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Uranium: a poisoned legacy


Title Uranium: a poisoned legacy
Director(s) Dominique   Hennequin
Date released (year) 2009
Production company Nomades TV
Length 52 mins
Location Gabon,  Niger
Keywords/tags Toxic waste,   mining, nuclear
Link to film

Synopsis A shocking investigation into uranium   mining in Africa. We visit three areas affected by the uranium industry;   Mounana where activity has now ceased, Arlit, where the mines have been   active for 40 years, and Imouraren, a future site.

French energy giant Areva pulled out of   Mounana, Gabon, in 1999. The uranium mine, Comuf, was closed down and covered   over. In fact, at a glance, it’s almost as if the mine never existed.   However, Mounana suffers from extremely dangerous levels of radioactive   pollution. The soil and the rivers are toxic; even the houses have a Geiger   count as much as 8 times the safe limit. They were built using radioactive   material. In Arlit, North Niger, we encounter similar problems, including an   abnormally high incidence of lung cancer. Now that Areva has left, the former   miners are left to pay for their own health care.

In spite of the horrific damage to local   populations at previous sites, another mine is being constructed, in   Imouraren. The result of a colossal deal between the governments of France   and Niger, this will be their biggest open mine yet. Areva claims that the   new mine will not poison the land, but local people are sceptical



Reviews/discussion Wednesday 4 April 2007, by Saïd Aït-Hatrit in
Wednesday, scientists, jurists, doctors, and victims drew up overwhelming   allegations concerning uranium exploitation activities of the French Areva   Company in Nigeria and Gabon. Considered opaque in its information   management, the ex-Cogema is accused of knowingly exposing its employees and   the inhabitants of its mining zones to important levels of radioactive   contamination.

On Wednesday in Paris jurists, scientists, doctors (Médecins du monde), and   representatives of Victims Associations from the Arlit and Mounana mines in   Gabon, shut down since 1999, presented their conclusions stemming from three   years of investigation.

“We have very serious reasons to believe that Africans and French expatriates   became ill due solely to Areva’s negligence” in matters of health and   environmental protection, explained William Bourdon, president and founder of   the Sherpa Association.

The Nigerian singer Abdallah Oumbadougou had explained last November in   Afrik, during an interview, that he was thinking about leaving his hometown,   Arlit, 250 Km to the north of Agadez, because he feared for the health of his   family. Guizmo, his French musical partner in the Désert Rebel Collective,   had told him about a press report according to which the exploitation of   Arlit’s uranium mine by Areva (ex Cogema) could be responsible for the pollution   of drinking water and for numerous deaths in the region.

Broadcast by the private Canal + Channel, in 2004, it showed the Sherpa   International Jurists Association and the team of scientists from Criirad   (Commission de recherche et d’information indépendantes sur la radioactivité   – Independent research commission for information on radioactivity) during   their first mission in 2003, concerning the situation of workers from the   ex-Cogema in Arlit. Airlit is a city built in the 70s in the middle of the desert   for the exploitation of the precious ore that now has 70,000 inhabitants.

Radioactive waste “in the open air”

According to the accusing associations gathered together on Wednesday in   Paris, Areva and its subsidiaries – Somaïr and Cominak in Nigeria, Comuf in   Gabon – voluntarily left their employees in ignorance about the risks   involved with working in the mines.

“It was only in 1986 that we began to be aware”, explained Almoustapha   Alhacen, a worker in the Arlit mines and president of Aghir N’Man, the   Nigerian Association for the protection of the Environment. Founded in 2000,   it called for Criirad’s help in 2003 to evaluate the radiological situation   on site. “We saw our friends die and didn’t know why” he recalled.

