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Uranium mining project under government scrutiny: Putting safeguards in place

These projects include oil and gas extraction and mining of valuable metals such as nickel, copper, coal and uranium. However, as we consider this opportunity to be so beneficial to the growth of our economy, these projects also pose environmental challenges to the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) which is the national environmental watchdog.

Indeed the Council does work in collaboration and close consultation with the Lead Sectors and key stakeholders. According to a statement issued by NEMC this week, environmentalists have witnessed a steady increase of projects registered at its database, applying for environmental impact assessment certificates (i.e. environmental clearance).

The NEMC Director General, Eng B. Baya said recently that from 2005 to date, the Council has registered more than 1,600 projects out of which 50 are oil and gas projects (located in Tanga, Pwani, Mtwara and Lindi regions), 3 nickel mining projects (in Kagera, Mtwara and Katavi regions), 7 copper mining projects (in Kilimanjaro, Katavi, Morogoro and Iringa regions), 4 coal projects (in Mbeya, Ruvuma and Njombe regions) and 2 uranium mining projects (in Ruvuma and Singida regions).

He further explained that operating gas projects already exist at Songo Songo and Mnazi Bay in Lindi and Mtwara regions respectively. “Environmental clearances (permits) have already been granted to the four copper mining projects and all 4 coal projects.

For the uranium mining project, the Mkuju River Project, in Namtumbo district, Ruvuma region, the environmental impact assessment review process is in progress and will receive environmental clearance once the process is completed in accordance with the Environmental Management Act CAP 191 (EMA CAP 191) and its Environmental Impact Assessment and Audit Regulations, 2005,” he said. Environmental impact assessment is mandatory for oil and gas projects, as well as mining projects.

The law in Tanzania requires that an Environmental Impact Assessment study shall be carried out prior to the commencement
or financing of a project or undertaking and that a permit or licence for the carrying out of any project or undertaking in accordance with any written law shall not entitle the proponent or developer to undertake or to cause to be undertaken a project or activity without an environmental impact assessment certificate issued under this Act.

The director further said in anticipation of the challenges that come with the uranium mining projects the Council, in collaboration with other stakeholders, has recognized the urgent need to regulate uranium mining and has already taken steps to create conditions that would enable it to properly and effectively regulate activities related to uranium mining.

He added that in that regard, the following has been done; NEMC demanded EIA studies be carried out for all projects under this category (e.g. Mkuju River Uranium Project) and other sectors (e.g. Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM) and Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission (TAEC) have put in place appropriate legislation (i.e. The Mining Act of 2010, The Mining (Radioactive Minerals) Regulations, 2010, The Atomic Energy (Radiation Safety in the Mining & Process of Radioactive Ores) Regulations, 2011 and The Atomic Energy (Transporting and Packaging of Radioactive Materials) Regulations, 2011.

“The fact that uranium mining would take place in a part of the Selous Game Reserve (SGR) which is a World Heritage Site, it necessitated the involvement of and further consultations with MNRT and the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) as compliance requirement to international obligations,” he said. Experts said that the inputs from these processes will feed into the EIA process, which will guide the decision making over the project and its future implementation.

However, the Council received EIA Certificate application from the developer (Mantra Tanzania Ltd) in May 2009 and the EIA report was submitted to the Council in April 2010. The director confirmed that the report was reviewed by the Council in May 2010 and a revised report after incorporating comments was re-submitted in August 2010.

In the review process, the Council noted some both technical and policy issues (e.g. guiding legislation, regulations and national capacity) that needed to be    addressed before final recommendation for approval is made. Other factors that the government considered being critical for effective regulation of the uranium and other mining activities in the country was the issues of capacity and public awareness.

The director added that In view of the aforementioned, the Council has already trained some of its core staff through TAEC’s support and is in the process of training and exposing more of its experts in the technology and regulation of radioactive minerals related activities. “NEMC staff will be sent to appropriate institutions and countries (Namibia, USA and Australia) for capacity development. Lead Sectors like the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Water, the Vice- President’s Office and Natural Resources and Tourism have also started capacity building programmes,” he said.

NEMC statement further indicated that it has plans to open a zonal office in Mtwara (during FY 2012/13) to ensure close follow up and monitoring of oil, gas and mining projects in Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma regions where also the Mkuju River Project (uranium mining) will be closely monitored by the zonal office. Regarding public awareness, it said that the government through TAEC conducted awareness activities in the project area aiming to reaching out to other potential uranium mining areas like Dodoma and Singida and NEMC will conduct planned awareness raising programme on environmental and social issues related to radioactive minerals mining.

In the director’s view it is indeed in the interest of the Council that implementation of the proposed project meets all approval requirements (i.e. proper mitigation measures for significant environmental, health and social impacts be instituted, implemented and well documented) and key stakeholders’ concerns will be adequately addressed, to allow the project to proceed.

He also said that the capacity of relevant regulatory institutions and sectors will be sufficiently built to ensure proper compliance, enforcement and prompt response to incidences demanding urgent action from such institutions/ sectors and the public will not engage in dangerous activities that expose them to uranium and other radioactive minerals like it’s done for other types of minerals such as gold and diamonds. Finally, there is no doubt that the government will ensure that the developer puts in place plans that ensure that the environment will remain clean for each progressive mining activity until closure.

THE importance of good governance is clearly and ...

Mwandishi: Staff Writer

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