Stampriet inundated with uranium mining claims
The Stampriet aquifer is the largest artesian basin in Namibia.
The Stampriet Aquifer Uranium Mining Association (Sauma) has once again expressed its concern to the government regarding the risks that the proposed uranium mining process, known as in-situ leaching, poses to the Stampriet artesian basin in southern Namibia.
The management committee of the association highlighted their concerns in a letter addressed to the cabinet, members of parliament, standing committees, regional governors, council members, traditional authorities and the police.
People, animals and the economy of vast rural areas of semi-arid Namibia rely entirely on potable groundwater for their survival, according to the letter.
"They have no alternative. One of these areas is the Stampriet artesian basin under the Kalahari Dunes in the south-east of Namibia. The Stampriet basin has served as an important farming area for decades."
According to the committee, analyses of water from boreholes in the Stampriet artesian basin show that the water outside the uranium ore body is safe to drink.
Uranium was also recently discovered in the main underground artesian aquifer of the Stampriet Basin, according to the letter.
"The situation changes drastically if the uranium were to be mined. This mining process, which is called in-situ leaching, involves pushing sulfuric acid and other chemicals through boreholes into the uranium ore body located in the aquifer. The uranium then dissolves in the water and is then pumped out again to recover the uranium."
The committee said the concentration of dissolved uranium was well above the World Health Organisation's guideline for safe drinking water.
"In-situ leach mines consist of thousands of injection and production boreholes spaced 20 to 30 meters apart over areas of approximately 1 000 hectares."
The exploration through in-situ leaching has the potential to greatly pollute one aquifer after another through rock fractures and old leaking water boreholes, the letter states.
Meanwhile, irrigation projects pump water from the main aquifer at about 100 000 litres per hour, Sauma said.
This causes the water to flow through the aquifer at a high speed, which can potentially extract water from a mine area - which uses in-situ leaching - and cause pollution of the aquifer far beyond the boundaries of the mine.
The Stampriet artesian basin extends into Botswana and South Africa, where the same aquifers in this basin are used for drinking water.
"Pollution of the water in these neighbouring countries as a result of in-situ leaching in Namibia could lead to international litigation and large compensation claims for the Namibian government."
Furthermore, reports of the contamination of underground drinking water through in-situ leaching will affect tourism and agriculture nationwide as well as the country's reputation and agronomic economy, the association emphasised.
According to the committee, an environmental impact study was recently completed for a pilot plant in the Stampriet artesian basin for in-situ leaching.
"If it is approved, it will be the first step in the direction of the contamination of the underground drinking water of the Stampriet artesian basin. The next step would be a small one to full-scale in-situ leaching and a national catastrophe.
"We earnestly request that you carefully evaluate the environmental, social and economic impact of the proposed in-situ leaching and make decisions that are in line with the best interests of Namibia and its people," the letter reads.