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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Niger probes uranium health scare
Richard Hamilton
BBC News

Nomads in Niger
Even low radiation levels can cause diseases in the local population
Niger's government is investigating reports that people living near a uranium mine may have been exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity.

Local environmental groups say people near Arlit are suffering from diseases as a result of poor safety measures.

French independent nuclear watchdog CRIIRAD said not enough had been done to seal off radioactive scrap metal.

Cogema, the company that has been mining there for 30 years, says it has improved safety standards since 2003.

Uranium mining in Niger rose to prominence amid claims by US intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger.

Gap

Although mining near the northern town of Arlit has been going on for the last three decades, it is only fairly recently that local environmental pressure groups have drawn attention to a possible link between the extraction of uranium and unexplained diseases.

We want is the company to really reduce the doses to the people immediately
CRIIRAD's Bruno Chareyron

In 2003, a team from CRIIRAD visited Arlit and concluded that not enough had been done to seal off radioactive scrap metal, or to prevent the spread of radioactive dust and the contamination of water supplies.

Bruno Chareyron, who was part of that inspection team, says even low levels of radiation could cause diseases such as cancer in the local population.

"These doses can really increase the risk of cancer and other diseases because radioactive metals can be incorporated in the bodies of people through the water they drink or the air they breathe," he told the BBC.

"So what we want is the company to really reduce the doses to the people immediately."

A commission from the government of Niger is meeting some of the local environmental groups to discuss their concerns.

Cogema says it respects international regulations concerning radiation and that it has improved safety standards since the inspections in 2003.

However, the nuclear watchdog says there is a huge gap between what the company says officially about protecting people and the reality on the ground.




SEE ALSO:
Niger upset by uranium slur
14 Jul 03 |  Africa


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