Watchdog claims poor public participation
By Sascha Solomons
This article appeared in MINING WEEKLY
The uranium mining industry is cause for concern and will create significant challenges for the Karoo community near Beaufort West, in the Western Cape, asserts faith-based environmental watchdog Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) science adviser Dr Stefan Cramer.
He contends that the community has not been properly consulted by the environmental practitioners and governmental structures with regard to the municipalities’ Integrated Development Plan and on a district and provincial level on the arrival of uranium mining. He explains that, therefore, ASX-listed uranium miner Peninsula Energy is set to change the character and nature of the Karoo and affect thousands of livelihoods in terms of job losses in agriculture and tourism.
However, Peninsula expects that the construction phase of its Karoo project will employ about 1 000 people and ongoing operations about 250 people. The engineering of the project started in 2013, with the start of construction targeted for 2017/18. Additionally, the target date for first production is 2019.
Peninsula MD and CEO Gus Simpson says this represents real employment, development and training opportunities for the residents of Beaufort West and the surrounding districts, where there are high levels of unemployment.
Peninsula’s Karoo projects cover a significant proportion of the Karoo basin Permian sandstone, which is believed to represent an exploration target of between 250-million pounds and 350-million pounds of uranium.
The company holds a 74% interest in 40 prospecting rights, covering about 7 800 km2 of the main uranium/molybdenum-bearing sandstone channels in the Karoo basin through its wholly owned subsidiary Tasman RSA Mines. Black economic-empowerment partner Lukisa Invest 100 holds the remaining 26% interest.
Peninsula’s interest in uranium is driven by its plans to be a uranium producer with multiple sources of supply in established mining economies with low-cost mines that have a longer operating life and a sophisticated, well- recognised marketing arm dealing directly with utility companies.
Safcei is embarking on a new project to educate communities in the Karoo about uranium mining.
“We have assessed the licensing process followed by uranium project developer Tasman RSA Mines, in particular, and will point out to the competent authorities the fatal flaws in the public participation process (PPP) currently under way,” says Cramer.
Flaws of the PPP include the scoping process, commenting periods not being properly announ- ced, application documents not being made publically available, notices of public consultations being too short, invitations to the PPP meeting not being delivered, the cutoff date for comments not being announced and comments from the scoping process not taken into consideration, he explains.
“There is virtually no public debate on the issue. My mission is to change that, which will enable individuals in the Karoo to make informed decisions.”
Simpson says the PPP regarding the company’s mining licence application process for its Karoo project started in mid-2014. Three rounds of public meetings were held, including a number of individual and focus group meetings, he states.
“Our database of interested and affected parties includes more than 900 individuals, municipalities, government departments, non- government organisations and agricultural unions.”
Simpson asserts that Peninsula ensured that appropriate public consultation took place by making all material available for inspection and keeping communication lines open to receive comments and concerns. The company also publicises when and where public sessions are held and undertakes all public consultation in accordance with South Africa’s laws and regulations.
Cramer states that uranium mining will lead to the permanent damage of farmland and a further loss in rural jobs.
Simpson says mining does cause a certain amount of ground disturbance, but it is “a pretty outrageous claim” that large sections of farmland will be permanently damaged or that there will be a further loss in rural jobs. To the contrary, he emphasises that providing additional employment opportunities and developing the skills of local residents enhances the prospects of the region and provides a greater incentive for the local population to remain in the region.
“The initial years of the mine are also planned to be on properties owned by the company, which is not going to impact on farming,” Simpson highlights.
Other concerns noted by Cramer include the water required to facilitate the mining and processing of uranium ore, the wide- spread public health threat from airborne radioactive dust and other radiation-related impacts, which, he says, extend far beyond the actual mining areas.
Given the scope of the industry, only a strategic environmental assessment would do justice to the multitude of impacts, he avers.
On the contrary, Simpson says it has shown with the recent start of operations at the Lance uranium project, in Wyoming, US, that the company takes environmental management very seriously during the construction period, and now the operations phase, and, as a result, the company has reduced its footprint on the local grazing lands.
The company would not have been able to develop Lance and start production unless local pro- perty owners were 100% comfortable that their landholdings were treated with care and respect – something Peninsula Energy says it has been replicating in the Karoo and will continue to do as the development progresses.