Reopening of a Uranium Mine in the Grand Canyon

 

Written by Daniel Jimenez

        Canyon Mine located in the Grand Canyon, which lies within Arizona is a possible uranium site that was proposed and is in the process of trying to get built. The injustice stems from the fact that this site is located nearby a local tribe, the Havasupai tribe, which is affected negatively by the mine and will even be more so negatively affected if the mine gets renovated into a uranium mine. [1] Currently the mine still has effects on the people because it still has leakages of natural into the water supply. The Havasupai tribe which consists of about 775 Native Americans, are fighting day and night to prevent more injustice rising from this site. [2] Due to their socioeconomic status and positions, it is hard for them to get anywhere politically. The Obama administration put out a ban in 2012 against new uranium mines being built. However, due to the fact that this mine was established in the 1980’s, it was grandfathered in through this loophole. 

VILLAGE_OF_SUPAI_-_PART_OF_THE_GRAND_CANYON_NATIONAL_PARK_-_NARA_-_544358

        The biggest issue with the continuation and renovation of this mine will be the constant fear and worrying of possible leaks and contamination of the only water supply for the village and tribe members. [3] Their water supply sits dangerously close to the mine site, and when drilling or mining a substance like uranium, the effects can be catastrophic, not only for the villagers but also for the people working in these conditions. Another issue with sites like this is the cleanup of them once they go out of business. Many sites are not cleaned up properly or taken care of properly once they stop operating. [4]  The open shafts and mines left behind are immediate and obvious dangers to those who travel in them and can easily be hurt by falling debris. These same people can also be injured or hurt by the materials within the mines or shafts themselves. For example, walking into a uranium mine is obviously not the best move if you want to avoid a life of cancer and radiation. But the thing is, is that without proper cleaning or deconstruction of these type of sites and everything they leave behind, people who surround the area will always be in danger. People aren’t the only ones in danger either, animals are just as susceptible or even more so, to walk into a mine like this and instantly obtain the negative effects that would come from a uranium mine. I believe the reasons for the injustice going on at this site can relate to certain theories that have been created for instances like this. The Sacrifice Zone Theory and the Resource Curse theory.

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         The Sacrifice Zone theory hits this place hard because because since this mine was already built, it is already ‘lost’ or ‘used’ to the point where it doesn’t matter what happens there anymore and that it is ‘ok’ to just keep building there and hurting the environment. The Resource Curse theory affects this specific area because it has an abundance of a mineral  – in this case uranium –  that’s important to people either for economic or social purposes, and now this area is getting stripped of that uranium which continuously which affects the people who live in that area, affects the actual environmental around the resource, and worst of all, the only people who see the benefits of this resource are the ones taking advantage of it and selling it or using it for their own personal gain. For this particular site, I would say they are more victims of the Sacrifice Zone theory because since there was already a mine established there in the 1980’s, all the new laws and regulations which ban uranium mines and other types of dangerous mines do not apply to Canyon Mine. This makes this mine susceptible to companies who want to continue making a profit off of things like Uranium.

       Without the proper assistance, Havasupai villagers and members can be in for a lot of trouble. It certainly is challenging for local people to fight companies off when they don’t have the political or financial resources like these big companies do, which is why it is important to spread the word about injustices just like Canyon Mine. 


REFERENCES

[1]Walters, J. (2017, July 17). In the Grand Canyon, uranium mining threatens a tribe’s survival. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/ grand-canyon-uranium-mining-havasupai-tribe-water-source

[2]Uranium Mining. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/ uranium

[3]Clark, R. (16, November 15). Grand Canyon Uranium Mine Set to Re-Open. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/blog/grand-canyon-uranium-mine- set-re-open

[4]Walters, J

 

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Nchanga Copper Mine, Zambia

Zambia is Africa’s largest producer of copper and is the 8th largest copper producer worldwide[1]. The Nchanga Copper Mine, is located in the copperbelt region of Zambia near the town of Chingola. The rural residents of Chingola have experienced a disproportionate level of costs from the Nchanga Copper mine with little access to the wealth created by the mine. Marginalized as citizens of Zambia, as well as by being poor and rural, those living near the Nchanga Copper Mine are victims of environmental injustice.

 

‘Smelter plant at the Nchanga copper mine’ (Waldo Swiegers 2016) 

 


Nchanga Mine Contexts

Energy Contexts

Copper is an essential material for the energy industry, especially the electricity industry. Copper mediates how people consume energy. The generation of electricity and its transport is largely reliant on the use of copper[2]. As an important site of copper production in Zambia, the Nchanga Copper Mine is a participant in this energy system influenced by and economic and political decisions on international scales.

