Claim: A twitter user recently claimed that a mining company stumbled across a large uranium deposit in Enugu and consequently, the federal government seized the licence of the operator.
Verdict: The verdict is false. Investigation shows that aside from the tweet, there was no other confirmation of the incident as calls were placed to the Enugu State government and the Ministry of Mines and Steels Development said they were not aware of such discovery in the state.
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Twitter user with the username @Uchez2 claimed that a mining company accidentally found a huge cache of uranium deposits in Enugu State and upon getting the information, the federal government stopped the company from further usage of its license.
The tweet which has generated over 4, 000 retweets and liked more than 10,000 times has generated mixed reactions on the intention of the government as well as veracity of the information.
A tweep, Dr Olusesan, said the post was a “a radioactive lie!” as there is no uranium in Enugu. “Not even 0.01%U. Unprovoked, y’all spin gigantic lies. Every inch of space on earth with Uranium, including 6 places in Nigeria, are rigorously mapped by the International Atomic Energy Agency and are under strict satellite surveillance.”
Believing on the post, another user, KechAmanii, declared that Nigeria should be “Restructured now. Let each region harness her resources and contribute to the centre. A lot of our resources are illegally used by a few while the larger populace suffers. That uranium will be mined by a few unscrupulous elements like the gold in Zamfara.”
However, another user, Nafisah write: “So many wrong information in this tweet. First, Uranium is not something you randomly discover. Second, when FG gives you license you are allowed to mine only the minerals mentioned in the license. Third, do you know what uranium is?”
Brief on Uranium
According to the United States Department of Energy, Uranium, a chemical compound, is a silver metal whose formation happens in “low concentrations in soil, rock and water.”
In its raw form, it is known as uranium ore and naturally sourced through excavations and digging of open holes in rocks that contain the element. Its occurrence on earth deposits is more than silver and gold with a report on Wikipedia stating it is found “40 times more common than silver and 500 times more common than gold.”
However, the chances of getting it lies on the availability of technology to detect its formation on rock deposits. While containing three isotopes—uranium-238, uranium-235 and uranium-234, the uranium-235 is enriched to produce electricity and other human products.
According to a report by energy education, “Once the uranium is assembled, it can be used in a reactor to produce heat. Once the heat generated is nearly identical to an ordinary coal-fired power plant, the heat is transferred to circulating water which boils to steam either directly (i.e the RBMK reactor) or indirectly (i.e pressurized water reactor). This pressurized steam can then be used to spin a large turbine and generator, supplying electricity for the world’s needs.
Similarly, it stated that it can be used as radioisotopes, which are used in medicine for diagnosis and research, saying about 1 in 2 people in the western world are likely to experience the benefits of nuclear medicine in their lifetime.
It added that the radioisotope is also used to preserve food, kill parasites, and control the ripening of fruits and vegetables. And its devastating use can be to produce weapons when the enrichment of the uranium—235 is above 5 per cent to a 90 per cent enrichment.
Availability of uranium in Nigeria
With more than half of uranium produced in the world from 10 mines, with Niger Republic and Namibia making the list, it has been researched that Nigeria has the potential to use the element to solve its perennial power crises.
A list of mineral resources compiled by Nigeriainfopedia said uranium exists in six states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, and Kano states with the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission in charge to regulate and mine radioactive minerals.
The development programme began in 1976 but the sector started collapsing by 1989 when Total pulled out of its 40 per cent part-ownership of the Nigerian Uranium Mining Company. Subsequently, when Former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, he made moves to restore it but “he left office before an actual take-off. The roadmap he designed had anticipated that Nigeria would generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity from Uranium by 2017.”
Similarly, the present administration in 2016 made attempts to revive the hopes of electricity generation with the government signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Russia for establishment of a multifunctional scientific research nuclear centre in the country.
However, the move was met with hue and cry due to concern of how safe the project would be considering its novelty in the country with the Nigerian Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (NIEEE) noting that the country can’t afford to implement the technology, but the government should look into other alternatives like coal and solar energy.
This was after a declaration by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, agreed that using the process to generate electricity would not pose any security threat.
A Senior Nuclear Security Officer at IAEA, Mr Robert Larsen, made the submission at a National Training Course on Nuclear Security for the Uranium Extraction Industry organized by the federal government.
At the ceremony, a former Minister of Solid Minerals Development and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said “the issue of uranium for power generation was actually canvassed as a vital component in the energy mix equation. So, this training is coming at the right time where capacity to explore, exploit and utilise uranium for power generation and other uses cannot be overemphasised. And apart from the exploration, exploitation and utilisation, the security and health aspect of uranium needs to be taken care of, and that is why we have security delegates here.”
The then Director-General and CEO of the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Agency, Prof. Lawrence Dim, explained that the training was to expose participants to the technicalities in Uranium use for power generation since Nigeria does not have the relevant technology to do so at the moment.
On the safety of the use of the method, he said “Uranium exploration in Nigeria is quite safe. We have not had any cause to find out that there is any high level of radiation or exposure relating to that. The issue is that the uranium we get in our soil is the natural uranium; although it has radioactive material, the concentration is low. So, we don’t have any situation where the level of radiation coming out from it is detected to be harmful.”
Mineral resources in Enugu State
Nigeria is blessed with several natural minerals with each of the 36 states and the FCT having at least one. Enugu State is known to have abundance of coal, reason it’s termed “Coal City State”. The state has other resources like limestone, lead and zinc.
A search keyword of uranium and Enugu was done using Tweet Deck and Google search to verify if the report of the incident was reported by credible media organizations. The search did not yield any result as most of the results generated were regurgitations of the earlier post on twitter with an appearance on a social network forum, Nairaland.
Also, when the S.A Media to the state governor, Louis Amoke, was contacted, he said he was not aware of the incident but advised this reporter to contact the ministry of Mines and Steel Development.
At the ministry, this reporter was told that nothing of such happened as the state was not known to have uranium deposits. Asked if the federal government could revoke the license of a mining company if it mined another mineral it was not licensed to, an affirmative answer was given because it means violation of trust.
There is no available record to suggest that uranium exists in Enugu State. In the same vein, the two bodies that should have been involved in the issue denied knowledge of any such thing.