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CONCERNS OVER URANIUM MINING IN MALAWI

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#638
18/11/2005
Article

(November 18, 2005) The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in Malawi has urged the country's Ministry for Mines, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs to inform and consult the people of Karonga and address concerns over the Kayelekera uranium project planned for their region.

(638.5729) CHRR - The high grade Kayelekera sandstone uranium deposit was first discovered in the 1980's by British company Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) who reportedly spent US$9 million on the project over an eight-year period culminating in a full feasibility study in 1991 undertaken by Wright Engineers Limited of Canada.

The study, however, indicated that the project was uneconomical because of the mining model CEGB had proposed and low uranium prices at that time. Due to the poor prospects for uranium and the privatization of CEGB, the project was abandoned in 1992. The government of the day, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), subsequently decided that it was unnecessary to enlighten the nation as to the circumstances that forced the project to fold.

In 1999 Australian Paladin Resources Limited Inc acquired a 90 percent share through a joint venture from Balmain Resources Limited, who retained 10 percent of free carried interest until the completion of the Bankable Feasibility Study (BFS).

The project was transferred to the Malawian registered company Paladin Africa Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Paladin Resources Inc in 2000. Following this, the company proceeded with the engineering and financial evaluations using new project development concepts that suggested a positive outcome for the economy. The CEGB 1989-92 pre-feasibility study was also updated and metallurgical and resource drilling began in 2004.

In May 2005, the BFS verified new mining/milling concepts to be adopted as well as validation (or modification if required) of all other environmental and mine model parameters used in the 1991 final feasibility study.

With this kind of background, and exclusive of what Paladin Resources Inc has posted on its website and others concerning the Kayelekera project, it is surprising and regrettable that the minister for Mines, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs continues to claim ignorance about the mine operations and Environmental impact assessment as he did recently in The Nation (Malawi) in response to CHRR's intervention on behalf of the local communities.

On October 27 2005, CHRR undertook a fact-finding mission to the Kayelekera uranium site accompanied by members of the Karonga Development Trust (KADET). It was obvious to the visitors that some activities have already begun to take place although the ministry has yet to inform Malawians in general, let alone the resident communities within the prospective operation area of the project.

In addition, the Mines, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Minister and his Lands counterpart are known to have personally visited the Paladin mining camp in Kayelekera on several occasions although neither has volunteered any feedback on their visits. As government officials, they should have given some account of such ministerial visits to either the National Assembly or directly to the public through the media but no such reports were forthcoming. It begs the question as to whose interests are being served - Malawi's or Paladin's (Australia)?

CHRR has condemned the secretive approach taken by the government and Paladin Resources Inc in the matter and expressed dissatisfaction with a process that would appear to set aside the rights of Malawians, and in particular the peoples of the Kayelekera area, to access information as enshrined in Section 37 of the country's republican Constitution.

The human rights' group hopes to educate the resident communities - the would-be victims of radiation - and the country at large, which at present has little knowledge of the uranium mining business, on the key issues and rights associated with uranium mining. CHRR believes that Malawi must work towards a uranium mining free environment and hopes to mobilize the public into action by sensitising them to the risks, facilitate the formation of a network of concerned groups and experts as well as litigating against mining operations. The organization will also lobby parliamentarians to advocate for a review of the Mining Act to bring it in line with international standards.

Although Malawi could gain much needed revenue from uranium mining, CHRR believes that the fundamental question of whether the possible economic benefits should be allowed to outweigh social concerns, environmental and health hazards - especially considering that the Kayelekera mine will only have a life span of 10-12 years while its negative effects and consequences would continue for over a hundred years - must be given serious consideration. It also cautions against the contamination of water resources from the toxic chemicals used in the separation of uranium ore and of the dangers the mismanagement of uranium disposal waste can have on long term health and environmental consequences.

Amongst demands made by CHRR are:

  1. That the government allow an independent review of the social and environmental impacts,
  2. That basic human rights be respected as outlined in international declarations and conventions,
  3. That the operation of the mine should not commence without the informed and free consent of the communities concerned and only if it meets internationally set standards,
  4. That Paladin abides by IAEA standards on the establishment of legal safety standards, which Australia refused to sign in 1995,
  5. That Paladin provide safe working conditions and respect workers' rights to collective bargaining and sign on to the ILO Convention of Safety and Health in Mines, which it previously refused to do in 1995
  6. That Paladin ensures that no waste will be dumped into natural waters like the Sere and Rukuru rivers, which would lead to the pollution of Lake Malawi.

 

CHRR, KADET and others concerned have vowed not to accept the government's and Paladin Resources' view of Kayelekera as some kind of sacrificial land and to continue to fight for human rights, environmental justice and most of all, to protect the Kayelekera land.

Source: CHRR presentation to Earthlife Africa Congress, Namibia, 11-14 November 2005; The Nation (Malawi), November 11, 2005; CHRR press statement, November 4, 2005

Contact: Undule D.K. Mwakasungura, Acting Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights & Rehabilitation (CHRR), P. O. Box 2340, Lilongwe, Malawi
Tel: +265 1 761 122/700
E-mail: chrr@sdnp.org.mw