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Radioactive Waste Spills Into River System

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems
29 January 2010

DUE to heavy rainfall in the past few weeks, acid mine drainage is “thundering” into the Witwatersrand Western Basin, causing it to spill over, carrying radioactive waste into the Tweelopiespruit and the Crocodile River system, which flows into the already polluted Hartbeespoort Dam, says water activist Dr Anthony Turton.

Hartbeespoort Dam. Photo by Michael McCloskey

The western basin is one of a series of underground dolomitic cavities that, when full, can decant or spill out above ground into the surface river system. Underground mining activities have polluted this water and despite the best efforts of some miners, the level of this water has been slowly rising.

Turton said yesterday that the “long- awaited and feared decant of acid mine water into the western basin” would have a “massive” effect on agriculture because “the high salt load and heavy metals will render the land unusable”.

Environmental activist Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said a government task team had been set up to handle the crisis, headed by Michael Oberholzer of the Council for Geoscience.

“The disheartening thing is we alerted the government to the crisis as far back as 2006 but nothing was done,” Liefferink said. “When I took a team of local and international journalists to visit the site yesterday, water was pouring out of the lowest level of old mine shafts.

“The damage is now irreversible and the water is flowing underground uncontrolled into the Wonderfontein and Tweelopie spruits and the Crocodile River. If by tomorrow the government does not take action on the matter, we will be taking the government to court.”

Liefferink said mines were struggling to pump and treat water far in excess of what they are required to do. She said Rand Uranium was doing its best to pump water into the Robinson Dam.

“However, even if we dilute the acid mine drainage water with treated water, it just converts back to acid water. The pH level of the water we have tested ranges between 2,6 and 3,2, which is nothing short of an environmental disaster.”

Turton said residents relying on Rand Water had nothing to fear at the moment. “Their water is drawn from the pristine Lesotho Highlands Water supply as well as from the Tugela River system.”

Source: Business Day

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