Uranium mining pollution and health threats, Gabon

Description

Serious health and environmental consequences as a result of radioactive materials left over from 40 years of uranium mining in southern Gabon have dogged French mining giant Areva since it closed down its operations at the town of Mounana in 1999. The chief concerns around the Mounana site, 60 kilometres from Franceville and roughly 600 kilometres from the capital Libreville, have centred around dumping of radioactive waste into water sources, exposure by residents of Mounana, situated about 500 metres away from the mine, and occupational illnesses of former workers at the mine. A report on Gabon and Niger (another Areva uranium mining site), published in 2010, stated that substantial problems and negligence existed around mining operations, the safety of miners and local citizens[1]. The report said there was a lack of data on past and current levels of radioactivity and that information was not forthcoming from Areva. One area of attention has been a housing development of 200 houses that was built using aggregates emitting radiation, according to a 2010 Areva report, which the company was demolishing and rebuilding[2]. After the mine closed, workers formed an NGO and advocated for a health and environmental monitoring program as well as medical compensation. They joined forces with several French NGOs, who sent a small team of scientists, doctors, and lawyers to Mounana in June 2006. The team took independent environmental readings and interviewed nearly 500 former employees. Residents displayed a range of symptoms, many lung-related, but their illnesses remained undiagnosed and untreated[3]. Areva entered into an agreement in 2010 to establish a health observatory in the area to treat former miners[4]. French NGO Sherpa was also part of this agreement, but withdrew in 2012, citing non-compliance by Areva[5]. In 2010, it was reported that the company had entered into an agreement with the Gabonese government for exploration and possible extraction of further uranium reserves.

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Basic Data
NameUranium mining pollution and health threats, Gabon
CountryGabon
ProvinceHaut-Ogoou Province
SiteMounana
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Tailings from mines
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Nuclear power plants
Specific Commodities
Uranium
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAccording to Reuters[5], the mine produced over 26,000 tonnes of uranium during its 38 years of operation (closed 1999).

Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1999
Company Names or State EnterprisesAreva (Areva) from France
Compagnie des Mines d Uranium de Franceville
French Commission Energie Atomique
Electricité de France International (EDF) from France
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Mining, Ministry of Public Health
International and Financial InstitutionsInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBrainforest, Alumni Association Mounana workers, SHERPA, non-profit association protecting and defending victims of economic crimes, CRIIRAD, French independent laboratory, Survie
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
After the mine closed, COMUF workers formed an NGO and advocated for a health and environmental monitoring program as well as medical compensation. They joined forces with several French NGOs, which together sent a small team of scientists, doctors, and lawyers to Mounana in June 2006. The team took independent environmental readings and interviewed nearly 500 former COMUF employees about their health and work experience. Most employees reported no formal training on radiation or radon-related risks and no feedback on their monthly dosimetric readings. Residents displayed a range of symptoms, many lung-related, but their illnesses remained undiagnosed and untreated.
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Project cancelled
Development of AlternativesThe French NGO Survive has called for payment to an independent body that will ensure cleanup and rehabilitation. They have also demanded a fund for ex-miners and people living close to the mines and compensation for damages suffered[6].
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The mine has been closed since 1999 and 14 years later efforts are still being made by NGOs to get the company to address legacy issues. Only two expatriate former employees of Areva have been compensated and no local former employees.

In 2010, it was reported that the company had entered into an agreement with the Gabonese government for exploration and possible extraction of further uranium reserves.

Sources and Materials
Legislations

Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative
[click to view]

References

Accessed 31 January 2013.

[5] Reuters (2010). 'Areva, Gabon launch plan to help ill uranium workers'.

[1] European Parliament (2010). 'Potential use of radioactively materials in the construction of houses from open pit uranium mines in Gabon and Niger' Available at:
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Available at: Accessed 30 January 2013.
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Accessed 30 January 2013.

[2] Areva (2010), 'Responsible development of Arevas mining activities'

Accessed 31 January 2013.

[3] Hecht, Gabrielle (2012), 'Uranium Production in Africa, What it Means to be Nuclear'

[6] Survive (2011), 'Areva in Africa, The hidden face of French nuclear power'

Accessed 31 January 2013.

[6] Allix, Grgoire (2012), 'Areva accused of neglecting the impact of its uranium mines in Africa'

Accessed 31 January 2013.

Links

IPS (2010), Gabonese NGO decries effects of mining. Available at:
[click to view]

Accessed 30 January 2013.

Media Links

Available at:
[click to view]

France 24 (2011), 'Gabon:The impact of Arevas uranium mining'

Accessed 30 January 2013.

Meta Information
ContributorPatrick Burnett
Last update08/04/2014
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