Political and Economic Context

From its independence in 1964, Zambia’s economy has been deeply intertwined with the fortune of the mining sector. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, copper mining accounted for more than 80% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, over 50% of government revenue and at least 20% of total formal sector employment [3].

Copper prices are highly variable. Zambia’s reliance on a natural resource like copper made it prone to ‘Dutch disease[4]. Copper prices dropped in the 1970’s and with a pattern seen in other countries dependent on natural resources (Netherlands Oil 1960s, Oil boom in Nigeria and other post-colonial African states in the 1990s) its economy tumbled.

Economic crisis begot political and institutional changes in Zambia [5]. As a political, economic, and cultural force mining maintained a privileged position. Beginning in the 1990’s Zambian mines were privatized and sold, leading to the transnational company ownership seen today [6].

 

Miner walking through Nchanga copper mine (Waldo Swiegers 2016)

 


Environmental Injustices

Winners: Vedanta Resources

Wealth Generation

The Nchanga Copper Mine is owned by the Konkola Copper Mines Company (KCM) which is held by natural resource giant Vedanta Resources[7]. KCM is one of the most productive and successful mining enterprises in Zambia[8].

//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?3rIKonkola Copper Mine Performance[9]

Losers: The Local Community

Wealth 

Copper production has generated great wealth for Vedanta Resources and KCM. But the wealth and benefits generated from copper mining have not been distributed to local residents. 34.3% of residents near the Nchanga Copper Mine live in poverty and 18.3% of the population is considered extremely poor[10].

The wealth of the copper mines clearly does not translate into increased revenue and development potential for either the Zambian state or the local community [11].//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?Psi

Vedanta Resources Salary[12] [13]

Environment 

The Kafue River is an important source of water for the communities around the Nchanga Mine. The Nchanga Copper Mine was identified as one of the most significant contributors to pollution in the Kafue River[14]Studies have shown that there are elevated levels of sulfuric acid and other toxic chemicals in the river[16]. The result of the pollution in the river has led to an environmental and health crisis in surrounding areas. Residents have reported becoming ill from drinking and using the polluted waters.

//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?FMrPollution Statement[15]

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‘Farmer Langsu Mumbelunga in his polluted field near the Mushishima stream, Zambia’ (John Vidal 2015)

Analysis [How Did This Happen?]

  1. Dependence on Copper
  2. Colonial History
  3. Creation of Local Vulnerabilities

1.Dependence on Copper (Why Use Copper?)

The copper from the Nchanga mine is primarily used to produce electrical wiring, essential for the electrical industry[17]. It seems almost inevitable that a place with high-grade copper would become a site for a mine. But why do we use copper? Why is copper so essential for the energy industry, why not another mineral?

While copper seems like the inevitable choice for wiring today, other minerals are more efficient and other minerals are cheaper though less efficient[18]. Copper’s adoption as the main component of electrical wiring has to do with its favorable conductivity, but also the social, cultural, economic, and political factors separate from its material reality. The concept of technological momentum implies that copper has become ingrained in technology but also culture and society making it hard to see other possible choices for electricity systems [19].

It’s too simple to say that if copper were not used for wiring there would be no environmental justice issues in the community of Chingola. However, the technological momentum has helped create and to sustain the environmental injustices occurring near the Nchanga mine.

2. Colonial History (Why Zambia for Copper Mining?)

Historical political and economic processes, such as colonialism and resource extraction in Zambia, established economic, political, and most importantly cultural legacies cementing mining as the backbone of Zambia. A systematic unevenness of economic and social development occurred as Zambian material wealth was turned into infrastructure and social wealth for the English [20].

By the time of Zambia’s independence in 1964, an established culture of extractive space was entrenched throughout the country. Mining infrastructure and extraction existed physically within the country as well as the cultural branding that the source of wealth in Zambia was its resources (copper), contributing to the current reliance on mining and production of environmental injustices.

3. Creation of Local Vulnerabilities

The privatization of the copper mines, including the Nchanga copper mine, was a vulnerability multiplier for rural households. The state owned mining company ZCCM in the past had provided almost everything that held society together in the copperbelt and Chingola: jobs, healthcare, schools, housing, and other social services [21]. When the mines were privatized and eventually sold, the responsibility for these social services fell upon a country with high corruption and poor policy effectiveness[22].

The push from national political and economic pressure as well as international pressure from organizations like the WorldBank and the IMF to liberalize the economy wiped out the safety net for the residents of Chingola. The residents of Chingola have been left with a degraded environment, no social safety net, and an environmental injustice.


