THE Directorate of Geological Survey of Namibia yesterday issued the first report for the 'uranium rush' in Erongo (known as the 'uranium province').
The report, officially known as annual Strategic Environmental Management Plan (SEMP), aims to provide strategic directions to the uranium industry, government and other stakeholders in the central Namib in addressing the cumulative impacts of existing and potential developments.
In order to establish a guideline, several 'environmental quality objectives' were identified to measure the extent to which the uranium rush was moving the region towards or away from a desired future state: that the development and utilisation of uranium resources would contribute significantly to sustainable development for Erongo and Namibia as a whole. These quality objectives include development, employment, infrastructure, water, health, effects on tourism, education, governance and land use.
The various objectives were individually measured in context of how stakeholders have managed them to ultimately meet the desired result.
Only three objectives enjoyed 100% commitment. These were development, employment and health - meaning that the stakeholders, especially the companies, did all they can to contribute to development on the mines and the affected communities; and also played a major role in employing Namibians and ensuring health services were available for them.
The report indicated though that infrastructure development and management are a concern. For examples, the road between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay (behind the dune belt), which carries much of the traffic between the mines and the Walvis Bay harbour, has not been tarred. There is also concern that the average waiting time for a ship to berth at Walvis Bay harbour is more than 12 hours, which is too long.
Other concerns involved waste sites not being audited, while hazardous waste sites do not accept the waste classes for which they were licensed. There is also no water and air quality monitoring at waste sites.
Underperforming objectives had to do with air quality and radiation, tourism, ecological integrity and education. According to the report, stakeholders need to do more to develop these issues towards the desired result.
"Following publication of this report it is expected that all stakeholders will take note of the results and attempt to address any shortcomings that were identified within their respective areas of influence. The aim of the SEMP is to safeguard the Erongo region while getting the most out of our natural resources, which can only be achieved by making every effort towards continued improvement," it was stated in the report.
The report comes during a lull in the industry. Currently Rio Tinto's Rössing and Langer Heinrich uranium mines are the only mines in operation. Construction of Swakop Uranium's Husab mine is expected to start soon, while Areva's Trekkopje mine will be mothballed in June due to a low uranium price (currently at about US$44 per pound).
The low price and demand have also resulted in Rössing last week announcing that in order to cut costs it will have to let 276 workers go by next month. The Bannerman, Marenica, Reptile and Valencia uranium projects have been postponed for the same reason.
The creation of the SEMP was a result of the sudden scramble for uranium prospecting rights in the central Namib since 2006, which became known as the 'uranium rush'.
Over the past 30 years uranium prospecting in Namibia was relatively low key but that changed from 2006 when it was estimated that the supplies of both primary and secondary uranium would not meet projected nuclear reactor requirements in the short to medium term. This led to concerns about the security of uranium supplied, which in turn saw uranium prices rising.
This triggered renewed interest in uranium exploration with a scramble for prospecting rights in the central Namib resulting in the Ministry of Mines and Energy placing a moratorium on issuing further uranium prospecting licences. The moratorium was to ensure that the authorities and other stakeholders could consider how to best manage this 'uranium rush'. The moratorium however did no prevent the ministry from upgrading an existing prospecting licence to a mining licence, and so did not significantly slow down the rush to develop new mines. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) was thus expected to provide direction for all stakeholders.
This SEA identified the need to continuously monitor a broad set of guidelines within the SEMP to guide how sustainability principles could be mainstreamed throughout the life cycle of activities and projects.