Social Licensing: The Corner Stone of Sustainable Uranium Mining
1 October 2012 | Social licensing is at the heart of planning and decision making for all uranium mining. It implies open and transparent communication between the operator and communities in the vicinity of uranium mines and processing plants, and the acceptance of these stakeholders of all activities conducted at sites.
An IAEA/TC regional training course on ‘Sustainable Uranium Resources Development’ addressed the essential role of stakeholders in all mining projects. The course was held in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy and Minerals of Tanzania and the Tanzanian Atomic Energy Commission in Dar es Salaam in September 2012. Participants from 16 African countries attended the course.
“There is clearly community concern regarding uranium mining”, said Mr Ally Bondo Samaje, Commissioner of Minerals of Tanzania in opening the meeting. “We need to continue to engage with stakeholders and retain their trust throughout the life-cycle of the mine. This is an essential part of both sound policy and good practices”, commented the Commissioner.
“Many countries in Africa are now engaged in uranium mining or are considering mining projects. Here, the IAEA can support Member States through international expertise and experience in the field”, said Mr Hari Tulsidas, an IAEA Nuclear Technology Specialist and Technical Officer for the IAEA Technical Cooperation Project on ‘Strengthening Regional Capabilities for Uranium Mining, Milling and Regulation of Related Activities’.
Capacity building in uranium science, technology and good mining practices was the primary objective of the training course, including areas such as sound uranium geological science, effective modern exploration, survey and analytical techniques, effective and enforceable measures for protection of health, safety and the environment, and access to the right equipment that is properly calibrated and maintained.
Safety was a major theme of the course. There is still a gap between the scientific facts of radiation protection and public perception. This gap needs to be closed by effective communication and education. Newspapers and the electronic media can play a key part in this.
Policies and Legal and Regulatory Frameworks: When conducted according to IAEA standards and international best practices, uranium mining is a safe and economically productive business. All countries have the duty to establish clear policies, and a coherent and consistent legal and regulatory framework to ensure this beneficial outcome.
Uranium Mining in Sensitive Areas – The Tanzanian Case
The Mkuju River Project is a planned uranium mining site, located in the Selous Game Reserve, the largest Reserve in Tanzania and one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In July 2012, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved a minor boundary change to allow the uranium site to be licensed without the Selous Game Reserve losing its status.
Only two months after this decision, the IAEA training workshop came very timely for the Tanzanian hosts, who are fully committed to capacity building for sustainable mining.
“The site is some 53km away from the nearest villages, and the villagers have welcomed the project for its benefits to the local economy and infrastructure”, explained Mr Edwin A. Ngonyani, Chief Inspector of Mines. “Tanzania is learning from the experience of other countries, such as Australia, in how best to conduct mining in areas of special ecological and cultural sensitivity” Mr Ngonyani added.
The concept of a ’social licence’ is now well understood as the corner stone of any current or future uranium mining project, as reports by the course participants showed.
“Earning and keeping this licence is critically dependent on the safety and quality of the mining operation itself, the tangible and intangible benefits delivered to communities, which are immediately affected, and to other stakeholders, and the ability of the government and regulatory bodies to enact and enforce coherent laws and regulations”, explained Mr Tulsidas.
Mistakes of the past are to be avoided, and lessons learned to be applied, which is where the idea of a "social licence" comes in.
This will give stakeholders the opportunity to engage with both the government and the mining company before, during and after a project in a way that meets local economic, social and cultural needs, and emphasizes transparency and good governance.
“The conclusion is simple”, said Mr Tulsidas. “If a project does not have a social licence, it cannot be called sustainable”.
In the end, the goal is to provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity throughout Africa, one of the essential requirements for supporting the continent’s sustainable development.