Tanzania is expecting major new investments in its mining industry, following the discovery that the country is rich in uranium. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the Tanzanian government faces the serious challenge of ensuring the uranium mined in Tanzania does not pose a threat to global security.
Two western companies - British-based Uranium Resources and Australia's Western Metals - say test results from their recent joint exploratory drilling in Tanzania show evidence of significant uranium deposits in the east African country.
The companies say they need to conduct more field research to be certain. But they say preliminary results are highly encouraging for the mineral, whose global demand is quickly outstripping supply.
If the deposits are found, Tanzania could join Namibia, Niger, and South Africa as an officially recognized uranium producing country.
Tanzania's Deputy Minister of Mining and Minerals William Gereja says he believes uranium could become one of the country's top mineral exports, alongside gold and diamonds. Tanzania is Africa's third largest gold producer, after South Africa and Ghana, and its mining sector contributes about two percent to the country's overall economy.
Gereja says the national goal is to have the mining sector account for 10 percent of Tanzania's Gross Domestic Product by the year 2025.
"This is good news," said Gereja. "Uranium is used for many industrial uses in the world and we expect that uranium in our country, Tanzania, would make us benefit a lot. We expect to raise revenues from this uranium mineral."
Uranium's civilian use is largely as fuel for electricity-generating nuclear power plants. These plants generate about 17 percent of the world's electricity.
Energy experts say global demand for power is growing every year, but there is barely enough uranium to fuel existing plants.
The military uses uranium as a key component in hardening tank armor and to make armor-piercing ammunition. Uranium can also be enriched to make radioactive bombs and nuclear weapons.
In recent years, Tanzania, which like many African countries is struggling to curb widespread corruption, has been a favorite transit point for smugglers.
In 2002, police in Tanzania seized 110 kilograms of uranium in plastic containers, ready to be sold. Among the five people arrested in connection with the case were four Tanzanians, including a government economist.
Three years later, Tanzanian customs officials discovered a huge shipment of uranium being transported from a mine in Congo Kinshasa to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, heightening western fears about the extent of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Tanzania's deputy minister of mining and minerals insists if and when the country begins producing uranium, his ministry will enact necessary laws and establish safeguards to prevent the mineral from falling into the wrong hands.