|Title||Uranium: a poisoned legacy|
|Date released (year)||2009|
|Production company||Nomades TV|
|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 Afrik.com
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 : www.afrik.com/article11482.htm
Anti-Areva protests in Niger supported by several thousand people – AFP
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