After having failed to forbid the exploratory mission at Arlit, the Cominak   manager succeeded in confiscating the scientist’s measurement equipment at   the Niamey customhouse, according to the associations’ report. However, the   scientists succeeded in preserving some of the instruments and their findings   were conclusive: “The contamination level of the drinking water system is   well over WHO standards”, stated Bruno Chareyron, director of Criirad. The   scientific laboratory also measured the highly contaminated scrap iron on the   city’s market and noted that the radioactive waste (500,000 Becquerels per   kilogram) was stored in the open air “exposed to winds and all types of   runoff.”

Areva has no occupational diseases

Areva responded to the Criirad’s controls with measurements carried out by   its own experts who found no contamination of the Arlit water supply,   according to Bruno Chareyron, who regrets this strategy of pure denial. The   associations’ report claims that Areva’s aim is to make it impossible to   establish a chain of causation between exposure to radiation and the diseases   developed, which could be very costly for the company. For this reason Areva   has kept the results of its investigations secret, just as they did with   those carried out in 1986 at Mounana.

Jacqueline Gaudet spent 15 years of her life in this town. In 2005, she   founded Mounana, an association of expatriated former mine workers, “for the   simple and good reason that there are too many cases of cancer among   expatriates,” she explained Wednesday.

She herself lost first her husband, then her father and mother because of   cancer over a period of 10 years after having returned to France. Areva told   her that they were not responsible for her father’s illness and death from   lung cancer linked to exposure to radon, as he was insured for this illness   by the Gabonese social security system. Moreover she has had no access to   medical records. Under these circumstances, “it’s easy for Areva to say that   there was no occupational disease involved,” she sadly stated.

Sustainable development at the heart of Areva’s strategy”

On 16 March, anticipating the media hype prepared by the associations, Areva   announced its wish to create “health-watch programs on its mining sites”. “A   positive breakthrough that we should respond to with all the necessary   precautions,” stated Sherpa’s vice-president. As for Almoustapha Alhacen: “I   must admit that I don’t trust them as they are experts in publicity”, he   explained looking rather embarrassed.

In the press release announcing the proposal, Areva assured that they put   “sustainable development at the heart of their strategy”, and also   contributes to “having an answer to the important issues of the 21st Century:   the preservation of the planet and accountability to future generations.”

Sherpa, which already pressured Total into compensating Burmese workers, has   warned that they have at their disposal enough elements to be able to   initiate “one or several long and complex civil procedures” in France.

AFX News Limited:  Source :

Anti-Areva protests in Niger supported by several thousand people – AFP
09.10.07, 3:44 AM ET
PARIS (Thomson Financial) – Several thousand people took part in a   demonstration in Nigerian capital Niamey on Saturday, calling for the   departure of French nuclear energy group Areva from the country and also   opposing a claim by Libya to part of the country’s territory, according to an   Agence France-Presse journalist.
The demonstrators, who acted with government approval, marched through the   city and held a meeting in front of the parliament building.
For the past 40 years, Areva (other-otc: ARVCF.PK – news – people ) has been   operating an open-cast uranium mine in Arlit, northern Niger, and an underground   one nearby. Areva obtained 43 pct of its uranium supply from Niger last year,   according to France’s Nuclear Energy Agency.
Niger, rated the poorest country in the world, is the third-largest producer   of uranium with a 9 pct global market share.
MP Sannoussi Jackou told the meeting the protest was against French   state-controlled Areva rather than the country or the government. The company   has extracted 100,000 tonnes of uranium without Niger getting the benefit, he   said.
The protest against Libya was in relation to a claim of ownership of part of   the Mangueni plateau, where oil prospecting is taking place.
Areva investment certificates fell 6.2 pct to 680 eur on Friday after plans   for the demonstration were unveiled, but an analyst with a French bank said   the key factor in the drop was an announcement by the chairman of Atomic   Energy of Canada Ltd that his company will target the Indian market.
Other reasons for the decline were a fall in the price of aluminium, the   making of which requires heavy use of electricity, and the previously   revealed delays in the construction by Areva of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power   plant in Finland, the analyst said.

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