Energy and Minerals Minister Sospeter Muhongo has blamed some foreign countries for trying to thwart efforts by Tanzania to undertake the ambitious uranium mining at the Mkuju River Project in southern part of the country.
"We are not the first country to engage on mining of uranium; it should be noted as well that all big economies in the world are in demand of the heavy metal for power generation, weapons and for use in health services," Prof Muhongo told the 'Sunday News' in an exclusive interview yesterday.
Prof Muhongo did not specifically mention the countries he blamed for frustrating the project; stressing that; "the government is aware of deliberate campaigns by foreign sources to prevent uranium mining at Mkuju River."
The minister was reacting to queries by this paper on the government's position on the proposed uranium mining, following worries by conservationists on implementation of the project and its impact in the surrounding areas, particularly the vast 50,000-square kilometre Selous Game Reserve.
"The very forces opposed to Mkuju project are still using uranium in their countries, our position as the government is that the project will go on as planned," he reiterated. According to the minister, there has been Environment and Social Impact Assessment on the proposed uranium mining which proved that it can be undertaken without grave negative impact to the surrounding area.
"You cannot undertake such a huge and delicate project without conducting scientific studies, it should be noted as well that the uranium to be mined at Mkuju will not be used for power generation locally but rather for exports," he explained.
Initially, the proposed area for the project which is situated on the outer edge of the Selous Game Reserve was considered a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
However, at its 36th session in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July 2012, the UNESCO's World Heritage Committee approved an application by the government of Tanzania for a minor adjustment to the boundary of the game reserve.
During the meeting, the committee required Tanzania to remove the Mkuju River Project and an adjacent buffer zone from the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage Site.
Since then the government has set out an area covering 350 kilometres within the Selous Game Reserve in the southern Tanzania tourist circuit for extraction of uranium. Located at Namtumbo District in Ruvuma Region, the project is expected to create over 1,600 direct and indirect employment opportunities.
During the life of the mine, the Mkuju River project is expected to attract US 1 billion dollars (about 2.180trl-) in foreign investments and generate about US 630 million dollars (about 1.373trl/-) to direct and indirect cash flows.
However, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Tanzania's Extractive and Energy Programme Head, Mr Roy Namgera, is of a view that the project is likely to pose a risk of spreading leaching liquid outside of the uranium deposit, involving subsequent groundwater contamination.
"There is unpredictable impact of the leaching liquid on the rock of the deposit as well as impossibility of restoring natural groundwater conditions after completion of the leaching operations," the extractive industry expert argued.
According to Mr Namgera, the proposed Mkuju River project will be highly mechanised and thus it will require few skilful personnel leading to limited job opportunities for the locals.
"There will be no economic gain at Mkuju River Project unless we construct nuclear plants to make use of the enriched uranium for power generation. What is more, there is lack of cheap and readily available contingent plans in case of accidents," Mr Namgera stressed.