Mining is one stronghold Botswana has prized its economy with. The development of the country to a great extent has been due to mining especially minerals such as diamonds and copper and nickel. Therefore commissioning a Uranium mine around the villages of Serule and Gojwane would be an added advantage to the country and its development. Uranium is a naturally occurring element and one of which is found is one most abundant on earth. It is used as nuclear fuel for the production of electricity at nuclear power stations. It produces more electricity than coal. One kilogram of Uranium provides the same amount of energy as about 100,000 kilos of oil or nearly 220,000 kilos of coal. Another use is that radioisotopes derived from uranium are used in a number of medical setting , from treating cancer and sterilizing medical equipment. However the mining of Uranium may bring good results in the economy in terms of the country being self-sufficient in electricity and having to be able from our neighbours South Africa. There are potential harms that can be asoociated with mining Uranium. It not only affects the environment but humanity as well. The sole purpose of this essay is to discuss these harms that could come due to the mining process which are; pollution of the air, contamination of water, degradation of the land and shortage of area for people living in the area, loss of biodiversity and lastly the high radiation that cause mutations and increase the rate of cancer of people having cancer.
Firstly the mining of Uranium could lead to the pollution of air. During mining there is a lot of dust caused by mining operations generated by bulldozing and blasting of the Uranium ore. As the dust will accumulate in the air and it would then impair the visibility of the residents that live near that area. They do not experience the clear skies that other people further from where the mine would be experiencing. It will would the accumulate on cars and houses. Nevertheless the increased build up of dust in the air for examples increases the rate of Asthma and Bronchitis in individuals. This is evident in other countries that the high rate of people suffering from respiratory disease is documented by increase in visits to emergency rooms and increased mortality rate due to heart failure and long term diseases.(Pope et.al 2009,Anesrsbeg et.al 2010)Therefore it contributes to to the degradation of the health of many.
Another potential harm associated with uranium is the pollution of water. Water which is an impeccable resource in Botswana and one source that has been a constant concern over the years thus leading to more drought spells. Water can be found underground and on the surface such as rivers and oceans. During the actual mining specifically using the open pit method the contamination of water is most evident. As the mining process proceeds waste tailing which is the waste products generated from the whole process may be carried to nearby rivers during the rainy season thus leading to contamination of water. There is also leaching of metals from waste rock dumps(Mudd and Patterson)2010. The more waste is produced during the process the more waste can be improperly disposed and thus increase the rate of water pollution in rivers or even oceans. It does not only affect surface water and underground as well. For instance in Eastern Wincosin (Scheneiber, DATTEE55652) states that the introduction of oxygen into the wells led to sulfide mineral oxidation and consequent decreases the groundwater pH and increase concentration of sulphate, nickel, manganese, zinc and arsenic. The lowering of underground water pH makes it unsafe for human consumption and along with the concentration of minerals makes it contaminated and a danger for people and animal lives. According to Clark et.al(fdhiu),Landon et.al the leakage of lower pH, oxygenated water from an unconfined upper aquifer into high pH anoxic water in a low confined aquifer through multiaquifer cells has been implicated as the primary cause for elevated Uranium concentration in public supply well in York, Nebraska. If the underground water was connected to large cities and towns more and more people can be affected by the contaminated water. Even during the processing stage in which accidents may occur and might result in a spills that may infiltrate into the ground water, resulting in contaminated water. This is because the chemicals have a leaching ability and can be carried to deep underground . In line with mining is the fact that it needs a lot of water and in Botswana where is is mostly a semi-arid country, a country with low and quite unreliable rainfall it could be a serious problem. The Uranium mine uses most of the limited water available and this leads to people having no or little water themselves and their livestock hence dehydration and eventually death.
