‘Chinese mining uranium without licence’

Zimbabwe has dumped Iran as a partner in the uranium mining project in Kanyemba and has gone into partnership with the Chinese who have set up base in Dande safari area, NewsDay can reveal.

Uranium experts from CNNC Overseas Uranium Holding, a subsidiary of the Chinese uranium giant China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), are reportedly exploring for uranium in the wildlife-infested area in the remote northern part of Zimbabwe largely reserved for big game hunting.

CNNC is a state-owned Chinese corporation specialising in a wide range of nuclear technology industries. It is a major investor and owner of nuclear power stations in China and supplies nuclear power designs, nuclear fuel and nuclear technology equipment internationally.

The Chinese firm has formed a joint venture with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) to exploit uranium in the country.

In an interview, ZMDC chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa on Wednesday confirmed the joint venture agreement with CNNC.

Masimirembwa also told NewsDay the special exploration licence granted to CNNC in 2009 expired last December, hence he was not aware the Chinese were still mining.

“How can that be without our knowledge? It cannot be true,” Masimirembwa queried.

It is understood the Kanyemba deposits hold about 450 000 tonnes of uranium ore or yellow cake.

Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi during an official visit to Teheran last year after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe told ISNA that while “Zimbabwe holds rich resources, the problem we face is lack of budget, finance and required technical equipment to take the very rich resources out and use them”.

Mumbengegwi criticised Western attempts to sanction Iran over its nuclear programme, saying “those making claims on Iran’s enrichment work hold nuclear weapons and hostile nuclear programmes. Any country has the right to use peaceful nuclear energy based on international rules”.

According to a document on the impact of economic sanctions on mining early this year, Masimirembwa listed CNNC as a partner of ZMDC in uranium mining in Kanyemba.

Sources who refused to be named said the Chinese firm had been exploring the nuclear enrichment mineral in the Dande safari area since 2009.

“They had a special grant to explore uranium in the area which expired in December last year after (test) mining for three years,” the source said.

“Without the grant, they are no longer allowed into the safari area by Parks officials and they have resorted to exploring outside the Parks area.”

The source said for over three years the Chinese had been shipping over 3 000 samples to China every month, but Masimirembwa professed ignorance on the matter.

The sources in Dande Valley said the Chinese had been camped at an airstrip close to the safari area where they were “guarded” by armed personnel. They said the Chinese had rehabilitated roads in the safari area to facilitate easy passage of their heavy machinery.

They have, however, not done much to repair the badly damaged road between Angwa business centre and Kanyemba on the border with Zambia.

On Wednesday, Mines deputy minister Gift Chimanikire said he was not aware the Chinese were exploring for uranium in the country, but only got to know of it after the issue was raised in Parliament two weeks ago.

“But I am not surprised, the Chinese can do anything,” Chimanikire said.

Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines chairperson Edward Chindori-Chininga said he learnt of the exploration from other MPs recently, but did not have details. Chindori-Chininga, however, said he was aware Dande had uranium deposits.

Parliament was recently told that most Chinese firms were operating illegally as they were not complying with the country’s regulations.

The Chinese have also been accused of failing to comply with environmental laws.

“No environmental impact assessment was carried out in the Dande area,” said the source.

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