology as the most environmentally friendly…there are significant benefits,” Shutov said.

The Stampriet committee accuses Shutov of withholding vital information about the dangers of the ISL method.

“The information it provides is woefully incomplete and … totally misleading,” the committee said in a statement dated January 24, 2022.

They said prospecting for uranium in the region could have disastrous consequences, as in situ leaching could contaminate the huge aquifer in the artesian Stampriet Basin on which Namibia’s arid southeastern Kalahari Desert depends and the countries neighboring Botswana and South Africa.

After making a site visit on October 15, the Department of Agriculture last year canceled two prospecting licenses issued to Headspring Investments to prospect for uranium in the Stampriet Basin because they allegedly drilled holes drilling according to a model imitating that of the in situ leaching technique.

Ministry spokesman Jona Musheko said yesterday that the ministry had set conditions for the company to follow and advised them to contact the ministry if they were unhappy with the cancellation of their licenses.

However, he could not confirm or deny whether the company had approached the ministry.

The company intended to drill 37 boreholes and the committee welcomed the cancellation of both licenses.

No comment could be obtained from Headspring Investment yesterday, however, in an article by The Economist on November 22 last year, Shutov said that all work on the Headspring site had been carried out in strict compliance with Namibian law.

The committee has argued that ISL mining could seriously contaminate Namibia’s most valuable aquifer, endangering the entire community that farms in Namibia’s arid south-eastern Kalahari and depends on it for their livelihoods. and its economy.

“The uranium deposits of interest to Headspring Investments (Pty) Ltd lie in underground layers of sandstone containing high quality drinking water in a transboundary aquifer which covers 87,000 km2 and extends into Botswana and South Africa. South.”

Explaining the mining process, the committee said: “ISL involves drilling thousands of boreholes into the uranium deposit.

“Sulfuric acid is pumped into the ore via injection boreholes. The acid dissolves radioactive uranium and many toxic heavy metals associated with uranium…

“Because the same solution is recycled over and over again, the concentration of toxic heavy metals and radionuclides builds up continuously.

“The concentration of dissolved uranium in the acid solution underground can be as high as 600 grams per ton of solution. This is more than 20,000 times higher than the safe limit of 0.03 grams of uranium in drinking water. determined by the World Health Organization.”

The committee says groundwater from the aquifer naturally flows a few meters a year southward. This flow is, however, greatly enhanced in the coarse-grained sandstones and by intensive pumping in the large number of irrigation projects downstream of the mineralized zone.

These projects account for approximately 90% of total water use in the basin. The water from sandstones quarried by this method in many other parts of the world is so salty that it is not even suitable for livestock.

“But the water from the Stampriet Basin is premium drinking water,” the committee said.

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