Slovaks ask government to block uranium mine

Uran, foto: Kgrr, Creative Commons 2.5

In Slovakia, plans by Canadian company Tournigan Gold Corporation to open a urananium mine near the Eastern city of Kosice have met with strong opposition from locals. Almost 16,000 people signed a petition requiring the Ministry of Environment not to authorize the project.

The first attempt to exploit the uranium deposit in Jahodna took place in 1985 when the communist Czechoslovak government was planning to build a nuclear power plant near to Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia. The project did not advance past geological surveys because the communists lacked money for the project. In March 2005 the Canadian company Tournigan Gold Corporation began prospecting the area. In November last year the company applied for permission from the regional mining office to continue prospecting with the prospect of opening a mine. Their application has been put on hold by the Kosice region's environmental agency following protests from two non governmental organizations, Greenpeace and Sosna, which gathered almost 16,000 signatures on a petition asking the Slovak Ministry of Environment to stop the mining project. Stefan Szabo, the head of Sosna which is based in Kosice, explains why they oppose the uranium mine.

"This location is registered as a so called protected bird area and so called Natura 2000 area governed by the EU legislation. Except of that it is a protected area for the reservoir of drinking water for the city of Kosice. It is a part of Kosice city forest which is the second largest such forest in Europe. In addition to this it had been used as a relaxation and sports area for citizens of this city for more than 150 years. An increased level of radioactivity is one of the most common causes for cancer, and you can't avoid this when 1.5 billion tonnes of radioactive material will be excavated."

The eventual mine would create some jobs in a poverty stricken area. How do you respond to those who say that the region needs these jobs and Slovakia who is not very rich in raw materials needs the uranium?

"It is expected that the possible mining activity could create a maximum of 60 jobs in twelve years. Concerning the uranium, as far as I know Slovakia doesn't need it for its internal use and this means that 90 percent of the profist from this mine will go to the Canadian companies and only 10 percent to the Slovak state, and this 10 percent will not be enough even to improve the conditions of destroyed regions."

Tournigan Gold Corporation says that the protest is illogical. Boris Bartalsky the general manager of Tournigan's Slovak daughter company Kremnica Gold explains.

Uranium,  photo: Kgrr,  CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic
"The deposit starts 300m under the surface so we have to dig to 500m so when we think about opening this mine it will be just a small one deep under the surface. It is impossible to think that it will destroy the area near Jahodna. We are not surprised by the protests of Greenpeace because we know the attitude of Greenpeace towards nuclear energy, but we are surprised by what they did there because they broke the safety regulations so we could invite the police to protect our people but also the protesters. Sosna probably doesn't understand the scale and the technology that would be employed in the future, if the mine will open."

Ecologists are afraid that Tournigan will lobby Slovak politicians and put pressure on the Ministry of Environment to give the green light to the project. Last week a spokesperson for the Ministry issued a statement saying that Tournigan has not yet submitted any final and complete documentation and the Ministry's experts will act according to the law. Ecologists plan to submit their petition to the European Commissioner for Environment, Stavros Dimas.