An explanation on how Namibia can effectively utilize Uranium as one of its resources.
The permanent secretary of the ministry of mines and energy, Mr. Joseph Iita, recently indicated that despite, the current unstable economic situation in Namibia, Uranium continues to dominate the mining industry and Namibia is the fifth-largest uranium-producing country in the world. Generally uranium is defined as a radioactive element used in creating nuclear fission reactions (Dichado, 2007, p.54). Uranium is mostly used in nuclear power plants in order to generate energy. According to Conde and Kallis (2012, p. 596) uranium mines are often an overlooked source of nuclear power. Namibia should use improved processes in extracting the mineral.
Uranium mining in Namibia contributes to the economy of the country and it generates job opportunities. However, the mining of uranium has long been a controversial public issues and a renewed debate has emerged on the potential for nuclear power to help mitigate against climate change (Mudd & Diesendorf, 2008, p. 7). Despite the benefits that Uranium has on our country, it also affects the environment and health of the Uranium mine workers. Present records indicates a higher rate of cancer amid male workers in the open pit uranium mine (Zaire, Notter, Riedel & Thiel, 1997, para. 3). This essay aims to explain how Namibia can effectively utilize uranium as one of its resources.
Mining in Namibia
The Namibian economy is heavily dependent on the extraction and processing of natural resources such as minerals. Namibia has five major mining operations. These are NAMDEB, Rosh Pinah, Rössing, Tsumeb Corporation and Navachab. These operations generate more than 95% of the mining income (Shindondola, 2008, p.10). NAMDEB, a diamond mine located in the Sperrgebeit, is jointly owned by the Namibian government and by De Beers Centenary. Rössing is the fifth largest uranium mine in the world and is located just east of Swakopmund. A significant amount of revenue for the Namibian government is yielded from mining activities contributing about 10% of GDP and 30-40% in export earnings. One of the main challenges facing Namibia relates to the fact that in most cases the minerals are exported in raw form and value addition is by no means done in Namibia (Shindondola, 2008, p.10).
Uranium has become one of the most important energy minerals in Namibia. However, uranium is mostly used primarily for generating energy whilst it has many uses. Dichardo (2007, p. 21) stated that, “uranium is also used for nuclear weaponry, nuclear fuel for nuclear power reactors, explosive and yield boosters in nuclear weapon”. As a matter of fact in Namibia the level of technology is poor. Clearly this has a major effect on the production of uranium. Conde and Kallis stated that a procedure has been evolved which enables uranium to be determined without chemical separation in solution containing iron, plutonium and foreign ions which interfere in conventional redox methods (2012, p. 601).
The country lacks proper equipment machineries as well as processes to extract the mineral and transform it. The country should invest more in the machineries and advanced equipment. In this case Namibia will then be able to export more finished or processed products than raw materials and import less processed materials. This might increase the production of uranium and it will contribute to the country’s economy.
Environmental and health issues
The environmental impact of uranium mining has been a raising concern. Uranium is a very reactive metal and has some implications on the environment. Uranium has an effect on the environment, humans and other animals, but the uranium mine workers are more at risk. As a matter of fact Uranium cannot be avoided since it is found throughout the environment. Some of the uranium decay products do pose a threat. Unfortunately, the uranium mine workers are at risk of getting cancer and their health and safety is threatened (Zaire et al.,1997, para. 8).
In Namibia uranium deposits are mined in open pits, as this practice makes it more cost effective than underground mining. An open pit mine is “an excavation or cut made at the surface of the ground for the purpose of extracting ore and which is open to the surface for the duration of the mine’s life” (Shindondola, 2008, p.11). However, open pit mining is more hazardous to human health and the environment because of dust residue. Most uranium resources contain only a fraction of uranium: 1,000 kg of ore leads which leads to about 500 grams of usable uranium. The mined uranium ore is crushed and then leached to dissolve the uranium, which is then separated and precipitated as a concentrate containing 90% or more uranium oxide. This granular concentrate is generally referred to as yellow cake. The remains called tailings are still radioactive and are usually disposed into the pits. There is the possibility that uranium and chemicals used during the leaching process are washed into the ground and surface water, contaminating it in such a way that the water cannot be safely utilized anymore (Shindondola, 2008, p. 10).
