Editorial Comment: The Times’ Zim uranium story plain stupid


Gift Chimanikire

The story that Zimbabwe is selling uranium to Iran is not just wrong, it is stupid and The Times of London did nothing to check the story or even work through the logic of the story.For a start, Zimbabwe does not mine uranium. Both the Secretary for Mines and Mining Development, Mr Prince Mupazviriho, and perhaps more importantly in this case, outgoing Deputy Minister Gift Chimanikire, an MDC-T heavyweight, noted that there is no uranium mine.

Iran on the other hand has uranium deposits, the tenth largest in the world at last estimate, has at least two uranium mines of its own, and has never suggested that it will need to import fuel for the nuclear power stations it wants to build.

Suggesting Iran might need trivial imports of uranium is like suggesting Zimbabwe was about to import tobacco.
Zimbabwe probably has some uranium deposits, since it has so many minerals, but whether any of these are viable is unknown at the moment.

There was a flurry of interest a few years ago when world prices suddenly rocketed to over US$100 a kilogram, but nothing has yet really come of this.

Obviously if Zimbabwe could make money mining uranium it would mine it; unfortunately that is not yet the case at the moment.
There would be no need for Zimbabwe to hide any mine, or try and hide the fact that it was mining uranium. There is nothing illegal about mining that heavy metal.

Lots of countries mine it, including three big producers in Africa: Niger, Namibia and South Africa.
But at US$100 a kilogram you need to mine an awful lot at a low price to make it pay. If the price was four times higher it would be cheaper to extract it from sea water, experts suggest.

Most countries in fact have some deposits of uranium, although only a score or so are big international traders in the metal. It is not that rare.
In any case a uranium mine cannot be hidden. Uranium is not mined with picks and shovels, or picked up in lumps from the ground.

Whether it occurs as leached salts in sedimentary beds or as igneous intrusions it needs a big mine.
Even a deep mine, and generally for safety reasons uranium is mined in open cast mines, cannot be hidden, neither can the scores of large lorries needed to shift the overburden and the ore.

And all those tonnes of rock would have to be processed, and a processing plant is also easy to see. The people doing all the work would talk. So even if someone wanted to keep a uranium mine secret, it would be impossible.

If The Times was suspicious that Zimbabwe had a “secret” uranium mine, a day’s search of satellite images, free from Google and other big similar sites, of the suspected area would soon reveal even a small mine, let alone the sort of mine needed for uranium.

And then a simple ground check would provide confirmation or at least identify what sort of mine it was.
We suspect that if Zimbabwe was mining uranium the likes of the CIA would at least be able to produce large glossy colour prints of the mine.

Commercial and social providers of satellite imagery have to downgrade the quality of satellite photographs. You can see what colour a car is, but you cannot tell the make.

The CIA apparently can do that as well. We can all imagine how some countries would react if the CIA had photos of a “secret” Zimbabwean uranium  mine.

But sheer logic shows how stupid the story is. Iran is a producer of uranium and could produce a lot more if it wanted to.
Mines cannot be hidden anywhere in the world, and particularly in a country like Zimbabwe.

It just looks as though someone wants to cause trouble by writing a story without even seeing if it makes sense.

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