Areva, Gabon launch plan to help ill uranium workers

LIBREVILLE Tue Oct 19, 2010 4:30pm EDT

LIBREVILLE Oct 19 (Reuters) - Gabon and French mining giant Areva have launched a health initiative to treat more than 1,000 former miners who fell ill after working in a uranium mine in the Central African nation.

The mine workers became ill after working in the COMUF mine, which produced more than 26,000 tonnes of uranium over 38 years and was controlled by Areva from 1986 until it closed down in 1999.

Production stopped due to falling uranium prices but Areva has since secured new permits to look for uranium in the region, in the south of Gabon.

The Mounana Health Observatory, as the project is known, is the result of pressure by local rights organisations, who had threatened to block future work by Areva unless the former miners were looked after.

"(The project) is aimed at looking after the medical needs of a few more than 1,000 former workers at the COMUF (mine) who showed ill-effects linked to their former work," said David Benoni, chairman of the Observatory.

"After medical examinations and thorough analysis, Areva will compensate all the victims or their relations. It will be the same for those who lived near the mining sites and fell ill because of the mining activities at COMUF," he said.

The project also aims to study the potential impact of future mining on communities living in the area.

"The Observatory is the result of a unique dialogue between the national authorities, non-governmental organisations and an industrial partner," Areva medical director Alain Acker said, adding that the model could be replicated in other countries.

(Reporting by Phal Mezui Ndong Gualbert; writing by David Lewis; editing by Michael Roddy)