Working in mines is associated with acute and chronic occupational disorders. Mulloy, James, Mohs and Kornfeld (2001), stated that excess lung cancer has been demonstrated in the group of underground miners exposed to radon including uranium miners. Most of the mine workers in Namibia are at risk of getting ill.
Effective use of Uranium
Namibia should form up a uranium policy that create order to develop an effective regulatory framework to ensure proper management of exploration, extraction and development of uranium. According to Weldlich, (2007) the effective ways to use uranium is that, “uranium export permits should only be issued once a year and it should only be approved by the minister of mines and energy”. The uranium mines must apply to the ministry of mines and energy for approval of sales agreements. In addition, uranium mines operating in Namibia must send monthly reports to the ministry of mines and energy, concerning the quantity of uranium exported and to which destinations or country.
Diseases such as cancer are one of the major problems that uranium mining workers face every day and therefore uranium mining companies should provide acid proof overalls for the workers since normal overalls becomes very old within a week and workers can easily be affected by cancer. The safety department in uranium mining companies should ensure that all workers wear two-piece overalls, t-shirt, socks, safety boots, ear plucks for ear protection and safety glasses. Uranium mining companies in Namibia should ensure that workers undergo 6 month training on how to protect themselves against inhalation of dust and other residues of mining activities. Workers most also know of the existence of the health and safety mining policies.
The health and safety committee should inform workers on the various policies that exist at the mine. Mining companies always put their interests first and consider the workers interests as a second option. Management should take a leading role in actively participating in the health of their workers. Investors should consider making the health of workers and their families as a first priority if they want to make full use of their skills. Therefore, workers should be involved in the company decision making process. Companies are aware of the health hazards that come with uranium mining, but are hesitant in sharing this because they fear workers might resist employment or might seek compensation.
To conclude, Namibia can use uranium in an effective way to increase the production of uranium and contribute to the economy of the country. Apart from nuclear power plant and generating energy uranium has many other uses. The country has to invest more on advanced and proper equipment and machineries for the extraction of uranium. Uranium contributes to the economy of Namibia and provides job opportunities for the unemployed. The health and safety of the uranium mine workers is at stake. Namibia should implement, ways and processes to reduce the effect of uranium on mine workers such as ensuring that the workers are provided with protective clothes example acid proof overalls.
Namibia therefore needs a clear approach to evaluate the sustainability, ethics and responsibility of external investment in the mining sectors. With the support of civil society and the community, the government can develop the capacity to design such strategies and accountably move towards responsible mining of our natural resources, including uranium.
Conde, M., ; Kallis, G. (2012). The global uranium rush and its Africa front. Effect, reactions and social movements in Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia: Elsevier.
Mudd, G., ; Diesendorf, M. (2008, para. 7). Sustainability of uranium mining and milling: toward quantifying resources and eco-efficiency. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18505007Mulloy, K., James, D., Mohs, K., ; Mario, K. (2001, para. 7). Lung cancer in a non-smoking underground uranium miner. Journal of Enviromental Health Perspectives, 109. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11333194Shindondola, H. (2008, October).Uranium mining in Namibia. The mystery behind low level radiation Conference. Rosh Pinah, Namibia. Retrieved from http://www.issuelab.org/resources/20335/20335.pdfWeldlich, B. (2007, May 05). The use of Namibian uranium only for peaceful purposes life. The Namibian. Retrieved from: http://www.namibian.com.na/Zaire, R., Notter, M., Riedel, W ; Thiel, E. (1997). Unexpected Rates of Chromosomal Instabilities and Alterations of Hormone Levels in Namibian Uranium Miners. Journal of the Radiation Research Society, 147. Retrieved from http://www.rrjournal.org/doi/abs/10.2307/3579624?code=rrs-site