Uranium and radioactive mineralization in Tanzania was identified in the pre-independence era, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the commercial interest to explore became evident and the investors started arriving for discussions with the government authorities (6).
The Ministry of Energy and Minerals (MEM) opened its doors to issue prospecting licences (PL) in 2005. Subsequently, 70 prospecting / exploration licences have been issued to companies and individuals. Among those companies several are subsidiaries of same foreign company registered under different names. Mantra Resources Tanzania Limited – MTRL was reported (2017) to be developing and making final preparations for the Mkuju River uranium mining, milling and processing project to begin soon (2018) (Similarly, also Magnis Resources Ltd (ex Uranex Ltd) is making final preparations in the Bahi-Manyoni-Area in central Tanzania). However, announced its wishdrawal in July 2017 (7).
Uranium exploration activities by MRTL began in the Mkuju River escarpment in 2005 and the permitting process was registered on 2009. Since 2005 a number of concerns have surfaced. One of them is the location of the mine partially within the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage Site under the care of the Tanzanian Government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO. Besides, there are fears of the ecological damage and a bleak future to the wildlife in the reserve (6) (5) (4) (2).
In spite of protests from local and International NGOs in July 2012 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved Tanzania’s request to modify the boundary of the game reserve by 0.8 per cent to pave the way for the Mkuju River Project. Consequently, in August 2012 the Tanzania’s Minister of Environment approved and issued the Environmental Impact Assessment EIA certificate. But, despite this there are number of concerns from the local community, civil society and experts about negative impact of uranium exploration on environment and population due to the radioactivity of the (chemical) waste. In fact, uranium mining activities can cause diseases such as leukemia or cancer will show up only 15 to 20 years after exposure, and affected people will have to deal with deteriorating health conditions and premature deaths, even impacts on following generations are possible. The land mined cannot be used anymore for agriculture or any other purpose for the benefit of local communities. In addition, adjacent areas will inevitably also be contaminated, be it in the short or in the long run, if there are no comprehensive reclamation measures. Moreover, it exists the risk of land grabbing, lack of awareness on the impacts of uranium mining on the human health, violation of human rights and international safety regulations (2).
On another hand, with regard to corporate social responsibility, field visits reveal so far that this company has been installed solar power in a boarding secondary school in a neighboring village. They have also provided the village dispensary with four hospital beds. In addition, they promised to dig water wells for the village but the promise is yet to be fulfilled. With regard to employment policy, those who had worked with Mantra Resources report that it takes a long time for local individuals to be employed in the company and in most of the cases, they are hired as cheap laborers. Moreover, compared with tourism activities, where many people can get a chance to participate and to derive some profit from, jobs in the mine will be limited in number and time without long-lasting social and economic security. Field observations and survey conducted by WISE and CESOPE revealed that local people and NGOs in the surrounding project area were not consulted or involved in and not well informed (ignored) about the whole process since the stage of exploration. Sometimes people were deliberately misinformed: in the beginning of exploration activities villagers were made to believe that groundworks were part of construction of new antenna masts for mobile phone network. Local politicians in respective areas denied ongoing exploration and intimidated NGOs’ concerns on the issue (2).
Tanzanian government, like in other African countries, welcomed uranium mining as a solution to poverty and economic development, but the capacities to handle side effects like pollution or health risks in terms of laws and regulations, skilled staff, know-how, financial power and institutional factors are low. The communities are determined to fight for their rights and engage government in stopping the activities of uranium extraction in order to sustainably maintain their communities and livelihoods (2).