Conservationists cautious over uranium mining approval reports in Tanzania


(Posted 27th December 2013)

Reactions to media reports in Tanzania, publishing details of approvals for uranium mining given by the country’s Atomic Energy Commission, were swift and harsh, and predicatably given on condition of anonymity, no wonder considering Tanzania’s record of often brutal suppression of dissent, especially when big commercial interests are at stake.

Several contributors took special exception to the reported phrasing of sections of the report, like the required compliance by the commission with the principles of government justification of the projects, understood and interpreted as rolling over to provide precisely the results the government wanted to hear.

Uranium mining in the Selous has led to world wide protests and led to the government putting a mechanism into place to carve out over 200 square kilometres of the Selous territory to evade sanctions by UNESCO, which had made the Selous Game Reserve a World Heritage Site – for the Tanzanian government not an issue it seems as they habitually ignore that status in favour of ‘development’ as the equally controversial Serengeti highway plans prove.

Uranium mining is by wide consent a hugely toxic affair, and even carving out the Selous site for mining and production will still affect the reserve and its water sources, as well as the people depending on the rivers and streams, for generations to come.

One other section in the report quoted was stating that ‘overall the pollution of air, water and soil was to be avoided to minimize any impact from the [mining] sites on people and the environment

Wrote one regular source, a highly respected conservationist: ‘What do you expect when a government hellbent to mine uranium commissions a study undertaken by a government agency. Of course they dance to their masters tunes. They continue to belittle the fallout and effects of uranium which is a toxic substance. Many countries are now reviewing their atomic energy exposure in the aftermath of the Japanese problems with their power plants affected by the earthquake. The toxic fallout in the water has spread across the Pacific and in Japan itself the areas around that power plant are off limits perhaps for generations to come. Across Japan the radiation levels have significantly increased. The biggest problems are how to deal with accidents, Chernobyl is another good example, and with the storage of used uranium rods. Experts expect the demand for uranium to fall because of exactly the lack of answers how to deal with the material once it has been enriched and used up. Tanzania has a huge potential in tourism especially in the Selous where only a small area has been tapped into. New camps could generate a lot more employment than a uranium mine would do and it is sustainable long term which mining is not. But there are of course those pending issues with poaching, which has been rampant in the Selous and government is doing little to stop it because word has it senior people are benefiting from the trade in blood ivory. So perhaps, cynical as we know them to be, they let the reserve be poached empty and then shrug and tell us that is is no longer suitable for tourism and did they not always say mining is the future for the country? And of course the Selous region is remote, so they are obviously not bothered about the relatively few people who will be affected when the toxic fallout strikes. Investigative journalism in our country is all but dead because of the way the media are harassed when they exposed bad schemes in the past which involved government. No one will dare to really expose the dangers of uranium mining to the Tanzanian public and so most people will only get the uptalk of government and not the downside of the environmental fallout’.

Besides the plans to mine uranium in the designated area of the Selous, plans for the building of a hydro electric plant and dam at Stiegler’s Gorge, in the very core of the area designated for tourism at present in the Selous, are equally threatening the very fabric of this game reserve and cast doubts over Tanzania’s real commitment to conservation, which by common consensus today is but a shadow of the efforts made in the days of founding father Julius Nyerere, for whom the harmony between people and environment was at the core of his government’s conservation policy. Watch this space as this saga will undoubtedly continue into 2014 and beyond.

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