Conclusion

The Nchanga Copper Mine produces copper not because it is necessarily the best place to do so but because of a historical association of the country as a source of material wealth and the political and economic decisions of the Zambian government. Similar to the aspects of copper production at Nchanga Copper Mine, the environmental justice issue of contaminated water for rural populations is not a given reality of the mine or the mining process itself.

When analyzed geographically the vulnerabilities of the rural population and the creation of environmental injustice are produced by the sociotechnical adoption of copper for energy systems and the political economical decisions of Zambia and transnational companies.

References

 

[1] Zambia Development Agency. (n.d.). Mining Sector. Retrieved on March 29, 2016, from http://www.zda.org.zm/?q=content/mining-sector.

[2] Copper Development Association Inc. (n.d.). Copper Wire Systems. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from http://www.copper.org/applications/electrical/building/wire_systems.html.

[3] Simutanyi, N. (2008). Copper Mining in Zambia The developmental legacy of privatisation (Publication No. 165). Brooklyn Square, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies. Retrieved on March 28, 2016, from https://www.issafrica.org/uploads/Paper165.pdf

[4] Ebrahimzadeh, C. (2012, March 28). Finance & Development. Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/basics/dutch.htm

[5] Chileshe, M. (2015). Economic shocks, poverty and household food insecurity in urban Zambia: An ethnographic account of Chingola (Unpublished master’s thesis). Thesis / Dissertation ETD: 63.

[6] Chileshe (2015).

[7] Konkola Copper Mines Plc (n.d.). Company Overview Konkola Copper Mines Plc. Retrieved onMarch 4, 2016 from http://kcm.co.zm/corporate-profile/company overview/#sthash.pH7VWM5T.dpuf.

[8] Vedanta. (2015).Vedanta Annual Report and Accounts 2014. Retrieved on April 21, 2016 from http://www.vedantaresources.com/media/177388/22883_vedanta_ar2015_final.pdf

[9] Vedanta. (2015).

[10] United Nations Development Programme. (2013). Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Provincial Profile Copperbelt Province (Rep.). Retrieved March 3, 2016 from http://www.zm.one.un.org/download/file/fid/129

[11] Dymond, A. (2007). Undermining development? Copper mining in Zambia.London: Action for Southern Africa: 1-28. Retrieved on March from http://www.actsa.org/Pictures/…/Undermining%20development%20report.pdf

[12] Dymond (2007).

[13] Vedanta Resources Salary. (2016, March 22). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Vedanta-Resources-Salaries-E35258.htm

[14] Lindahl, J. (2014). Environmental impacts of mining in Zambia. Towards better environmental management and sustainable exploitation of mineral resources. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from http://resource.sgu.se/produkter/sgurapp/s1422-rapport.pdf.

[15] Vidal, J. (2015). Zambian villagers take mining giant Vedanta to court in UK over toxic leaks. The Guardian. Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/aug/01/vedanta-zambia-copper-mining-toxic-leaks.

[16] Lindahl, J. (2014). Environmental impacts of mining in Zambia. Towards better environmental management and sustainable exploitation of mineral resources. Retrieved March 02, 2016, from http://resource.sgu.se/produkter/sgurapp/s1422-rapport.pdf.

[17] Konkola Copper Mines Plc (n.d.)

[18] Edison Tech Center. (n.d.). Wires. Retrieved on March 01, 2016, from http://www.edisontechcenter.org/wires.html.

[19] Nye, D.E. (2001). Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies. The MIT Press: ‘Cambridge, MA.

[20] Kabemba, C. (2014, March 2). Undermining Africa’s wealth. Retrieved from http://www.osisa.org/economic-justice/blog/undermining-africas-wealth.

[21] Chileshe (2015).

[22] Thurlow, J., and Wobst, P. (n.d.). The Road to Pro-Poor Growth in Zambia: Past Lessons and Future Challenges [Rep]. In International Food Policy Research Institute. Retrieved on March 28, 2016 from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPGI/Resources/342674-    1115051237044/oppgzambia11.pdf.

