The Paladin (Africa) Limited company has finally started disposing its treated dam water from Kayelekera uranium mine near Karonga in the northern part of Malawi into the local Sere – North Rukuru river system which drains its waters into Lake Malawi.
Paladin Africa Managing Director in Malawi, Greg Walker, confirmed to Nyasa Times that the company, indeed, started releasing the treated water into the river system on 12th April, after providing 48 hours’ notice to the Government of Malawi (GoM) as required.
An eight person government team, representing Water Resources Department (WRD) and Environmental Affairs Department (EAD), travelled to Kayelekera to be present when the discharge process commenced. The District Commissioner’s Office was also informed, as was the local community leadership.
Walker said the uranium miner is treating the waste water to prevent any hazards to people before releasing it into Sere River and that the process is proceeding smoothly and without incident.
He said government, through WRD and EAD, was monitoring the treatment process and that it is satisfied the waste water can be safely discharged into the river.
”We submitted an application (to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development) to discharge surplus runoff water into the river system in July 2014.
The government’s National Water Resources Management and Development Committee met in September 2014 and recommended approval of the application. The Minister for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development approved the 12-month licence in October last year.
The licence sets stringent discharge conditions, consistent with international guidelines including allowing for an average monthly concentration of uranium in the treated water discharge of less than 0.03mg/litre, which meets the World Health Organisation (WHO) drinking water guideline.
Walker said that, as a result of these stringent conditions, the treated water represented no harm to people drawing water for domestic purposes from the river system downstream from KM, or to the environment. He said the Company was testing the water every six hours, with water samples being analyzed at its own laboratory at Kayelekera. Samples were also sent to an independent certified laboratory in South Africa for check testing, while government officials were conducting their own sampling and monitoring programme.
The company said that this action was necessary to deal with rainfall runoff water captured at Kayelekera which previously was recycled and used in the processing of uranium ore. Paladin suspended production at Kayelekera last May and is maintaining the plant on “care and maintenance” pending a restart when the price of uranium improves to a level where Kayelekera can produce profitably. The Company said it was necessary to have a controlled release of treated water in order to avoid any possibility of an unplanned discharge of water from the storage ponds at Kayelekera if the ponds should fill and overflow. The company has modified a section of the processing plant at KM to enable it to treat water to remove contaminants prior to release.
Walker added that the treated water is diluted with river water before being discharged into the river system. “To put things into perspective, we are adding 0.09 per cent to the average flow of water in the Sere-North Rukuru River, that’s just nine litres of treated water for every 10,000 litres of water already flowing down the river system.
“Government experts have thoroughly checked out our process and the safeguards put in place. They are satisfied that the process is quite safe, otherwise they would not have allowed us to proceed,” he said.
“The application was assessed by WRD and the technical committee with a recommendation made to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Mines,” explained Walker.
The approval recommendation was made to the Ministry is Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and the licence was issued by the Minister for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. Because it has to do with water, it does not directly involve the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, although that Ministry was represented on the government delegation that went to Site late last year. Monitoring is being carried out by WRD and EAD.
Chairperson for the Natural Resource Justice Link Network Kossam Munthali said “we are so surprised that government and Paladin Africa have not respected our petition which we handled over in November. Our stand remains the same that we are not in support of it whether treated or not treated.”
Paramount Chief Kyungu denied the allegation that he was present when Paladin Africa was briefing government officials that they will start draining the waters.
“I am not aware of the development, so as of now I don’t know anything on the issue because my stand remain that am not in support of the idea,” said Kyungu.
Sere River flows into North Rukuru River, then into Lake Malawi.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :