Cognizant to that, a public forum on uranium mining in Tanzanian was held in Dar es Salaam on May 25, 2011, courtesy of the Dodoma-based Foundation for Environmental Management and Campaign Against Poverty (FEMAPO). The author of this article presented a paper on social-economic impacts of uranium mining in Tanzania. Discussions and issues arising indicate that there should be more than economic gains in thinking about this venture.
Although still in its infancy stage of development, exploration estimates indicate that Tanzania has about 53.9 million pounds of uranium oxide (U3O8) deposits. At the 2011 prices of $41 per pound, the deposits are worth $2.2 billion or Sh3,322 billion at the average May 2011 exchange rate of $1 to Sh1510.
Mantra Resources Ltd is a company that is undertaking uranium mining in Namtumbo district, Ruvuma Region. It expects to produce 3.7 million pounds per year worth $151.7 million. Its expected employment level is 1,500 people and an investment of about $400 million. Commercial production is scheduled to start any time from 2011 following some successful explorations.
By the May 2011 reports, among the positive exploration results include those done by Mantra Resources Ltd in its Mkuju River Uranium Project in Nantumbo. Other places in Tanzania where uranium is said to have been discovered in commercial quantities include Bahi in Dodoma, Manyoni in Singida and Manyara among others.
Potential economic gains
Generally, the short term potential benefits of uranium mining include direct and indirect job opportunities; income to the government through taxes, royalty, fees and other charges for the Tanzanian government, benefits accruing from corporate social responsibilities in form of contribution in community projects in the areas of health, water and education facilities among others. These are detailed in the author’s 20-paged paper and can be availed on request.
Why go beyond money?
The potential positive economic impacts of uranium notwithstanding, there are a number of potential negative impacts as well. They include environmental, health and broader social aspects associated with this heavy metal. These make it necessary to look beyond economics in general and money in particular is uranium mining decision-making in Tanzania.
It may be harmful environmentally
As is the case for many other economic activities uranium mining is likely to destroy flora and fauna, pollute air and both surface and underground water. All these are not good for sustainable development in general and biodiversity in particular. It is said that the Mkuju River Uranium project in Namtumbo is entirely within the up to now world-wide famous Selous Game Reserve.
The dam at Kinangali ward in Bahi may also be polluted by uranium activities thereby threatening its water and salt potentials that have sustained livelihood of the local community. If extra care is not taken this gift of Mother Nature may become history. Huge craters may be left once mining activities have ceased. The soils in the remaining craters are likely be contaminated with radioactive materials and therefore becoming useless for many years in the future.
It may worsen water scarcity
Uranium mining is said to be water-intensive. In Manyoni where uranium activities are likely to be undertaken water is already a scarce commodity. It will not be a distributive justice for one company to consume a lion’s share of the water at the expense of current poor inhabitants. This can be part of causes of possible conflicts with the local community.
It is argued that radioactive dust particles from uranium can travel by wind to larger areas and affect the health of communities surrounding the mining areas. It has been documented that exposure to even relatively low levels of radiation over a long period of time can be extremely harmful to the health of workers and communities living around uranium mines. There should therefore be plans in place to ensure that people already living in these areas are protected against radioactive contamination should if and when uranium activities take place.
Contribution to conflicts in the world
Uranium can be used in the military sector and weapons industry in making high profile weapons including radioactive bombs and nuclear weapons. If Tanzanian uranium contributes into making weapons it can be criticized as a conflict minerals source. This will have negative image and low moral standing for the country.
Where should we go from here?
Due to the serious potential environmental, health, social and security impacts associated with uranium mining, there is a need for extra care in reaching the decision to either allow or not allow uranium mining in Tanzania.
Lessons from the rest of the world are important inputs in this process. Short term monetary profits should not be superior to health, environmental and social costs that cannot be counted and monetized. It is not everything that counts that can be counted let alone assigning a monetary value on it..
The author is a lecturer at Mzumbe University Business School