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Debates- Tuesday, 27th July, 2010
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Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Page 1 of 3DAILY PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES FOR THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE TENTH ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, 27th July, 2010
The House met at 1430 hours
[MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER in the Chair]
URANIUM EXPLORATION AND MINING IN ZAMBIA
The Minister of Mines and Minerals Development (Mr M. B. Mwale): Madam Speaker, I wish to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address this august House on the status of uranium exploration and mining in Zambia.
Madam Speaker, the House may wish to know that uranium is one of the energy minerals with which Zambia is endowed. Uranium is a common and radioactive element which occurs naturally in soils, rocks and surfaces and ground water. Under this natural environment, uranium occurs in very low concentrations, measuring only a few parts per billion to parts per million and is not harmful to life at these levels.
Madam Speaker, Zambia has adopted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines and standards of the radiation exposure limits of:
(a) twenty millisieverts per year for occupational health; and
(b) one millisievert per year for members of the general public.
Madam Speaker, the levels being measured in Zambia in areas where there are uranium occurrences are between 0.0022 millisieverts and 0.963 millisieverts for both occupational health workers and member of the general public. These exposure levels are well below the levels adopted by the IAEA guidelines for continuous exposure.
Madam Speaker, for the information of the House, atoms of uranium decay by emitting particles and energy. A typical sample of natural uranium has 99.27 per cent of its mass as uranium-238, about 0.72 per cent of its mass as uranium-235 and 0.0055 per cent of its mass as uranium-234. The half-life or time it takes to emit particles and energy for uranium-238 is a billion years, therefore uranium-238 is not very radioactive. It should be appreciated that uranium in its natural occurrence in the ground does not emit dangerous radiation levels above one millisievert per year.
In ancient times, uranium in the form of oxides was used to produce yellow coloured ceramic glazes and many home decorations. Today, uranium is used largely for generating electrical power, in nuclear weapons and to produce isotopes for both medical and industrial purposes around the world.
The House may wish to know that the end product of processing uranium ore is urania, which is the uranium concentrate commonly referred to as yellow cake. The yellow cake concentrate is prepared by various extraction and refining methods, depending on the types of ores. Generally, yellow cake is obtained through the milling and chemical processing of uranium ore. This is different from radioactive material required for a nuclear reactor or nuclear breeder reactor. Yellow cake is further enriched to make uranium which is suitable for use in nuclear reactors. The enrichment process takes place in a few selected countries such as Canada, Germany, Russia, the United States of America and Iran, amongst others in the world who are strictly monitored by the IAEA.
Madam Speaker, just to give the House some background to this subject, I would like to inform the House that uranium exploration and mining is not new in Zambia because it started in the 1950s at the Mindolo Underground Mine of Nkana in Kitwe. A total of 120 metric tonnes of uranium was mined in the period 1957 to 1959. In the 1970s and 1980s, considerable exploration activities were undertaken by exploration companies under the Prescribed Minerals and Materials Commission and the Mines and Minerals Act of 1974.
(a) Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation of Japan in Eastern and Southern Province;
(b) AGIP Nuclear Spa of Italy in North-Western and Southern provinces;
(c) Chartered Exploration of South Africa in Southern Province;
(d) Saaberg of Germany in Southern and Lusaka Provinces; and
(e) COGEMA of France in North-Western Province.
Madam Speaker, no significant deposits were reported then, but collation of the data from these exploration activities suggested that major uranium hosting environments are located in the North-Western and Western provinces as well as the Zambezi Valley in the Southern Province. The Government on realising the great contribution this resource could make to the development of the country, made plans to exploit it.
As regards regulation, the Government is aware that uranium is a radioactive element whose contamination has a long lasting presence in the environment with serious harm to human, animal and plant life. Therefore, we are applying standards in conformity with the requirements of the IAEA …
Dr Scott turned and started talking to hon. Members on the bench behind him.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order, hon. Member!
The hon. Minister may continue.
