THE Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Association (Sauma) has criticised Omaheke region governor Pijoo Nganate in an open letter for allegedly advocating that Russian company Uranium One should be allowed to continue its mining operations in the area.
The governor has, however, defended himself.
Sauma is opposed to the in-situ leaching uranium mining method that Uranium One intends to use, because of the envisaged threat of contamination to the Stampriet Artesian Basin which supplies the arid Omaheke and Hardap regions with top-quality drinking water.
Nganate reportedly told a career fair organised by the non-profit company Ritja recently: “If we allow this mining, Leonardville would be a different town, with a spillover to the entire region.”
He allegedly urged Namibians not to “fear the unknown”, and to allow uranium mining near the aquifer in the cattle farming area along the Nossob River.
Contacted for comment on Thursday, Nganate said stakeholders should discuss the “possible and impossible” of such projects, instead of “fearing the unknown”.
“I said at the fair such issues should not be politicised, but discussed frankly by all stakeholders so we do not leave problems for future generations,” he said.
“Those for and those against this uranium initiative have never sat down to unpack this issue so that an informed decision can be taken without jeopardising our children’s future,” he said.
The governor said if the initiative is found to be safe, it would have economic benefits for the region, which has many poor people who depend on the old-age pension grants.
He said if, on the other hand, the project is found to be dangerous, it could be abandoned, with proponents being told why they cannot continue with it.
Nganate said the problem is that the two sides have never met, but are participating in opposing campaigns.
According to media reports, Uranium One says its proposed mining activities could result in the company injecting between US$300 million and US$500 million into the country’s economy over 25 years.
In the letter issued yesterday, Sauma told Nganate: “It is what science tells us and what we know about the underground geology of the Stampriet Artesian Basin, about the underground water, and about in-situ leach mining of uranium that is of critical concern.”
The association, mainly made up of commercial farmers, said underground maps of the geology of the basin, compiled from the samples obtained from thousands of boreholes drilled into the basin, show exactly which underground layers contain water.
According to Sauma, hundreds of water sample analyses show which layers have good-quality drinking water and which have salty water.
“This water comes from the aquifer layer that geologists call the Auob Formation, and the uranium deposits Uranium One has discovered are in this formation, used for supplying towns, irrigation and other farm activities,” said Sauma.
Minister of agriculture, water and land reform Calle Schlettwein has also opposed the in-situ leaching method of uranium mining.
This method involves drilling holes into the ground and then pumping sulphuric acid into the aquifer to dissolve uranium and other metals, before the liquid is pumped out to extract the uranium.