Enough talk, time to tackle acid mine drainage

Much faster action was needed to find a solution to acid mine drainage on the Witwatersrand, Rand Uranium CEO John Munro said on Tuesday.

“There’s been a huge amount of work done and a lot of talk and engagement, but we aren’t acting on the ground fast enough,” he told the National Assembly’s water and environmental committee during public hearings on the matter.

He said the seriousness of the problem had been recognised long ago and it had become clear it was a “legacy issue”.

“And spending all our time finding culprits may well be a waste of resources,” Munro said, adding that there were new operators in the area.

“They simply could not have created this problem. As a result, burdening these new companies with the sins of the past is simply unsustainable. These companies will collapse.

“So not only will we not have a solution, we won’t have mining in the Central, Western and Eastern Basins. So we lose a whole lot of jobs and we believe that is not the right way to go,” he said.

Munro said companies which had not created the problem could not be expected to use their shareholders’ or creditors’ money to fix the mess.

“However, these companies have [nevertheless] committed very substantial amounts of resources to solving this problem, and will continue to do that.”

He said a solution had been presented by the mining companies in 2009/10. This however had to be funded by someone, and it would be hard to find the culprits.

Economically viable
“And even if you can find some companies you’ll never hold them accountable because of the complexity of acid mine drainage and how underground mining works, and how the AMD actually is created.”

The industry believed the best solution to the problem was to find an economically viable solution, he said, such as turning AMD into potable water.

“If we do that, we believe an economically viable business can be created. This business can attract external funding and that has been demonstrated by the Western Utilities Corporation (WUC) feasibility work undertaken.

“So, if we can attract independent capital to this problem, make it an attractive business for them, there needn’t be reliance on the state or mining companies.”

Munro said after sewage, AMD was the next best source of potable water.

Unfortunately, the industry had been unsuccessful in presenting its case as to why the WUC solution should be implemented.

Munro warned the situation was urgent and that mines in the Central Basin were being flooded. If they went out of business they could not help find a solution.

“So the industry is under threat from AMD, as is the environment, as are some people. So it’s important that we step up our activities to get this solution in place as soon as possible,” he said.

Earlier, Munro said the acid water, since it first started decanting in the Witwatersrand Western Basin in 2002, remained a serious problem. It was also a growing threat in the Central and Eastern Basins. The industry had proposed the WUC long-term solution to deal with the AMD across all three basins.

The Central Basin was flooding at a rate that suggested it would overflow in about two years.

“What is important is to accept that it will overflow. We have a living, breathing example in the Western Basin. Mining stopped, the water filled up and it overflowed, and the quality of the water was dreadful.”

The same thing would happen in the much larger Central Basin.

On the Eastern Basin, the pumping stations had been removed and it was also being flooded. The Western Basin was by far the smallest of the three and It would produce about 15 megalitres (15-million litres) a day of AMD.

The Central Basin was estimated to be four times that size, and was expected to produce about 60 megalitres of AMD daily, and the Eastern Basin about 100 megalitres, once it overflowed.

Thus, the experience in the Western Basin was the tip of the iceberg, Munro said. – Sapa

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