Hoo-ha over Karoo uranium mine plan

06 May 2016 - 02:00 By BLOOMBERG

A new mining controversy has erupted in the Karoo following an Australian company's announcement that it plans to mine uranium in the area.Civil society groups have vowed to oppose the venture, which aims to capitalise on South Africa's plans to increase its nuclear power capacity.Uranium explorer and producer Peninsula Energy said deposits of the nuclear fuel under the semi-arid Karoo might be 10 times greater than the volume already found there, valued at R1.2-billion. Peninsula plans to start mining in the area in 2019 or 2020.The announcement was made as a furious debate rages over plans for hydraulic fracturing for gas.Civil society organisations met in Johannesburg on Tuesday and plan to hold meetings in Cape Town and in the Karoo, where sheep farming is the main commercial activity."Every step of the mining process produces dust that is easily inhaled and is probably radioactive," Stefan Cramer, a retired hydrogeologist, said.The effects of low-level, long-term exposure to radiation include cancer and mutation of DNA that can be passed on to offspring, according to the US government.High uranium intake over time can also lead to liver damage.Environmental groups and communities have also fought with companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, over their plans to explore for shale gas in the Karoo, saying drilling methods might cause environmental damage.This country's reserves of shale gas could be the world's eighth-biggest, the US Energy Information Administration said in 2013.The groups are consulting farmers and local communities about the proposals and are raising awareness of the supposed dangers at schools."I think we will lose the battle" [to prevent the uranium mining licences being issued], Cramer said.The groups will challenge any permit in court based on what they said are "flaws" in the public-participation process and in the company's application documents, he said...

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