528 Rossing Uranium Ltd
The world's largest open-pit uranium producer (and, until the opening of Key Lake in Saskatchewan, the largest of any kind), Rossing has become synonymous with neo-colonialism, the perpetuation of apartheid, flagrant disregard of international law, and the symbiotic relationship between civil and military nuclear fuel supplies. To the United Nations Council on Namibia (UNCN), the mine has epitomised the illegal seizure of vital resources from a territory until recently cheated of its independence. To Namibia's government, led by SWAPO (South West Africa Peoples' Organisation), Rossing was the single greatest bulwark of apartheid in the country for over a decade. To its workforce it is a danger for years to come.
RTZ is the manager of the Rossing mine; and, for RTZ Rossing, has been a source of unrivalled profit and power within the world uranium industry; but also a huge political thorn in its side - the most controversial single mining project anywhere on the globe. RTZ's partners in the mine, notably Total/CFP (Minatome), Uranges/UG/Urangesellschaft and the Iranian regime, have enjoyed access to relatively cheap supplies of yellowcake over a long period. Until 1988, most Japanese utilities were securing an important percentage of their uranium requirements from Namibia, without declaring it - protected by the complicity of their government. The South African regime was able to almost double its uranium resources, at a time when it was expanding its processing and enrichment facilities: while an occupation administration in Namibia it was also able to accrue huge benefits from tax on Rossing's profits. The British nuclear industry was able to conclude its most vital uranium contracts for the 1980s, without any official compunction to separate the fuel into civil and military end-use categories.
Above all, the dependency that has been created, specifically by RTZ, between Namibia's economy and the Rossing mine, makes it highly unlikely that any future government will kill the goose laying the yellowcake eggs. RTZ seems fated to remain in Namibia for a long time to come.
It was a Captain Peter Louw who identified radiation in the Rossing area in 1928 (1). Nothing much stirred, however, for nearly thirty years - although by 1940 there had been some prospecting (2). During the mid-1950s, South Africa's Anglo- American Corporation investigated Rossing, but decided that its uranium grade was too low for successful exploitation (2). In 1959 and 1960, Louw offered RTZ the rights to the deposit for the first time: the British company declined (2). Nonetheless, a South African government Commission had already investigated the area, and its report, published in 1964, envisaged exploitation of the Rossing uranium as a likely source of revenue with which to construct the Cunene (Kunene) hydro- electric dam straddling the Angolan border, as well as other such projects (3).
Origins and development
Within three years, RTZ had obtained the Rossing lease from GP Louw Pty Ltd (4), and Rossing Uranium Ltd was incorporated on February 11, 1970 (5).
Rossing was a huge challenge to the British mining multinational. Unless RTZ had already developed techniques for mining low-grade ore on a vast scale, as at Palabora, it would probably have baulked at taking-on this new project, notwithstanding the lavish concessions offered by the apartheid regime (6).
Construction started in 1973, after a pilot project from 1971-72, and just as the world's uranium market was beginning to revive. This was largely thanks to the operations of the international uranium cartel, master-minded by RTZ, partly to secure contracts for its new South West African mine (3). Indeed, as the cartel began to bite, and prices escalated, the British company decided to double its projected output at Rossing from 2500 to 500 tons a year U3Os, thus making it by far the biggest uranium producer envisaged at that time (3). Before the major mine construction could be completed, however, Rossing struck problems. Abnormally abrasive ore began causing havoc particularly in the tailings disposal pipes (7). There were also acknowledged design weaknesses in the plant, and problems arose in separating the uranium from its host rock (8). The fact that RTZ was dependent on a largely unskilled, migrant labour force, was undoubtedly another major reason for delay in bringing Rossing on stream, though this was glossed over by the company (7) . During 1976 - by which time the mine was supposed to be at full production - only 771 tons U308 had been produced (9, 107).
Drastic modifications to the plant were carried out in 1977. That year, some 3000 tonnes of uranium oxide was mined, and Rossing Uranium Ltd announced plans for a twenty-year operation, exploiting an open-pit 3km by 1km in area, and 300 metres deep (1).
