Tuesday, May 28, 2024
BusinessArtisanal miners exposed to uranium radiation

Artisanal miners exposed to uranium radiation

Radiation Protection Authority to conduct inspection

  Artisanal miners, who are engaged in illegal mining activities in the Kenticha tantalum mine in Borena Zone of South East Oromia, are exposed to uranium radiation.  

The Kenticha tantalum mine, which was run by the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation, is located in the Oromia Regional State, Guji Zone, Seba Boru wereda, Kenticha locality 600km south of Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation mines tantalum concentrate and mainly exports it to China.

On the aftermath of the political unrest that rocked the country, the Corporation was forced to suspend mining operation. Local residents had complained that the tailing dam of the tantalum mine was holding water more than its designed capacity and expressed fear that it will overflow and flood the area. The residents also allege that the mine waste was polluting the locality. Accordingly, the local administration instructed the Corporation to halt operation in December 2017.

Sources told The Reporter that following the closure of the mine young artisanal miners have invaded the license area of the corporation and began traditionally mining the tantalum ore. Sources said since the tantalum ore has uranium and lithium particles the young traditional miners are now exposed to uranium radiation that might inflict harm to their health.

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“The radiation pose threat to their health. When the corporation was running the mine there were precautions put in place to safeguard the wellbeing of the employees.  But now there is no one who is supervising the illegal mining activity being undertaken in the corporation’s license area,” sources said.  

“There is no body who is monitoring the traditional mining activity. How the tantalum concentrate is produced and how it is stored? Nobody knows. The tantalum concentrate has uranium particles,” they added. According to a study undertaken by the corporation, the uranium concentration in the tantalum ore is about 0.5 percent. 

The Ethiopian Radiation Protection Authority disclosed that it will conduct inspection in the mining area. Daniel Kedane, team leader at the Radiation Protection Authority, told The Reporter that the authority has been conducting radiation inspection at the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio-Fuel Corporation’s tantalum mining area annually. Daniel said the last inspection was made in December 2017 adding that the team of experts made recommendations.

“At that time there was only what we call back ground radiation and it was not beyond the threshold. It was an acceptable level. However, our team of experts made recommendations for the corporation to provide protective materials like glove, goggle and to build bathing rooms to the employees,” Daniel said.

According to Daniel, due to security concerns in the area, the authority did not undertake further radiation inspection. In addition to that since the corporation suspended tantalum production the authority did not undertake radiation inspection at the tantalum mine recently.

Daniel said that the authority was not informed of the recent illegal mining activity that makes the community prone to radiation. “We will soon make a radiation inspection in the area,” he added.

The local community in the Kenticha locality has been traditionally mining tantalum for years. According to Daniel, the traditional miners used to expose themselves to hazardous situations. “They used to store the tantalum ore in their houses even under their bed. However, experts of the authority travelled to the area and created awareness among the mining community on safety measures. We gave trainings to the traditional miners,” he said. “We will soon organise a field trip to the area to make inspections,” he added.                       

The tantalum mine, which was discovered by former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) geologists in the 1980s, has been mined since 1994. The mine was owned by the Ethiopian Minerals Development Enterprise which was merged with the Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation.

The Corporation has been only mining and exporting tantalum concentrate tough there are associated minerals like uranium and lithium. The Kenticha mine has an annual installed capacity of producing 174 tons of tantalum concentrate. However, due to aging machineries and financial constraints, the production capacity has been limited to only 100 tons. During the heydays, the Corporation used to export 90-95 tons of tantalum concentrate generating 20 million dollars per annum.

The Ethiopian Minerals, Petroleum and Bio Fuel Corporation was planning to expand the tantalum mine and build a tantalum processing plant that manufactures value added tantalum products. The Corporation has been searching for an international mining firm that will co-invest in the project. In a bid to find a partner that will jointly develop the tantalum mine and build a value added tantalum products manufacturing plant, the Ministry of Public Enterprises has put up an international tender. However, the Ministry later cancelled the bid due to the impasse. 

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