Thirdly the land would be degraded especially when the open pit method. During the open pit method soil is excavated in order to reach the Uranium ore deep underground and this process affects the land as the soil structure and since top soil is removed which is the most infertile part of the soil, organic matter is lost. Stock piling soil for a long time disturbs the nitrogen cycle in the soil at the end of the day nitrogen is lost. The very nitrogen that is useful in the development and growth of plants. Removing and stockpiling loads of soil makes the land vulnerable to erosion as it has its protection which was the trees and grass that were holding it together. The erosion of land would be a sad reality of what used to be a beautiful scenes of nature. According to (CIT) YGSSYDC theses soils that have been piled for years and years lose the fertility and the quality and it takes longer for them to recover to where they were. Stock piled top soils deteriorates because changes in physical, chemical and biological characteristics resulting from compaction, leaching and degradation of nutrients. The soils as stated earlier lose their quality and no longer offer nutrients to plants as before. Apart from the soil erosion its ability to retain its nutrients , during mining a lot of land is required and this leads to people leaving near the mine having limited area for residential, commercial and agricultural purposes. This leads to shortage of land and inevitably squatter camps because there is no land that people can use. Apart from people having shortage of land the residents of the area can be forced out of their villages in order for the mine itself to be constructed. Open pit mining requires a huge land and sometimes the ignition of a mine may come as a cost to people it was intended to help. Therefore a blessing becoming a curse. In Botswana already we have seen instances where Basarwa residing within the CKGR were forcibly relocated to resettlement camps outside of the reserve, the government citing the improvement of Basarwa’s development prospects and the need to preserve wildlife in the reserve as the reasons for the resettlement (Resneck, 2009) and the case was made even more difficult with the discovery of diamond therefore people living near the Uranium mine may suffer the same dimise.
Another harm that can be caused by Uranium in Botswana specifically in places around the Serule and Gojwane is that it could lead to loss of biodiversity. When chemicals are transported to and from the processing plant accidents may occur and they are spilled to the ground and leaching occurs it may cause harm to animals living underground. During the rainy season there can be water run off and the chemicals spilled can be carried either to surface water or underground water where it would contaminate the water thus killing aquatic plants and animals. During open pit method the removal method of soil destroys the animal habitats and lots of trees are cut down. This endangers animals and can lead to death of animals. Even to the extinction of certain species because the habitats were destroyed and them being killed in the process, When plants are uprooted when the land is cleared for mining it leads to less carbon dioxide that is absorbed. The heavy duty trucks that uses diesel, emit carbon dioxide from the exhausts and it is absorbed by plants because they are cut down. This leads to humans and animals breathing polluted air which can be lead to various respiratory disease such as Asthma. Although plants can be uprooted and soil can be excavated the high concentration of dissolved salts can be toxic to fresh water aquatic organisms (Surma et.al 2005). This is because mine water contains high concentrations of Selenium which one of the minerals present in the mining of Uranium which can accumulate and biomagnify and exposure to high concentrations can cause reproductive failure and birth defects.(USEPA 2004,Lenntech 2011)Animals and plants that come in contact with concentration of such substances may lead to severe consequences. Another chemical that can spill and cause harm during the processing of Uranium is Copper. It can be toxic to both aquatic biota and terrestrial plants. Reduces growth or photosynthesis in algae and teratogenic effects in sensitive species or fish amphibians have been seen in environments with copper concentrations low as 5-10 ppb(Maag et.al,2000). Once the plants stop to photosynthesis they stop producing their own food and the plant dies. Copper not only affects plants by limiting their growth and preventing them from photosynthesizing but also affects animals such as fish which are part of the environment(USEPA 2007). Once the gills of the fish are damaged there is no or little breathing that the fish can do which makes many fish to die. The death of fish not only affects the fish only but also humanity that use fish for food and this leads to fisherman having nothing to eat or sell from profits to sustain their families. Aluminum can also accumulate in plants, affecting enzyme systems important for the uptake of nutrients. Once these are stopped plants cannot absorb the vital nutrients needed for growth and development. These nutrients cannot be absorbed by plants. Vanadium leads to neurological and reproduction complications, breathing disorders, liver and kidney problems.(Lenntech 2011b). When the chemicals come in contact with humans it leads to respiratory disorders and like copper may lead to reproduction complications. Sulphuric acid also leads to burns and lesions of animals as it is an acid and therefore it is corrosive and burns. Last but not least there is also exposure to ammonia at high levels may cause increased respiratory activity and increased heart rates. All these chemicals either harm the the plant whether in growth or in the uptake of nutrients and to people they have burns and respiratory disorders and ultimately death. Which is why protective clothing will be highly advised.
