Ministries heading for collision over uranium

Tujoromajo Kasuto

Minister of Mines and Energy, Tom Alweendo yesterday said in the national assembly that Headway Investments’ and its partners’ ISL uranium mining activities in the Aminuis Constituency have obtained all the relevant permits for all the activities they are currently carrying out or activities they have already carried out and their operations are not illegal.

Alweendo further noted that the company is currently not drilling because the water drilling permit that was issued has expired, and they have applied for a new permit that is still being processed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

Minister of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, Calle Schlettwein told this publication in an interview last month that the water drilling permit of the miner had been withdrawn because they flouted the permit conditions.

Alweendo told the National Assembly on Thursday that given the importance of the issue, the ministry will continue to monitor the company’s activities to ensure that it is complying with all the conditions attached to their exploration licence.

The minister’s remarks were in response to a question posted by Nudo secretary general Joseph Kauandenge.

There is concern that the drilling activities may contaminate underground water.

Any mining activity is likely to have a negative impact on the environment, especially if done without due regard to the environment. Environmental issues are therefore integrally linked to mining activities.

‘’It is the Ministry of Mines and Energy that issues exploration and mining licenses. However,

those licences are issued on condition that no exploration or mining activity takes place before an Environmental Clearance Certificate is obtained from the Environmental Commissioner,’’ said Alweendo.

Equally, he asserts that no drilling is allowed before the necessary water drilling permit is issued

by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Carl Schlettwein had slammed the prospecting for uranium in Aminuis as people heavily rely on underground water for survival, claiming that mining in an aquifer is potentially harmful and that it would be irresponsible to allow such potential pollution and destruction of such a valuable water resource in an otherwise dry country.

Schlettwein said he ‘’believes that any mining in an aquifer is potentially harmful. In this case they want to mine and discharge the effluent (sulfuric acid) into the Stampriet artesian aquifer on which the whole central-eastern farming community is depending. I think it would be irresponsible to allow such potential pollution and destruction of such a valuable water resource in an otherwise dry country.”

Furthermore, Schlettwein stated that the same company had their water licence revoked because they did not comply with the regulations of their water permit, which required them to report back and conduct inspections, which they did not do.

“They are still at the exploration stage and we got worried when they were not compliant with the permit conditions that pose on the permits for ground water and that is where we are and from there on we did not proceed with issuing more permits until such time that we have concrete evidence that correct measures were implemented or evidence of wrongdoing,” he

said.

The minister noted that the exploration started at least two years back, if not longer.

He adds that currently they have not looked into the mining aspect as their mandate only overseas that the water reserve is not harmed.

“We have from our book studies, the fear that they do contaminate and can be leakage, so ensure that that does not happen. We are not concerned with whether the mining part is profitable or not, as we believe that the underground aquifer is our most valuable resource and needs to be protected,” he said.

This comes after livestock farmers and residents in Aminuis were outraged by the prospect of uranium mining in the area, claiming that “these environmentally disastrous mining activities” would cause irreversible damage to groundwater quality, endangering their livelihoods and the livelihoods of future generations.

The farmers contended that the boreholes were drilled in the constituency’s Okahiokaapa and Omurambauondjombo villages, and that the chemicals used could have serious environmental consequences as well as long-term and potentially irreversible changes to groundwater quality.

They state that Headway Investments’ and its partners’ ISL uranium mining activities in the Constituency or elsewhere should be stopped because they are not sustainable and pose a

significant environmental risk and pollution burden on current and future users of groundwater, which should be protected at all costs.

By Observer