 

 

PM2.5 Non-Attainment Area: Fairbanks North Star Borough, AK

In interior Alaska, residents and officials of the Fairbanks North Star Borough (the FNSB) are dealing with a contentious topic – how to have access to affordable energy while still maintaining good public health.  High costs of living in the FNSB[1] have caused residents to use wood stoves as a cheap way to heat their homes as an alternative to home heating oil.[2]

Continue reading “PM2.5 Non-Attainment Area: Fairbanks North Star Borough, AK”

The Embodied Implications of Your iPhone

One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California is the headquarters of one of the most famous companies in the world. Everyone has heard of Apple. If you don’t own an Apple product, you have probably read about the praise Apple receives for it’s innovate phones, computers, operating systems and music services. Apple products are everywhere, and it was estimated that in 2014, roughly 25% of adults in America owned an iPhone[1]. Apple recently reached a historically high valuation of $670 billion[2]. However, there is a story behind Apple that is rarely told. This project aims to tell the stories of the people who are behind our phones. I examine where iPhone materials come from, and who is actually building the iPhone.

Continue reading “The Embodied Implications of Your iPhone”

Electrical Energy Poverty in Cape Town, South Africa

by Meg Ryan, Colgate University, 2016

South Africa is a country which has been the site of political, social, and environmental contention resulting from nearly a half a century of being under Apartheid regime. In recent years, South Africa has corrected for many of their political and social disparities; however, a major environmental injustice which still plagues the nation is energy poverty. Energy poverty is the inability for households to provide sufficient energy to their homes for the purposes of heating, cooking, lighting, etc.[1].

Due to the unavailability of electrical energy, much of the Black and Coloured populations  in Cape Town are forced to utilize paraffin and wood as fuel sources which can be dangerous alternatives[2]. The absence of electrical amenities in these townships has greatly exacerbated the low standards of living and has led to the rise of health hazards in an already marginalized population.

Figure 1: Electrical lines and houses in Imizamo Yethu township (Ryan, 2015)

 

 

Colonization, Apartheid, & Environmental Racism

  • The colonization of South Africa, both by the Dutch and the British, forced the indigenous black population into slavery, cultural suppression, and segregation.
  • Apartheid was formed under institutionalized racism where the non-white population was divided by ethnic group and assigned to designated ‘homelands,’ which were often resource deficient areas[3].

During these two regimes, the politics, economy, natural resources, and energy systems were entirely controlled by the white population, and it has historically been the case that municipalities and natural resources have been unequally allotted to white populations[4].
Apartheid ended in 1994, though the legacy of environmental racism and poverty still continue today.

Energy Poverty in South Africa

  • At this point in time, about six million households in South Africa remain without electricity and about 43% of the population is considered energy poor[5].

 

 
Figure 2: Household populations and electricity availability in South Africa (Sustainable Energy Africa, 2014)

As a consequence, many citizens of South Africa are left without a viable electricity source for lighting, cooking, utilizing appliances, and controlling the temperature of their homes. The alternatives that are most popularly used by low-income families include paraffin and wood biomass[6].

  • Approximately 7 million households rely on these forms of energy and the majority of these families are located close to urban areas in townships[7].

Paraffin Use

Paraffin is particularly popular because it is more readily available, portable, and fairly inexpensive with low investment in infrastructure[8].However, paraffin is dangerous for two reasons:

  1. Users are prone to explosive accidents and burns when using the product[9].
    • The paraffin is sold in used containers, often water bottles or containers which can contain gasoline residue as well as other contaminants[10]. These contaminants can drastically change the chemical composition of the paraffin and result in unpredictable behavior[11].
  2. Other particulates, such as dirt and water, do not have the explosive properties of petrol, but they do have the capacity to “(emit) partially burnt, potentially carcinogenic carbon based compounds”[12].
    • The carcinogenic particles contribute to the respiratory diseases and the effects are exacerbated because these stoves are usually kept indoors, with very little air circulation[13].
 
Figure 3: Discarding unsafe paraffin stoves in Johannesburg, South Africa (Henderson, 2015)

Wood Burning

Wood burning contributes to indoor air pollution which can contain carbon monoxide, benzene, and other contaminant; these particulates are even more abundant if the wood is only partially combusted [14].
In areas with poor indoor air circulation, this can be especially harmful to health, as it can cause lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases [15].

  • Globally, indoor air pollution from combusting solid biomass contributes to nearly 2 million deaths annually[16].
 
Figure 4: Cooking  over burning wood in Langa Township located outside of Cape Town (Ryan, 2015)

Insufficient Electricity Infrastructure

The Black and Coloured communities living in impoverished townships are receiving little to no access to Cape Town’s electric grid[17].

  • A majority of the citizens living in informal settlements are forced to siphon their electricity illegally because of the lack of assistance by the government[18].
  • Townships which do have access to electricity “experience limited technical and human resource capacity” which makes it difficult to rely on the energy source[19].

The women and children living in the townships have higher levels of risk as they traditionally spend more time at home and have higher exposure to the paraffin and wood burning hazards[20].