Lastly one of the potential harm that can be caused by Uranium mining it could lead to radiation that could endanger the lives of people living near the r. As stated earlier radium is a radioactive material emitting alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Alpha and Beta particles travel a short distance and do not penetrating through a lot of matter however gamma radiation is able to penetrate the skin and lead to various health problems. During the mining and processing of Uranium radioactive material such as Radon are emitted. The protracted exposure to Radon decay products generally represents the greatest radiation related risk from Uranium related mining and processing operations. Radon’s alpha emitting radioactive decay products are strongly and casually linked to cancer in humans(cite book). This is because alpha particles are much associated with the environmental carcinogens which are substances that cause, they do this by breaking the double strand of DNA leading to growth of unspecialized tissues leading to multiple tumors especially in the lung and livers. Radon contaminated water in which people drink from. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) organized a stakeholders meeting and the stakeholders expressed numerous health related concerns including concerns about the exposure to alpha radiation via inhalation or ingestion of dust particles containing radon decay products, exposure to both radiation and particulate Uranium via inhalation, ingestion and inhalation of dust and exposure to diesel particulate.(Miller et al,2008). This therefore indicates how the Uranium mine have the health in danger and importance of safety precautions is necessary. This is because energy deposited by alpha, beta and gamma radiation can damage cells. The Impact of radiation on a cell depends on the duration of exposure, the dose rate of the of the exposure which is how much radiation is emitted in a second and the tissue of the organ exposed. If the radiation damages a cells genetic material (DNA) and the cell survives, this damage can initiate cancer. However it has not been documented that heritable mutation of children of Uranium mine and processing workers has occurred. Therefore there is very limited evidence suggesting that radiation induced heritable mutations may occur in humans.(NRC,2000;Kodaira et al,2010,Bunin et al,2011,Tawn et al,2011). Several researches have suggested findings that suggest an association between occupational Radon decay product exposure via mining and Leukemia as well as cancers of the stomach, liver and trachea.(Darby et al 1995,Kreuzer et al,2008,2010).Cancer is a disease that has left many as orphans and with no breadwinners. This may lead to children having to live in poverty. According to Lubin(2010) studies has independently shown increase in lung cancer mortality rates with increase exposure to Radon and its decay products. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR 2011) Uranium has been to shown to cause chemical toxicity and because it emits predominately alpha particles, it is a suspected human carcinogen. Since it changes the DNA of cells. Apart from Uranium and Radon the isotope Thorium is present in mine tailing. Their decay products if not controlled adequately contaminate the local environment under certain conditions, in particular by seeping into water source and thereby increasing radioactive concentration.saita buka.The potential for internal radiation exposure from drinking water contaminated with radionuclides that have been leached or otherwise released from tailing or other waste is a common health concern for the public(Landa and Gray, 1995; Baker, 2010). Contaminated water does not only affect people near as mines as stated previously as the other health concern for people living near mines and processing facilities is the potential for off site radiation exposure from atmosphere decomposition of “fugitive” ore tailing dust which is basically composed of the radionuclides discussed above.
Although Uranium can produce a lot of electricity from small amounts of itself it has the potential to harm the environment and humanity in ways one could not imagine. Though its subtle nature it has a great ability to destroy from smallest of flowers to largest pieces of land. Therefore a lot of thought and consideration should be taken in commissioning such a huge project in areas around Serule and Gojwane because economically it is an outstanding idea but ecologically it has nothing good to offer unless strict regulations are placed.