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Coal mining ‘risks KZN river system’

  Monday, 22 June 2015
 Tony Carnie (The Mercury)
Coal mining ‘risks KZN river system’

"Plans for a new coal mine and 1 000MW power station near the town of Colenso have raised fears about clouds of toxic air pollution and contamination of the uThukela, the province’s largest river system."

Colenso Power hopes to build a new coal-burning power station close to the old Eskom power station that was shut in the early 1980s. The plan was to feed the power station from a massive new anthracite coal mine about 15km north-east of the town.

The proposed mine, close to the uThukela River, would cover about 4 000 hectares of land used for cattle, game-ranching, eco-tourism and irrigation projects.

Although the proposed 1 000MW Colenso station was smaller than the 4 800MW Kusile and Medupi power stations under construction in Mpumalanga and Limpopo respectively, it was just over half the size of the Koeberg nuclear power station.

An information document published by Colenso Power’s environmental impact consultants suggested electricity from the new power station would be fed into Eskom’s national electricity grid.

Large, unspecified quantities of water from the uThukela would also be needed to cool the power station and to wash coal from the mine.

The background information document, produced by Gauteng consultants Ecopartners, said the power station proposal would be submitted to the national Department of Environmental Affairs. The mine proposal would be handled by the national Department of Mineral Resources.

Responding to the proposals, environmental justice watchdog group groundWork said the Colenso project reflected a “business as usual” approach to coal-burning power generation, with little regard to environmental and health costs to society.

Because the new Colenso station would burn about 3.25 million tons of coal a year, it was expected to generate large volumes of toxic coal waste ash that would pollute the uThukela.

Based on information from the US group Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal ash contained a wide variety of toxic components harmful to people and the environment. The physicians group, which also urged the US government to adopt tougher laws to prevent pollution of lakes and rivers, said coal ash contained arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium that were all linked to serious health problems, including cancer, in humans and animals.

“It is widely known that burning fossil fuels pollutes the air with deadly, toxic substances. What is less known is that the same power plants that so severely pollute the air also discharge more toxic pollution into rivers, lakes and bays than the other top nine polluting industries combined.”

GroundWork said the power company should also disclose how many people would have to be removed to make way for the coal mine.

Another serious concern was the contamination of the uThukela from abandoned mine dumps, coal ash and slurry dams (liquid waste containing soil and rock impurities washed from the coal before it was burnt).

It was also “outrageous” that the environmental scoping report made no reference to climate change, considering South Africa was the single biggest emitter of human-generated greenhouse gases in Africa.

Colenso Power should also disclose full details of its ownership structure and black economic empowerment structure.

Little is known about the company, although chief executive John James says on his LinkedIn profile that he “discovered, acquired and drilled” the new Colenso anthracite deposit.

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