Letter: Uranium mining threat to Karoo

Nuclear energy build and uranium mining licences

RELATIVES and friends in the Karoo are elated that, as a consequence of the bottom falling out of the crude oil market (over-supply) that shale gas exploitation has disappeared over the horizon, and a real worry about the future is out of the way, for the present anyway.

However, who would have thought that something equally ecologically dangerous, and perhaps more sinister, would in its wake again cast a huge shadow over the entire area and its people: our nuclear energy build proposals.

An Australian company, Peninsula Energy, has applied for the mining rights in respect of more than 500 000 hectares for uranium mining in the Central Karoo (Beaufort West and surrounds), as well as 200 000 hectares in the Eastern Cape and a further large tract of land in the Northern Cape. These licence applications are being processed at the moment.

The company claims to have identified world-class uranium deposits right here in the centre of the water-stressed and extremely delicate Karoo ecosystem.

Yesterday was the deadline for submission of objections to the licensing. Surprisingly, and with minimal fanfare, the process has been hurried along with very little community and other interest group consultation and has already reached the environmental impact study stage, which, I am led to believe is the final hurdle.

Like so many important issues these days, one is here confronted by two diametrically opposed propositions; for and against, protagonists on either side claim what has so far been presented for scrutiny to be financially, socially, scientifically, ethically and morally sound in every respect.

Aristotle, I have an idea, taught that in reality this is an impossibility and a way forward should only be founded on the merits robustly debated for a decision one way or another to be taken.

The so-called “final hurdle” as to the way forward is given as the environmental impact study: not so, leaving aside undue influence and the weight it will carry being in any event debatable.

This is where the process hits murky water. The licensing authority has the final say – period.

One has here to be mindful of President Jacob Zuma’s definition of “national interest”.

With this as background, also bear in mind that mining rights have been nationalised – incidentally, for all who “think” that the property you “own” and have “title to it” is yours, I suggest you see what Dr Anthea Jeffrey, head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations, has to say on the matter [ see article below] – and we find a Zuma acolyte in the shape of the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, with overall responsibility for licensing and recently directly involved in negotiations that led to the Guptas’ buying Optimum Coal Mine from Glencore, a deal where only time will reveal its “justification” or otherwise; and for whom.

Taking a peek at the role players involved in the proposed Karoo venture, one has to be persuaded that the chances of the merits of uranium mining in the Karoo being fairly adjudicated therefore seem remote.

As a well-known overseas scribe (an enemy) pointed out, the “outrage in the country to this man’s (Zwane’s) appointment was relatively muted, which mistakenly encouraged Zuma into believing that a second, albeit bigger, project would be entertained” – that is, getting control of the Treasury. Sadly, the jury is still out on this.

We are living in dangerous times where the constitution is being perniciously undermined, no or low growth, mounting concerns about corruption and cronyism and truth in short supply.

Listen very carefully to Zuma’s off-the cuff remarks where the word “enemy” comes up frequently, an insult directed at “clever blacks”, colonialists, financial instruments, media and in particular institutions that “determine” commodity prices through supply and demand. Beware this is all stuff that the constitution is there to safeguard, but the ANC and its deployed President Zuma, whom they elected and not the voters of South Africa, are in charge.

It follows that I have already submitted my objections (to the uranium mining) that cover not only environmental issues, but problems I have with the development model proposed and its financial viability if rehabilitation were to be provided for upfront rather than out of future cashflow – akin to an insurance contract. This will also eliminate scope for outrageous management fees being shuffled from one company to another, out-of-line remuneration for operatives as well as fancy bonus schemes.

Although the deadline for objections has now passed, there is available for perusal, on the internet, a screed of documents dealing with the proposition and opposition to it.

Leave a Reply