Johannesburg, December 17, 2010 – Greenpeace has today received and verified reports that since December 11th, more than 200,000 litres of radioactive sludge from three cracked waste pools has leaked into the environment at the SOMAIR uranium mine in Niger, operated by French energy company AREVA [1].

Almoustapha Alhacen who carried out an inspection of the spill for NGO Aghir in'Man confirmed to Greenpeace that two hectares have been contaminated by the spill since December 11th. [UPDATE: You can see some pictures of the spill here.]

“This new leakage shows that the bad practices at the AREVA uranium mines in Niger continue to threaten the health and safety of people and the environment”, said Rianne Teule, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa. “In contrast to AREVA’s statements claiming their operations comply with international health, safety and environmental standards, this new information shows that AREVA has not sufficiently acted to protect the Nigerien population”.

In May 2010, a Greenpeace report, “Left in the Dust” [2] revealed dangerous contamination levels in the air, water and soil around the AREVA uranium mines in Niger. The report detailed how the people of the mining towns Arlit and Akokan are surrounded by poisoned air, contaminated soil and polluted water. Greenpeace called for a full independent study around the mines and mining towns in Niger followed by a thorough clean up and decontamination.

We will bring you further updates as we get them.

[1] Uranium mining creates large volumes of radioactive and industrial wastes. Leakage of for example the radioactive tailings into the environment can cause serious contamination of the ground water and local wells. When the local water supply gets contaminated with radioactive and other materials, this poses serious health risks for the local population.

The sludge that remains after removal of the uranium from the ore, known as tailings, contains 85% of the initial radioactivity of the ore. Also the chemical agents used in the leaching process, as well as heavy metals and other contaminants like arsenic, are left behind in the tailings. In the uranium mines in Niger, these mining wastes are stored in huge piles, exposed to the open air.

[2] The Greenpeace report: Left in the dust, AREVA’s radioactive legacy in the desert towns of Niger is available for download in English and French.