Mr M. B. Mwale: Therefore, we are applying standards in conformity with the requirements of IAEA in the mining, processing of the uranium bearing ore, disposal of the uranium residue, handling of uranium which constitutes storage of ore, uranium concentrates and transportation of the concentrate and its final use.
The House may wish to know that prior to sanctioning any mining of uranium, Zambia developed the international standards for the exploitation of the mineral. These standards are contained in the mines and minerals development (prospecting, mining and milling of uranium ores and other radioactive mineral ores) regulations developed in 2008 under the guidance and supervision of the IAEA. These regulations were passed through Statutory Instrument No. 85 of 2008 on 12th September, 2008.
The regulations cover exploration, mining, milling, storage, transportation, exporting, marketing, safety, health and environmental protection standards. These regulations are further supported by the mines and minerals (environmental) regulations of 1997, the Radiation Protection Act of 2005 under the Ministry of Health and the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990 under the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources.
Madam Speaker, to ensure that the environment is protected, the regulations provide that an investor cannot commence operations until the hon. Minister approves the following requirements:
(i) quantitative radiological hazard and safety assessment for prospecting, mining and milling;
(ii) radiation hazard assessment;
(iii) radiation operation management protection plan;
(iv) radioactive waste management plan;
(v) transportation and storage plan; and
(vi) quantitative radiological hazard analysis at mine and mill decommissioning and closure.
In addition to the aforesaid, a developer is required to prepare an environmental impact assessment (EIA) which is approved by the ECZ. This process of developing the EIA includes public consultations during which the concerns of the local communities and other stakeholders are taken into consideration. Before public consultative meetings are held, the mine developer will advertise in the media and publicise the venue inviting members of the general public to make both oral and written submissions about the project. It follows, therefore, that contrary to the assertions from certain quarters, there is transparency and no secrecy surrounding the process of granting mining rights for uranium.
Madam Speaker, I wish to inform the House that having satisfied the requirements of the IAEA for exploration, mining, processing, transportation and disposal of human residue, two uranium mining licenses have been granted to Denson Mines Zambia Limited and African Energy Resources in Southern Province. In addition to these, there are twenty-seven large and small-scale prospecting licenses which include uranium as one of the mineral commodities to be explored. However, when they discover uranium, they report to my ministry and special conditions for regulating mineral exploration apply as contained in the Zambian uranium regulations.
The House may wish to know that the Lumwana Mine is stockpiling the uranium ore and capping it with cemented ground to make it safe until it obtains a license to process uranium. Further, the company is required to waterdown the stockpile in the dry season as a means of gas suppression. This is because the uranium at Lumwana occurs in pockets within the copper ore body. However, I am glad to report that the company has fully satisfied Zambian’s environmental regulations.
Madam Speaker, the Government treats uranium bearing ore as a strategic resource. The Government will only license mining companies that exhibit technical competence in uranium mining, processing and handling. In our case here in Zambia, we insist that such companies be compliant with the requirements of the IAEA for uranium operations.
Madam Speaker, some of the benefits of uranium exploitation for the people of Zambia include:
(i) poverty alleviation through creation of employment opportunities for Zambians. The prospective uranium mines are located in the less developed areas of our country and mining development in these areas is of urgent concern to the Government;
(ii) identification of areas with high levels of uranium radiation which could be otherwise harmful to the health of the citizens. This will necessitate the re-location of the people to safe areas; and
(iii) building capacity in the handling of uranium.
Madam Speaker, the Zambian mining environmental and radiation protection laws provide for uranium mines and mills’ closure plans and abandonment procedures. The uranium regulations also require that an operator submits a market plan in order to acquire, sell or exploit radioactive materials. Holders of uranium and other radioactive materials are also required to comply with all the aspects of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Zambia is a signatory.
In addition to developing regulations, my ministry has been building capacity to regulate uranium mining activities. Recently, the Mine Safety Department under my ministry acquired radiation testing equipment and emergency suits to be used in monitoring uranium exploration and mining activities. The department also conducted a training workshop in radiation safety for its inspectors. My ministry collaborates and shares information and experiences with other mining countries.
