20 million tonnes of radioactive waste in Niger threatening lives

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Roughly 20 million tonnes of deadly radioactive waste produced over the last four decades is threatening the lives of those in its near vicinity, a nuclear physics engineer has said. The site in Niger, west Africa, which closed nearly two years ago, holds “uncontained waste” that, due to strong winds in the region, could cause “radioactive dust and gas to be dispersed” in the nearby area.

 

Bruno Charon, a nuclear physics engineer at the Criirad laboratory, an environmental protection association that has analysed this waste and is now warning of the dangers for the inhabitants and the environment, said the situation was “completely unacceptable”.

He said: “It’s about 20 million tonnes of radioactive waste produced over 40 years.

“The Nigerien subsidiary of Orano, formerly Areva, has operated a uranium mine in the Sahara for 40 years, notably to supply French nuclear power stations.

“Although the site closed nearly two years ago, the waste is still not contained. Given the strength of the winds in the region, radioactive dust and gas can be dispersed very easily in the environment.

“As this waste is not confined, the contamination has passed into the groundwater. This is completely unacceptable.”

The radioactive waste is produced by Cominak, the national uranium mining company of Niger, and is kept stored in Arlit out in the Sahara.

The Cominak general manager Mahaman Sani Abdoulaye has assured there is no risk of the water in Arlit being contaminated.

He said: “It is drinkable. There is no plume that goes beyond our perimeter. It is well contained, well controlled within our industrial perimeter.”

He claims that there is also no risk of illness for the 600 people who work on the site.

However Almoustapha Alhacen, president of the NGO Aghinr’inman, in Arlit, said sarcastically: “There have never been any occupational illnesses during 50 years of work, whether related to the products used or, even less, to radioactivity.

“None in 50 years. Arlit is a health paradise! If you don’t want to be sick, you can come and settle in Arlit freely. According to Orano, of course, there are no diseases!”

He added that in fact respiratory diseases, as well as kidney and liver conditions, are well-established in the area.

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Mr Alhacen said: “We don’t have the means to prove whether or not they are linked to mining activity.”

The site is 193 square miles and has reserves of more than 174,000 tonnes of uranium after recovery.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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