At this time rumours of an underground mine first began to surface (forgive the pun!). Advertisements placed in the mining press, in 1976, solicited miners experienced in underground trackless mining (10). RTZ, in its annual report for that year, commented that underground development was proceeding satisfactorily, with mining due to start in the second half of 1977 (11). Such a development, declared the company, could extend Rossing's life from 25 years to nearly a whole century (80 years) (11). Surprisingly few people seemed to notice this development: those that did presumed RTZ had either located a remarkably rich vein, or that political considerations would force it to exploit the underground deposit first of all, or highgrade it (mix it with the lower-grade ore from the open-pit) (12). In any event, the underground option was not pursued: probably because the technical problems in the open-pit had been largely overcome by 1977, though a major fire in May 1978 caused further delays (13).
Although Rossing's grade has not been officially revealed, it is generally considered to be between 0.03 and 0.05% (14). Ore reserves in 1978 were put at an estimated 300 million tons (14).
By 1981, production from Rossing was up to expectation - 5160 tons U3O8 - and the mine's profits before tax had risen on the previous years (16). The contribution of Rossing to RTZ's coffers was also a handsome one: up from �.6 million in 1979 to �.1 million the following year (17).
Mining growth, in Namibia itself, began to stall in the early 1980s, declining by nearly 10% in 1981 and 7.5% the next year (18).
Lower uranium prices, reduced deliveries and higher taxes soon had their effect: in 1983, Rossing's contribution to RTZ's profits fell to �16 million - not to be sniffed at, but not quite the bounty the parent company had expected (19). Commented the Financial Times in 1982: "[Mine costs] cannot be disclosed but they are certainly equivalent to more than the US$17 [per lb] free market price of yellowcake. At present the rise in costs is being held down to an annual rate of 10%. Even so, the margin between costs and likely sales contract prices may not be all that large. Rossing has had the advantage so far of operating tax free ... this offset has now run out. But 1983's impact will be "softened" by the deferred tax position built up by the company in past years" (20).
Just as Rossing became liable to pay local taxation (in Namibia) at 42% on its profits (21), so the company stopped publishing information on its output. Nukem estimated its production in 1984 at 3700 tons - a little lower than in 1983, and 17% lower than in 1982 (21). Rossing's contribution to RTZ's profits in 1984 took a tumble: at �5 million they were just half those of the previous year (21).
By this time, Rossing's major contract with the British Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was coming to an end, and the market was weakening (22, 23). From 1984, RTZ revised the presentation of figures from its Namibian venture, and these were included under its data published for South Africa (22). It is known that its production that year was 25% below capacity (22). Even so, this reduced output brought in no less than 95% of RTZ's net earnings from Africa that year (22).
For the second half of the "eighties, output ranged from 3500 to 3800 tonnes: in 1988 it was assumed to be around 3600 tonnes (24). Profits were relatively high in 1986 and, although they fell in 1987 - thanks to lower sales, a strong Rand and higher taxation (25) - they went up nearly 60% the following year, to around � million. Nearly half of this (�.2 million) was paid as net attributable profits to RTZ (24).
By 1989 the Rossing mine was providing an average of 35% of Namibia's total export earnings, and being taxed at 55% of its profits (26). RTZ was looking forward to increased production and profits in the 1990s, confidently predicting an increase in world-wide reactor needs and a "drawdown" in existing uranium inventories (22).
Initial development costs for Rossing amounted to some R300M (three hundred million Rand) (l) though they later rose to R400M. These costs were offset 100% against taxation (7), and the company also benefitted from very generous initial write- offs, low licence fees and large grants for prospecting (27). Although RTZ acknowledges that Rossing paid company tax to the South African occupying authorities, it maintains that taxation on profits were never paid directly to the apartheid regime, but comprised "an alternate tax which was ... not payable in any case before 1984" (28) (see above), and was withheld in Namibia. Dividends are, of course, paid on profits to the company's shareholders; though, thanks to the complex disposal of A and B shares, and the lengthy attempts to conceal Rossing's true ownership, it is virtually impossible to determine with accuracy what these are. As already pointed out, in 1984, Rossing's returns to RTZ were consolidated with the company's South African accounts (22) and, while Rossing holds an annual general meeting in Namibia, information on the time and place of the meeting is never published - such information being restricted to its shareholders (29).
Costs and control
The initial costs for the mine were met by RTZ (80%), South Africa's General Mining (10%) and the West German uranium giant, Urangesellschaft (Uranges/UG) (10%) (30): indeed UG held an option to take up 40% of the equity in the project, until this was re-negotiated in 1979 (31) . The West German government provided a variable interest loan of US$25 million repayable from 1979-85 (3), and Rio Algom chipped in around eight million Canadian dollars (32). Swiss companies also probably provided money through Uranges to finance plant repair in 1976-77 (33). The South African contribution is more difficult to determine. Certainly the Industrial Development Corp (IDC) provided a minimum of R60 million for the metallurgical and treatment plant (34) - and probably a lot more (6). The South African Electricity Commission (ESCOM) also constructed power lines for Rossing.
