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NAMIBIA: LANGER HEINRICH OBTAINS FINANCING AND MINING LICENSE

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#634
16/09/2005
Article

(September 16 2005) Australian mining company Paladin Resources Ltd has secured bank-financing - from Société Genéralé Australian Branch, Nedbank Ltd and Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd - amounting to US$71 million to start work on a new uranium mine in Namibia. Having secured the bank funds, Paladin must still raise equity for the balance of funds required to complete the mine.

(634.5713) WISE-Amsterdam - The construction phase of the Langer Heinrich Uranium Project has already commenced and the groundbreaking ceremony was due to be held on September 15 under the shadow of protests from local environmental and human rights groups.

Langer Heinrich Uranium (Pty) Ltd., owned by Paladin Resources, first proposed developing a uranium mine in the Namib Desert, 80km east of the city of Swakopmund inside the boundaries of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, in 2004. Since that time, opposition to the scheme has been growing culminating in various appeals to the government from several organizations (see also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 627.5682 "Namibia: opposition to Langer Heinrich mounting").

The Park is home to the indigenous minority Topnaar peoples as well as various rare biological species - it is estimated that at least 42 plant species found in and around the Park are on the CITES Convention red list of threatened species. The Namibian Prime Minister, Nahas Angula, in a speech on May 9 even warned that human activity was threatening the unique life forms of the arid Namib ecoregion and yet the Ministry of Mines and Energy still granted Paladin Resources a 25-year mining license less than 2 months later, ignoring overwhelming public opposition.

On August 29, the German Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) released a report, "Evaluation of selected aspects of the environmental assessment report for the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mining Project in Namibia" on behalf of environmental organization Earthlife Africa Namibia Branch. Due to limited resources, the evaluation focused on just five aspects of the final Environmental Assessment (EA) report issued in April 2005 (Softchem 2005); the radiological consequences of the project on the general public, the radiological consequences for employees, the use of water resources by the mining and milling facilities, the consequences of uranium mining and milling and of the disposal of associated wastes for the groundwater, and the management and disposal of waste from the leaching of ores and their long-term enclosure.

Within the permit process, the responsible ministry would normally evaluate the environmental consequences and would issue additional conditions on the permit to limit these consequences. In this instant it is not known if this procedure was followed as neither the Ministry of Mines and Energy nor Paladin Resources made the permit available and Earthlife Africa were not able to obtain a copy.

The report concluded that due to the inappropriate selection of input data relating to the radium content in ore and tailings, which usually determines the radiation doses from dust inhalation, the calculations given in the EA actually underestimates (by a factor of at least four) the doses for the public. Also the breathing rate assumed was at least two times lower than internationally accepted rates - higher breathing rates means higher doses so if you pretend that people take less breaths, you can then assume that they receive lower doses. The EA was also found to be wanting on the concept of dose limitation with no information given on the areal extend, where the doses are exceeded and where the doses are below limits.

On the point of radiological consequences for workers, there was no assessment of this found in the EA, which only refers to appropriate rules that should be applied. No estimates were given on the collective dose for workers, which usually provide the basis for the permit process and the planning of operations.

Where water use is concerned, Langer Heinrich will become the largest single consumer of water using over 1.3 million tons per year and no measures to allow for significant reductions or to optimize its use are considered in any detail. As with most dry countries, water is a valuable natural resource in Namibia.

On tailings management and disposal, the Öko-Institut report found a large number of serious flaws and unresolved issues. The main problems with the most serious consequences were that the tailings disposal plan was full of contradictions that do not allow any understanding of exactly what the planned process would be; basic and major design characteristics were omitted, which would result in the inadequate protection of the environment for future generations; and that the basic data used, like the concentration of radioactive by-products or the amount of tailings was also unclear and would not allow for the proper evaluation of the impacts of tailings disposal.

There were also serious flaws with the assessment of the impacts on groundwater, in fact no discussion of the impacts of the highly alkaline (pH 10) tailings features in the EA. This was diverted by claims that such problems would be avoided because of the alkaline leaching scheme.

That the Namibian government should have approved the license for mining at Langer Heinrich is confusing given the numerous inconsistencies and failings of the EA report but it has and as this article is being written, Paladin Resources is celebrating with a groundbreaking ceremony. Meanwhile the mine opponents are peacefully staging a protest at the entrance of the Park.

Sources: National Society for Human Rights press release, September 14, 2005; Nuclear Fuel, September 12, 2005; The Namibia Economist, September 13, 2005; Paladin Resources releases, August 29 & July 27, 2005; "Evaluation of selected aspects of the environmental assessment report for the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mining Project in Namibia" by Gerhard Schmidt, Öko-Institut and Peter Diehl, August 29, 2005

Contact: Phil ya Nangoloh, National Society for Human Rights, 116 John Meinert Street, P.O. Box 23592, Windhoek, Namibia
Tel +264 61 236183/253447
Mobile +264 811 299886
Email: nshr@nshr.org.na or nshr@iafrica.com.na
Web: www.nshr.org.na