Namibia at the heart of the global uranium strategy


Twenty years after its independence in 1990, Namibia has been propelled at the heart of the global uranium strategy for years to come. It is currently the fourth largest producer and will even become the second largest after Kazakhstan. The Rössing mine in the beautiful Namib Desert, which is said to be the oldest in the world (5 millions years old), was at work long before Namibia's independence. But with the rise of emerging markets and the ideology of growth to solve all economic problems, the uranium vultures are rushing in and new opencast mines are growing like tumors in this beautiful desert. There are currently about twenty.


Australian and English companies have a large stake in the Rössing Mine (Rio Tinto) but the French are involved, too, and others that are difficult to detect in these dense cobwebs called multinationals. Iran has a 10% participation and stated recently that this uranium is intended for "civil" purposes. However, experts know that Iran has the necessary technology and engineers to produce plutonium (for bombs) from uranium within months.

In 2009, Namibia supplied 10% of the global demand, which is 50 000 tonnes. 45% of the uranium vultures are Asian, especially China (35%). Two years ago the Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Namibia in person to negotiate with the government. Then comes Japan with 10% of purchases, and the other main industrialized countries. Last year, President Medvedev of Russia came to buy a large part of the future Usab mine, 53 km from Swakopmund but was turned down by the Swakop Uranium consortium, run by Australians.


France is also increasingly present with Areva (also very active in Niger), which has even rapidly built a desalination plant for water from the Atlantic as the water table beneath the desert is overexploited as in other countries. Together with the mines, the well endowed embassies of major foreign powers in Windhoek show the importance of energy as a global issue with the major powers playing a mysterious chess game deciding the future of the world.

Experts ensure that there are currently 50 000 tonnes of uranium on the world market, more than sufficient to satisfy the demand of 40 000 tonnes by the 376 nuclear plants in the world, a number which will soon rise to 400, due to China's development. The uranium will be needed for at least the next 20 years, by which time other energy sources will partially replace it: sun, water, geothermal, gas, wind, coal. However, experts are less forthcoming about the storage of radioactive waste. It is even thought that some big countries started to store it on the Skeleton Coast several years ago.


What about the rest of Africa? Despite its recent protocol on civil use of nuclear power, we must admit that only South Africa can sustain a nuclear power plant - and already does so - as it has the necessary infrastructure, technology and experts. Other "emerging" countries in Africa - Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria - would no doubt like to have "their" small nuclear plant, but it is utopia as they currently lack the costly and sophisticated resources.

It is amazing to think that the global strategy of uranium becomes so important at a time where there is a lot of talk about sustainable development, protection of the environment, and even "de-growth" at major international conferences. On the one hand, each "powerful" country gives the impression of wanting to frighten its neighbors by having "his" bomb (e.g. Iran and Israel). On the other hand it seems also that each country wants growth, consumerism, competition, "innovation", to give work to millions of the potentially unemployed.


In the case of the future Usab mine (Swakop Uranium), a serious independent feasibility study showing the positive and negative aspects known to many has been done: the effects on water, air, wildlife, flora tourism, increased transport, noise as well as more skilled immigrants with much potential for social conflict. The study also mentions that the exploitation activities will last only 12-15 years. So far, there has been no visible protest.

In general, the majority of the population (2 million) is unable to understand the global strategic issues affecting their country or the real consequences for the country where democracy - which was so deeply desired after the South African colonisation - is being undermined: the Parliament is not consulted, there is no referendum, the President and the Ministers decide as if the resources were theirs by divine right. We do not know how much transnational corporations pay in, what they move abroad, or how the significant revenues will be used for the good of all. This is the secret of the gods who seem to have gone crazy, distributing operating licenses like fresh cakes ...


Christine von Garnier

Antenne suisse Réseau Afrique Europe Foi et Justice


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