Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2015
A fire erupted in a uranium processing building of the Rio Tinto-owned Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia, the company said in a February 12 statement. The cause of the fire and possible damage to equipment was under investigation, Rio Tinto said.
The fire broke out in the Final Product Recovery (FPR) building where barrels are filled with processed uranium called “yellow cake.” The Chinese news service Xinhua reported February 12 that 1,000 workers had been evacuated and that a member of the fire brigade reportedly said, “It [the fire] was incredibly hot, it was bad.”
The British-Australian giant Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies, owns 69 percent of the mine, which is near the town of Arandis, 40 miles from the coastal city of Swakopmund.
Although Rio Tinto said mining operations in areas not affected by the blaze “continued as normal and there were no injuries,” a local paper reported February13 that some workers and members of the Swakopmund fire brigade were tested for radiation exposure. The German newspaper Allemeine Zeitung reported that fire fighters had to undergo urine tests and hand over their protective clothing to Rio Tinto officials.
Rio Tinto said February 13 that “affected employees were evacuated and the fire was extinguished”—after two hours.
A worker who declined to give his name told Xinhua, “The fire happened in a sudden and spread quickly within the plant…. Our only worry now is the possibility of a radiation leakage as this is the final plant where we pack uranium.”
The mine’s spokesperson Botha Ellis told Xinhua, “We are aware of such a possibility, but it is too early to comment on it.…” Adam Hartman, reporting in The Namibian February 13, said, “Fears of radiation exposure were raised by people as far as Swakopmund, but attempts to get further comments from the mine regarding the alleged radiation screening of workers, and the possibility of mine closure for an extended period due to radiation fears, were unsuccessful.”
—Mining Weekly, Feb. 13; Sapa, Feb. 13; The Namibian, Feb. 13; Xinhua, Feb. 12, 2015