Uranium production starts at Rio Tinto’s Rössing mine in Namibia. Throughout the 1970s, Rio Tinto produces a quarter of global uranium. Having signed two contracts with the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 1968 for 7,500 tonnes of processed uranium, the company leads a cartel of mining interests that will service the development of the UK’s nuclear arsenal. Occupied by apartheid South Africa, the Rössing mine is considered “as close as the UK would come to controlling its own uranium supply.”
The mine has a racist and colonial history as Rio Tinto receives the licence to mine in 1970 from the then-Apartheid regime in South Africa, an investor in the mine and occupying Namibia until 1990. When the United Nations prohibits the extraction of natural resources from Namibia, Rio Tinto’s then chairman Val Duncan declares the company is “not prepared to take any notice,” and the British government formally rejects the decree. Rössing becomes an “emblem of colonialism” for the Namibian liberation movement, helping to forge alliances between the international anti-apartheid and nuclear disarmament movements.
Moreover, workers are found to be subjected to slave-like conditions, while black workers also face discrimination and get paid less than white workers. Workers are also exposed to serious health hazards leading to higher rates of cancer amongst other ill health. Additionally, the plant consumes millions of cubic metres of fresh water annually in a region where rainfall totals only about 3 centimetres per year. In 2018, Rio Tinto sells its entire interest in the Rössing mine to China National Uranium Corporation Limited.
The Rössing mine is noticeably absent from Rio Tinto’s own timeline, including its association with colonialism, apartheid, nuclear weapons, abuses of workers’ rights and water depletion.
Martial Mining report by LMN