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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Tanzania: New challenges in mining sector

Tanzania's Prime Minister Mzengo Pinda has defended the decision of the government to open the Selous Game Reserve to mining, stating that the move has not violated the country's laws including the 2009 Wildlife Act. However, Pinda was quick to note that UNESCO was still reluctant to give its permission.

Tanzania has vast mineral wealth, with deposits of diamonds, gold, coal, soda-ash, nickel, platinum, gemstones and now the recently discovered supply of uranium. In the mid 1980s the IMF liberalized Tanzania's trade which resulted in the 1997 Mineral Sector Policy, through which Tanzania lost large sums of money as the mining companies were not under the dictates of safe mining practices or subject to just or incremental taxes. Recent changes to the tax code have finally ensured that mining companies will pay a more just tax on mined minerals, but serious environmental, social and cultural consequences of irresponsible mining are not yet being taken into account.

Now the discovery of uranium in a number of places in Tanzania is raising serious issues. Cognizant of this, the Foundation for Environmental Management and Campaign Against Poverty (FEMAPO) held a public forum on uranium mining in Dar es Salaam on May 25. Estimates indicate that Tanzania has about 53.9 million pounds of uranium oxide deposits. At the 20ll prices of $41 per pound, the deposits are worth US$2.2 billion and could be a significant source of public revenue and jobs, as well as direct investment by mining companies in important community projects.

But other impacts detrimental to the environment, human health and world peace associated with the mining and uses of this particular heavy metal must also be taken into consideration. In addition to nuclear and depleted uranium weapons, uranium has a number of non-military uses -- for example, to produce nuclear energy, in radiation and other medical technology, in aircraft control and navigation mechanisms, in food irradiation and in some smoke detectors. While some of these purposes may well be legitimate, none are without risk, beginning with the miners and mining communities themselves. Tanzanians should be fully informed about uranium's dangers before mining permits are issued, and the mining process itself must be subject to strict health and safety regulations.

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