Zimbabwe dreaming of a nuclear future

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s plans to process its uranium deposits into energy will slash the huge amounts the power-starved country pays to import electricity, Energy Minister Mike Nyambuya said on Monday.

“When we exploit it, we would like to use it for peaceful purposes and reduce

our electricity importation bill,” the minister told Agence France Presse.

President Robert Mugabe announced at the weekend that the cash-strapped country had decided to tap uranium, discovered in the northern Zambezi Valley in the early 1980s, to produce energy.

Mugabe said the uranium would not be used “to make bombs but to generate electricity”.

Zimbabwe has two main power stations — one hydroelectric and the other thermal — but it still imports at least 35% of its needs from neighbours such as South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The country has in recent years experienced serious power shortages, which the national power company Zesa has blamed on a lack of foreign currency to buy spares for generators for its power generation stations.

The opposition however remained sceptical about prospects for processing uranium.

Joel Gabbuza, energy secretary in the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the statements were “wishful thinking”.

“It is very difficult to build a power plant based on uranium. I don’t think we have the capacity to do it. That’s just wishful thinking,” Gabbuza said.

He however expressed fears that Zimbabwe could be used “as conduit of nuclear arms” although he did not provide details.

The head of the geological survey department, Temba Hawadi, said uranium was discovered in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s by a German firm, but that plans to extract the mineral were shelved because uranium prices were low.

Hawadi said three Australian firms, in partnership with local companies, are interested in uranium mining in the northeastern tip of Zimbabwe bordering Zambia and Mozambique.

“The demand for the peaceful use of uranium has gone up in recent years and there are applications that are being processed,” said Hawadi. – Sapa/AFP