Uranium, a natural resource which is used for nuclear energy production, is extracted from the earth in uranium mines located in various countries worldwide. The website of the wise uranium project provides the best regular updates on developments and background information on all uranium-mining related issues.
The number of countries actually producing uranium is not that long; in many countries it is forbidden or simply too expensive, in many cases due to environmental regulations and safety standards. A 1300 Mw nuclear power station uses approx. 33 tons of uranium a year. To get 33 tons of usable uranium 440.000 tons of uranium ore has to be extracted from the mine. What stays behind (in huge tailing dams, usually just in the open air, next to the mine) is a toxic and radioactive legacy of Thorium, Radium and Radongas, and heavy metals as Nickel, Cadmium, Arsenic and Mercury.
Uranium mining and the production of uranium oxide is considered a grave threat to health and to the environment. Both processes involve very often an elementary violation of human rights and their use lead to an incalculable risk for world peace and an obstacle to nuclear disarmament. Uranium mining poisons the environment and devastates the health of miners and their families. The mine and mill workers are usually from the most vulnerable and exploited communities in the world. Profit-driven mining companies, often in collusion with governments that want uranium either for nuclear weapons or for fuel in nuclear power plants, fail to provide adequate safety equipment or health care for workers and families suffering from exposure to radiation and toxic mine wastes.
Uranium from Africa
More than 15% of the world's mined uranium is produced in Africa, and this percentage is expected to increase in the future. As uranium mining is associated with various negative externalities such as environmental pollution and deterioration of health, intensified uranium production in Africa can lead to a wide variety of hazards. Preventing and managing the multiple hazards is a complicated task which requires specific knowledge, efforts, and financial means available in all responsible stakeholders. It can be questioned if all of these factors are available in the African states which are allowing uranium mining operations on their land.
In 2015 WISe published - in one publication - country reports on the situation in Mali, Tanzania and Cameroon, 3 countries on the brink of uranium mining. It was teh result of a project in whcih we suported the civil ssociety in those countries to enable them to get fully engaged in the debate on the choice for uraniummining. Besides the report we organised a week of trainings in Cameroon, a lobby-tour in the Netherlands and we published a report on the role of URENCO, the enrichment company responsible for the producction of fuel for more than 170 nuclear power stations worldwide.
In 2011 WISE published a report on mitigation measures by multinational uranium mining companies and African governments. This report was precedented by a March 2011 study entitled Radioactive Revenues. Financial Flows Between Uranium Mining Companies and African Governments, published by SOMO and WISE. The two reports are supplementary: together, they cover general policies, economic, environmental, social, and labour-related aspects of uranium mining operations in Africa. The reports intend to create awareness among stakeholders about the impacts of their decisions on energy production, to call for responsible behaviour in energy producers, to emphasise the importance of increased awareness about the commodity chain, and to inform civil society and governments about the relevant issues.