Botswana's government has approved an environmental impact assessment of its first uranium mine. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on 6 July that it is working with Botswana, which is preparing to license the planned uranium mine near Serule village, around 350 kilometres north of the capital Gaborone. IAEA has helped Botswana's Radiation Protection Inspectorate set up an environmental laboratory, fitted with gamma and alpha spectrometry systems as well as other equipment and materials required for radioactivity monitoring, to help define baseline levels for background radiation ahead of licensing.
IAEA said Botswana did not have the equipment or know-how to carry out environmental radioactivity measurements until 2014. However, through its technical cooperation programme, IAEA recently funded the fellowship of a nuclear chemist and a radioecologist from Botswana, who learned how to operate the equipment and manage the experiments by working alongside experienced scientists in Portugal and South Africa.
"The lab currently analyses around five samples per week," IAEA said. "Most of these have shown radioactivity levels that were in line with normal background levels that cause no harm to people or the environment." A few samples from the country's Central District, near where uranium mining is planned, have shown slightly higher background levels. The reason for these readings is not known and more studies are needed before uranium mining can start.