Madam Speaker, in conclusion, I would like to stress that the Government is doing everything possible including adherence to international standards for the exploitation of uranium in order to ensure that the exploration of the resource does not have adverse effects on our people and environment, but benefits the country. It is, therefore, regrettable that certain quarters of our society which are bent on discrediting Zambia’s developmental efforts take advantage of the emotive nature of uranium exploitation to give misleading information. These are organisations that are too glad to see our people continue to live in poverty even when there are opportunities to change their circumstances, for instance, by opening up mines. The Government is seeking reputable investors to exploit this strategic resource and welcomes and fully supports investors who desire to invest in the exploration, mining and beneficiation of uranium.
Madam Speaker, my ministry operates an open door policy that should encourage all concerned citizens and organisations to consult on matters of policy so that our country will continue to benefit from its resources.
Madam Speaker, Zambia has no plans to use uranium locally at present. Therefore, all the uranium to be mined will be for export in form of concentrates such as the famous yellow cake which is being produced by neighbouring Malawi and Namibia.
I thank you, Madam.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Madam Deputy Speaker: Hon Members are now free to ask questions on points of clarification on the ministerial statement made by the hon. Minister of Mines and Minerals Development.
Mrs Masebo (Chongwe): Madam Speaker, I would like to find out from the hon. Minister if, as a Government, we have the capacity to control the negative effects of mining uranium taking into consideration the happenings on the Copperbelt where we keep on hearing stories of the pollution of the Kafue River by these mines that are mining copper.
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam Speaker, we do have that capacity to control the negative effects. As I indicated in my ministerial statement, our Mines and Safety Department collaborates with the ECZ.
Madam Speaker, may I take advantage of that question to explain that Malawi, which has virtually very little historical mining experience is producing yellow cake which is being transported through our roads. As long as we conform to the IAEA regulations, we will see to it that mining and exploration for uranium is done according to high standards.
I thank you, Madam Speaker.
ANNOUNCEMENT BY MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER
DELEGATE FROM THE MOZAMBICAN PARLIAMENT
Madam Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, I wish to acquaint the House with the presence in the Speaker’s Gallery of the guest from the Parliament of Mozambique Dr Crisanto Joao Naite, hon. Member of the Mozambican Parliament for Africa Constituency, who is visiting Zambia to meet Mozambicans living in Zambia.
I wish, on behalf of the National Assembly, to receive our guest and warmly welcome him in our midst.
I thank you.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear!
Mr Chanda (Kankoyo): Madam Speaker, what measures has the Government put in place to protect employees, particularly at the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) Plc, where uranium concentrate is treated? This arises from the fact that utensils used such as ladles and collector plates from the crest loops are not repaired as required by the IAEA standards.
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam Speaker, the concentrate that is being smelted at Nchanga Copper Mines meets international standards. In any case, there is no way a concentrate can be allowed to be processed if it does not meet the IAEA standards.
I thank you, Madam.
Mr Kakoma (Zambezi West): Madam Speaker, has the local community in Lumwana been sensitised about the effects of uranium and has it been tested for any radioactivity, so far, arising from uranium mining in the area?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, I do not seem to follow the hon. Member’s question very well because our communities have been living in uranium bearing areas for a long time. For instance, when I visited the gemstone mines, I found a village less than 50 metres away from a dome of uranium bearing ore and no strange incidences have been seen in the area.
Madam Speaker, I can only confirm with the hon. Member that, by using the hour symbol, we, as the Executive, are truly in power.
I thank you, Madam.
Dr Scott (Lusaka Central): Madam, as a follow up to the question raised by the hon. Member for Chongwe, can we, please, have an assurance from the hon. Minister that the next time Vedanta or KCM contaminates a river, be it with copper or uranium, it will be prosecuted and appropriately punished?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, I do not know why the hon. Member would like me to give him an assurance. I can only and confidently state that the Government has put in place systems to monitor mining operations. In fact, whatever transpired at Vedanta is still of concern to the Government. Therefore, it will continue to monitor mining operations.
I thank you, Madam.
Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Minister for Katombola.