 
Figure 5: Illegal siphoning off of the electricity grid in Cape Town (Isaacs, 2016)

Analysis

  • To understand the root causes of Cape Town’s energy impoverishment, we can look to Smith’s theory of uneven development which suggests that inequalities are not simply a byproduct of neglect, but rather that disadvantaged areas are actively produced through factors like colonialism and capitalism[21].

South Africa’s colonial past is a major contributor to the current uneven development, where the marginalized communities continue to lack accessible municipalities such as electricity.

 

  •  Mohai et al. references disproportionate impact where economic, sociopolitical, and racial factors perpetuate inequalities; it is the issue of race that closely contributes to Cape Town’s issues with energy poverty[22].

Both colonialism and Apartheid were systems which were built upon racist principles, and the consequential inequalities in wealth between white and black populations directly stems from the biased economic practices enforced by the white government. Therefore the black populations are stuck in poverty cycle where they continue to receive a disproportionate amount of the environmental and economic costs.

 

  • Harrison and Popke discuss the causes and effects of energy poverty and how it stems from a geographical assemblage of networked infrastructures which distribute goods unequally[23].

The lack of established infrastructure to supply the entire city of Cape Town has led to what Harrison and Popke call splintering urbanism where networked infrastructures bypass certain groups[24]. The division of resources between the townships and the wealthier center of the city is a clear example of this phenomenon as well as a clear example of the devaluing of certain identities.

 

  • Harrison and Popke discuss energy poverty with regard to home materiality, explaining that lower-quality houses often are poorly insulated which increases the amount of fuel needed to heat the home[25]. This inefficiency ends up costing the household more for fuel and perpetuates the energy poverty cycle.

In the townships of Cape Town because many of the homes townships are minimalist shacks made of scrap metal[26]. Therefore, due to the fact that cheap building materials are the least energy efficient, low-wage families will then more readily fall into energy poverty.

Township houses are often poorly insulated, sometimes with no ceilings, and also have poor air circulation with no chimney[27]. The lack of quality air circulation in the houses then provides another threat when alternative fuels such as paraffin and biomass are used.

 
Figure 6: Poorly insulated home infrastructure in Imizamo Yethu township outside of Cape Town (Ryan, 2015)

What Needs to Change?

Cape Town’s contemporary and historical challenges regarding politics, the economy, the environment, and social networks, all contribute to the perpetuation of energy poverty within the Black and Coloured township communities. In order to lessen the effects of energy poverty in Cape Town, many of these major sources of inequality need to change.

  • The wealth disparity between whites and blacks needs to be bridged so that the effects of poverty and resource deficiency are not disproportionately affecting an already marginalized community.
  • Electrical infrastructure needs to expand to include impoverished areas and supply reliable amounts of energy to the township localities.
  • Safer alternative fuels need to be easily accessible to communities that are not yet connected to the electrical grid; also home materiality needs to increase in quality.

The institutionalized nature of the inequalities in Cape Town makes the issue of energy poverty especially difficult to conquer. However, small scale changes can begin to lessen the impact of electrical energy poverty in these communities.

References

[1]Harrison, C. and Popke, J. 2011. ‘Because you got to have heat’: The networked assemblage of energy poverty in Eastern North Carolina. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(4): 949-961

[2]Sustainable Energy Africa. (2014). ‘Tackling Urban Energy Poverty in South Africa’. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available http://www.sustainable.org.za/uploads/files/file72.pdf. 1- 12.

[3]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[4]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[5]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[6]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[7]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[8]Truran, G. (2009). ‘Household energy poverty and paraffin consumption in South Africa”. Paraffin Safety Association. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available http://www.hedon.info/docs/BP56_Truran.pdf.: 1-6

[9]Truran (2009)

[10]Truran (2009)

[11]Truran (2009)

[12]Truran (2009)

[13]Truran (2009)

[14]Duflo, E., Greenstone, M., Hanna, R. (2010). ‘Cooking stoves, indoor air pollution, and respiratory health in India’. J-PAL. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/cooking-stoves-indoor-air-pollution-and-respiratory-health-india

[15]Duflo (2010)

[16]Duflo (2010)

[17]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[18]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[19]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[20]Duflo (2010)

[21]Smith, N. (2000). Uneven development. In: Johnston, R.J., Gregory, D., Pratt, G., and Watts, M. 2000. The Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th edition. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, p. 867-869

[22]Mohai, P., Pellow, D., and Roberts, J.T. (2009). Environmental justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34: 405-430.

[23]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[24]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[25]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[26]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[27]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)