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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Gold mine campaigner wins award
Stephanie Roth, Goldman Prize
Stephanie Roth worked for the London-based magazine The Ecologist
A 34-year-old ex-journalist has won the Goldman environmental prize for a campaign to try to prevent a gold mine being dug in rural Romania.

A Canadian company is seeking to extract 16,000kg of gold over 16 years, which will result in the relocation of a proportion of the town's population.

Stephanie Roth is one of the six people awarded this year's Goldman Prize for grassroots environmentalism.

The firm behind the Romanian project has defended its plans to the BBC.

Polluted waters

Stephanie Roth, who has both Swiss and French citizenship, is a former journalist for London-based magazine The Ecologist, where she says she frequently found herself covering environmental "injustices".

"There were so many incredible stories," she told the BBC News website. "So one day I packed my bags and ventured out into the world to see if I could be of any use."

Rosia Montana, Goldman Prize
Gold is extracted from the rock using the cyanide leaching technique
One of the places Roth found herself was Romania, where gold is a significant mineral export.

The precious metal is extracted from the rock using the "cyanide leaching" technique - but the process carries risks.

In 2000, Romania suffered Europe's worst ever river pollution accident when millions of litres of cyanide-tainted water spilled from the Baia Mare mine's dam into a nearby river.

Thousands of fish and other organisms were killed and supplies of drinking water were threatened.

But according to Ms Roth, the gold mine at the centre of the disaster was small compared with another proposed for the site of Rosia Montana, nestled in the Apuseni Mountains of West-Central Romania.

"The Baia Mare mine was a two-million-tonne mine, but the Rosia Montana project is going to be a 13-million-tonne mine," Roth explained.

However, a spokesman from the Canadian-based company behind the project, Gabriel Resources, stressed that their methods were more advanced - and safer.

"The cyanide leaching technique has been used in mining for a long time - and it has made enormous progress," said Adrian Dascalu, of Gabriel Resources in Romania.

"The aim is to put in place a project which will prove acceptable for the environment."

Organised campaign

The Romanian government granted rights in 2000 to Gabriel Resources to build a gold and silver mine in the vicinity of the town.

Ms Roth claimed that four mountains would have to be blown up to make way for the mining operations.

"Nine hundred houses, nine churches, 10 cemeteries; these people's homes, their history, their potential future - all of this will go," said Ms Roth. "The mountains will go, the forests will go."

However, Adrian Dascalu disputed Ms Roth's account of the plans.

The historic centre of the town - including 220 houses - would be conserved, he said. Only two churches were within the zone covered by mining operations, he countered.

"We will preserve the historic centre of the village, the spirit of the village will be kept intact," he told the BBC News website. He said the village's inhabitants were overwhelmingly in favour of the mine and had voted in a mayor who supported the plans.

"This is a world-class project. The project will be operational within three years, by which time, Romania will be a member of the EU; so, it has to comply with European regulations.

"When this is up and running, it will be a project that Romanians can be proud of."

Rosia Montana, Goldman Prize
Roth organised protests against mining proposals for the town
Roth says she organised the first large-scale protests in Romania since 1989, when anti-government demonstrators overthrew the Ceausescu regime and the communist party.

Along with the NGO Alburnus Maior, she mobilised local residents and created a coalition of archaeological specialists, academics and clergy to fight the mining proposal.

"I helped with formulating the campaign and bringing it to a wider audience - to kick ass," she said.

According to Ms Roth, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) subsequently withdrew its backing for the project, although Mr Dascalu says the IFC were never involved.

But for Ms Roth, the struggle continues and she plans to pour her $125,000 prize back into the campaign.

"We are going to use the money as a fighting fund," she said. "We have court cases going on and it will be a great boost for the campaign."

Nuclear dumping

Another recipient of the Goldman Prize is Kaisha Atakhanova, a 47-year-old biologist from Kazakhstan.

She has spent the last five years fighting to prevent her government from allowing other countries to dispose of nuclear waste into Kazakhstan - in exchange for money.

If carried through, this plan could have a terrible effect on people's health and the environment in a country which has already been battered by Russia's Cold War nuclear testing.

"It was in 2000 that myself and my colleagues found out that they were going to adopt an act that would allow the commercial import of nuclear waste," she told the BBC News website.

She launched an appeal to the public and waged a three-year "fax attack" on the government.

Her campaign was successful and the government has shelved its plans - for now.

"I do hope my government will be loyal to this decision," Ms Atakhanova said.

"But I don't have any illusions. As long as nuclear fuel and nuclear arms are being developed there will always be waste - and there will always be a dilemma of where to dump."

Ghana's water champion wins award
19 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature
Kazakhstan eyes EU N-waste
21 Nov 02 |  Sci/Tech

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