Mrs Musokotwane (Katombola): Thank you very much, Madam. I will be minister next year. You are not wrong.
Mrs Musokotwane: Madam, Hon. Kakoma asked whether the people had been tested and not whether they had been merely visited. Therefore, can the hon. Minister state whether tests were carried out and, if they were, what where the results?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam Speaker, I cannot confirm whether the people were tested or not. However, I would like to say that our communities have been living in areas that contain uranium ore and their animals have even been grazing in the said areas.
I thank you, Madam.
Mr Simuusa (Nchanga): Madam, in the event, which is likely to happen, of uranium or radioactive contamination, is the country able to handle the problem? What measures are in place to curb such a situation should it arise?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, I would like to state that I am one of the sad hon. Members of the House because, as a nation, we should be proud of having a long history of mining. If Malawi and Namibia, which do not have a long history of mining, are able to exploit uranium resource, why can we not? We, as a country, are not reinventing the wheel. So, we can learn from our neighbours and put in place systems and processes which will ensure the safety of our people.
I thank you, Madam.
Major Chizhyuka (Namwala): Madam, these contracts regarding uranium have been billed as contracts of death. As such, to which extent is the hon. Minister going to ensure that the concerns of the people of Siavonga are taken into account? This is especially because when chiefs Munyumbwe and Simaamba were asked by the ministry, the African Energy Resources and Albidon to go to Namibia and see how the mining was done there, they expressed disquiet upon their return because they learnt that the mining in Namibia was done in the desert and not where the people lived as it is done in Siavonga. Therefore, to which extent is the ministry taking care of the real fears of the people as regards what might obtain in the event of uranium contamination?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, I indicated, in my ministerial statement, that the natural occurrence of uranium does not emit above acceptable levels as per IAEA standards.
Madam, as stated earlier, when I visited the gemstone mines, I saw a village about 50 metres from a dome of uranium occurrence. Therefore, with this knowledge, it means we can facilitate a location of a community away from such an occurrence as was seen there.
I thank you, Madam.
Dr Machungwa (Luapula): Madam, learning from what is happening in the world such as the British Petroleum (BP) contamination of the Gulf of Mexico where the United States of America Government has asked BP to put aside a huge amount of money to compensate people who have lost businesses and those who may be directly affected, perhaps, not even injured, is your ministry and the Government willing to consider such measures when there is contamination of uranium or some other sort from the mining house so that those who get affected directly and indirectly are compensated?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, we have an environmental protection fund to which every mining house has to contribute. In any case, we have to realise that we live in a very dynamic world and, as such, cannot be so rigid about issues in terms of places and systems. Therefore, as we go by, some systems will be developed.
I thank you, Madam.
Mr Imenda (Lukulu East): Madam Speaker, do we have a deliberate plan to ensure that uranium does not end up in countries such as Iran where it may used in the production of nuclear bombs?
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam, if the hon. Member intently listened to the ministerial statement, I stated that even the marketing of uranium has to be in conformity with the IAEA standards. Therefore, it cannot be disposed of any how.
I thank you, Madam.
Mr Kapeya (Mpika Central): Madam Speaker, is the hon. Minister aware that Lumwana concentrate contains uranium?
Madam Deputy Speaker: I think that the question was addressed in the hon. Minister’s statement to the House. In fact, it was the reason the statement was given.
Mr Mwenya (Nkana): Madam Speaker, disposal of uranium waste has always been a challenge. There is a uranium waste deposit in Nkana which has been there since the 1940s when uranium was first mined. I would like the hon. Minister to elaborate on how the mining companies will be disposing of the uranium waste and how that which is still in Nkana Constituency will be removed.
Mr M. B. Mwale: Madam Speaker, let me correct the hon. Member by stating that uranium mining at Nkana was done between 1957 and 1959 and not in the 1940s. If the hon. Member listened to my statement, I said that the most hazardous types of uranium were the 235 and 234 which occur in very minute levels.
As for the disposal of residue material, it will be done according to the standards that have been developed and approved by the IAEA.
I thank you, Madam.