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Uranium mining harms people and the environment

March 28, 2023
Anthony Lyamunda, a recipient of the Nuclear-Free Future award, will speak at IPPNW’s World Congress next month in Mombasa, Kenya.

[Anthony Bonifasi Lyamunda received the Nuclear Free Future Award in the resistance category. He lives in Dodoma, the Capital City of Tanzania and he is the founder of the NGO CESOPE. His organization has long supported the people of Bahi, an administrative district very close to Tanzania´s capital Dodoma and the place where he grew up. Bahi is among the places in Tanzania that have known uranium deposits. Patrick Schukalla, an advisor with IPPNW-Germany on energy issues and climate, spoke with the environmental justice activist who will participate at the IPPNW World Congress in Mombasa, Kenya in April.]

You won the NFF Award in the resistance category, congratulations! 

I would like to thank the Nuclear Free Future Foundation for considering me and my organization for this award. I see it not only as recognition of my personal work but of the work of many Tanzanian and African activists who struggle against uranium mining on our continent and beyond. Such recognition of our struggle will motivate the communities we are working with to continue to defend the environment against uranium mining and consequently stopping the proliferation of nuclear power in the world, and enable the goal of a nuclear-free future.

Can you briefly explain what your resistance is against? 

Tanzania had invited multinational mining and exploration companies to invest in our country including uranium prospects. Our protest started around 2008 when the exploration activities were already going on in Bahi and our neighbouring districts. At this time we started to research about uranium mining, its consequences, and what it would mean for us around here. I started mobilizing community members and together we launched a campaign to prevent uranium mining in the area. I also networked nationally and internationally and we managed to expand our campaign and got recognized internationally. In short, we oppose uranium mining because of its negative impact.

Your organization was not originally an anti-nuclear organization, and even today you are working for many goals in Bahi. How has the situation in Bahi changed due to the threat of mining? 

Indeed, our organization works for environmental justice and is not exclusively anti-nuclear. But uranium mining and all the activities associated with nuclear power are polluting the environment. They are causing harm to humans and animals and that is why we are against nuclear energy and against uranium mining. The places that are known to have uranium deposits around here are also the areas where people live and work, farm and fish. During uranium exploration the companies that came did not respect the peoples’ rights. And they played down the effects that the mining activities would have. But we succeeded in creating substantial awareness about the problems coming with uranium mining among the people living in the area.

Bahi is not the only region in Tanzania where uranium exploration has taken place. Are you networked with other organizations across the country in your resistance to uranium mining? 

In fact, the whole country has been searched for uranium by prospectors. There is only one project that has made it as far as to get a mining licence. That is the southern Tanzanian Ruvuma Region’s Mkuju River Project which has been on hold due to comparatively low world market prices for uranium for some years until today. We support the campaigns of our partners in Ruvuma. In sharing our resistance experience from Bahi and its communities we hope to support them. We believe we have succeeded in stopping uranium exploration activities in the Bahi area – for now at least. In collaboration with other organizations such as the Tanzania Mineral Mining Trust Fund (TMMTF) from Songea and the Tanzania Legal Human Right Center (LHRC), we established a Coalition known as the NaCUM, the National Coalition on Uranium Mining.

It’s been 12 years since the nuclear disaster at the Japanese Fukushima Daichi power plant. What did the disaster mean for your struggle at the uranium frontier? 

This terrible disaster indeed had a great impact on our situation. It was the aftermath of Fukushima that caused uranium prices to crash, making new mines unprofitable. So in a way, if it had not been for the meltdown in Japan, uranium mining might have already started in our country. We know that the areas around the power plant in Fukushima are still contaminated today and will remain so in the future. This must not be forgotten! Fukushima must continue to be a warning to the world and a call to end nuclear power. And we must continue to stress the fact that nuclear power needs uranium mining and that uranium mining also contaminates huge areas, harms people and the environment.

How do you currently assess the situation in Tanzania, is there a threat of mining to start? 

Uranium mining remains a potential threat in Tanzania and worldwide as long as nuclear energy continues and is desired by various countries. For us, uranium mining means the violation of human rights, land grabbing, and all the many environmental problems that go along with it. We need to be very attentive. Currently our focus is the Mkuju River Project, owned by Uranium1, a ROSATOM subsidiary, as this is currently the most advanced uranium project in the country. And yet, the deposits in our region are known to prospectors and whenever there is hope for them to make money with rising prices at the stock exchanges, Bahi and its neighboring districts, such as Manyoni,  can quickly become a target of speculation again. Only recently, an exploration company announced its interest in the deposits. So we must continue to be very cautious. With the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation that has facilitated our coalition to raise awareness about uranium exploration and mining in the past, a fellow activist from Southern Tanzania and I will travel to Mombasa to discuss such issues and to connect with others who are active in this field at the IPPNW World Congress. We look forward to sharing our experiences and making new alliances there.

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