URANIUM MINING IN THE SELOUS GAME RESERVE ON GOVERNMENT FAST TRACK AGENDA
Russias ROSATOM, the State Nuclear Energy Corporation, is in the cross hairs of environmentalists and the conservation fraternity over plans to mine Uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, which would according to conservation sources irreversibly alter the environment and possibly poison the immediate area plus water sources for generations.
The Tanzanian government is presently pushing for the mining project which though estimated to produce annual revenues of over 400 billion Tanzania Shillings would only benefit government with less than 2 percent of such incomes, raising questions exactly what the deal is and who will be benefitting from it the most.
UNESCO, which has declared the Selous Game Reserve a World Heritage Site a long time ago in recognition of its pristine wilderness at a time when the Tanzanian government still lived by founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyereres credo of committed conservation is presently considering an application by Tanzania in regard to Uranium mining. To evade the international scrutiny it was in fact proposed by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism to reduce the size of the Selous and excise the area earmarked for mining, a plan which met with strong resistance by environmentalists and conservationists as the mining would still impact on water sources flowing through the Selous and potential poisoning from contaminated earth and rock deposits, where radioactive dust could be blown across the game reserve.
It was learned that the local district administration is on a charm offensive, telling the population of roads, jobs and services but leaving out the crucial issue of pollution, which might affect the area for generations to come. The district commissioner was quoted in local media reports of having talked of the creation of permanent townships near the proposed mine and a highway connecting them with Dar es Salaam, giving credence to earlier objections raised by experts that the planned mine would need to be supported by a big network of access roads, related infrastructure, housing and peripheral services for its workforce.
While the government appears hell bent to push the project through, the local area member of parliament was concerned enough to raise the questions of pollution and environmental safeguards and guarantees on the future of the Selous Game Reserve. The tourism industry could provide a multiple of jobs, compared to the mine, on a sustainable long term basis through accelerated tourism developments, unlike the mining which would eventually leave a deep hole in the ground and potentially very poisonous rock and soil deposits scattered over a wide area and no jobs after the mine has closed.
Said a respected conservation voice from Dar es Salaam, not surprisingly on condition of anonymity:
The track record of the former Soviet Union in respect of nuclear energy and weapons is catastrophic. It is not only Novaja Semlja which is notorious but sites across the entire former Soviet Union and those remaining in what is now Russia. What guarantee do we have that Russias Rosatom will employ better care and introduce better safeguards here if they have failed to do so back home? They want to mine, take the uranium out of the ground which is radioactive, process and ship their product and leave us with the waste. Will they pay for health problems in 20 or 30 or 40 years when they are long gone already? There is a big problem with toxicity and there are water sources running through and near that mining site which eventually flow into the Indian Ocean, flow through the Selous. Now if that water, the water in the ground, are gradually poisoned, it will affect human populations using such water, it will affect animal populations and eventually even the fish in the ocean. We have genuine concerns here. It is not our intention to stop each and every project as our opponents allege, we are here to provide a balanced view and raise concerns which the promoters are glossing over, not mentioning, downplaying and evading questions. The Japan situation with radiation poisoning should be a warning signal for the entire world and we in Tanzania must listen to this debate. Germany has committed to move out of nuclear power generation because they have realized that the waste management is becoming too difficult to solve in the long term. Their nuclear waste sites will not be accessible for thousands of years and considering their technological development stage compared with Tanzania, how shall we manage to deal with the waste from Uranium mining. Baiting locals with job prospects and roads and so forth is one thing but they should be told of the potential consequences, the health hazards and the future impact on people living there, on their environment, their livestock, their farms and their children. I am not saying they will glow in the dark or have kids with two heads, that would be too drastic but there is an issue here and our government is suppressing it for short sighted financial gains, which in fact are in any case far too little, not even 2 percent? Who made such contracts which would leave us with peanuts and all the poisonous waste when the mining company has finished with us.
Watch this space for ongoing reporting on this issue and the final verdict by UNESCO, when their audits and fact finding have been completed and are ready to be published.