A court in Namibia is hearing an appeal by the local branch of Russia's state-owned atomic energy agency, Rosatom, which is seeking water permits needed for uranium mining.
The government of Namibia, the world’s second-biggest producer of the nuclear fuel, said last year that a mining company owned by Rosatom had failed to prove its uranium extraction method would not cause pollution.
The Uranium One mining company is asking the court to set aside the decision by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform on the ground that it is contrary to an article of the Namibian constitution that requires administrative bodies to act fairly and reasonably.
The company said it was not given an opportunity to prove that its method of uranium extraction would not contaminate the underground water that farmers in the area rely on for their livelihoods.
Riaan Van Rooyen, Uranium One’s Namibian spokesperson, said the company "has launched review proceedings in the High Court of Namibia in terms of which it seeks to assail the decision taken by minister of agriculture, water and land reform in respect of an application for drilling permits submitted by Uranium One. As the case is currently sub judice [under judicial consideration], Uranium One will refrain from further commenting in respect to pending litigation.”
Calle Schlettwein, the minister of agriculture, water and land reform, told VOA in an earlier interview that Uranium One must present scientific data that show no contamination of underground water will take place if the company is granted permits to continue with uranium exploration.
“It is not anything against the company or investment," Schlettwein said. "It is the principle that we have to look at that guards against the possible contamination of a very important renewable resource.”
Schlettwein’s decision to not grant Rosatom’s Namibian subsidiary a water permit is supported by various local farmers, who are listed in an affidavit in the court case.
One of those farmers, Goddy Riruako, who is also a community activist, lamented what he termed extractive industries that come to Namibia with the promise of spearheading development.
He said the community cannot seek development at the expense of the long-term effects that pollution may have.
“Now, who says the method is clean and does not contaminate the underground water?" he asked. "No one knows what happens underground, and anything that you put into water that others drink or that we drink will have a detrimental effect on our health and the health of our children and generations to come.”
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform is listed among 39 other respondents in the affidavit.
Scientists say the global demand for energy is likely to increase by 40% in the next 17 years, and countries like Russia are looking to Africa to meet growing energy needs.