Other management contracts for construction and development of the mine and processing plant were given to companies within the Davy Mckee conglomerate: Power Gas Ltd of London (part of Davy Ashmore) and the Western Knapp Engineering Division of Arthur Mckee of the US (35). Other American companies which played a part in bringing Rossing to fruition include Kerr-McGee, Phelps Dodge, and Interspace Inc, which supplied the water pipes (36). The West German nuclear fuel supremo, Nukem, was also involved, as was the Swedish company Trelleborg (36) (37). Some Italian companies delivered sulphuric acid for the extraction plant (36) and pyrite had to be imported (38). (It is not known where the original supplies of pyrite came from, but later deliveries were made by Tsumeb in 1988, these being transported by Jowels Transport) (39).
As is common in the mining industry, finance was also raised by selling future production at favourable prices. In some cases this secured the customer a stake in Rossing's equity. In at least one case - that of Rio Algom, which bought the Louw group's 10% share after development started (36) - there was no apparent quid pro quo, or equity-for-uranium. In the case of the IDC, a South African parastatal, there remains a huge outstanding question as to whether it gained delivery of Namibian uranium, in return for its investment (see below). Under the South African Atomic Energy Act of 1948, the South African regime had the sole right to search for and mine uranium grading in excess of 0.006% (6). Certainly the IDC obtained a majority of the A shares in Rossing, thus giving it pre-emptive rights at company annual general meetings, even though RTZ was entitled to nominate 10 out of 19 of Rossing's board and, from the start, had management control (40). According to RTZ, its early stake in Rossing was 48.5% of the equity, 53% of the B class (no voting) shares, and only 25.8% of the A class or voting rights.
The other visible South African interest from the start was a stake taken by Gencor of between 6.2% and 8.33% (36).
The French company Minatome (later Total/CFP) also gained 10% of Rossing's equity, in return for uranium deliveries through the 1980s (41), while the Shah of Iran took 15% on similar terms. Uranges obtained 5%, but the Japanese - alone among the mine's major initial customers - never entered the project on this basis. Nonetheless, Kansai Electric Power Co sealed a contract for the delivery of 8200 tons of Rossing uranium for the first ten years of production - one of the most important considerations on which construction could proceed (36) . In 1977, as costs to meet the technical problems mounted, RTZ made a special rights issue of US$75 million, which was taken up by the IDC, Gencor, Minatome and Rio Algomi but not, it seems, by the West Germans or the Japanese (38).
In 1987, some 5,580,000 A shares in Rossing Uranium Ltd (comprising 3.37% of the issue) were transferred by the IDC to the provisional Namibian government, which invested them in a new body, the Capricorn Trust (42). This effectively handed over voting control to the so-called Turnhalle administration. This still leaves the IDC with 10.1% of the equity (2), Total with 10%, Uranges mbH with 5%, and Gencor with 2.3% (2). The Louw family also appears to retain a small stake of 2.62% (2) and various other south-west African interests, such as F J Strauss, to hold 0.26% (2). Although the Iranian government's interest is now rarely mentioned in mining circles (5), it apparently maintains its original 15% equity.
As for RTZ, no one doubts that the British company is the single biggest profiteer from the Namibian mine. The general assumption is that it holds 46.5% of the equity, although we may question whether this is additional to, or includes, Rio Algom's tenth- part holding (5, 40). According to a recent anti-apartheid investigation of Rossing, carried out by the West German Akafrik group, RTZ actually owns 41.35% and Rio Algom is separately registered with 10%. In terms of equity control, there may be no more than a paper difference between the two sets of figures: RTZ's majority ownership of Rio Algom would secure for itself the missing 5.15% of the equity.
Virtually all information on contracts concluded between Rossing and its overseas customers, has derived from painstaking research undertaken by US, British and Japanese investigators. RTZ (and of course Rossing itself, as its underling) has consistently refused to divulge any information on its sales "due to commercial sensitivity" (29). But this is just a euphemism for political embarrassment. In fact, the South Africa Nuclear Energy Act of 1982 prohibits the disclosure of details of uranium production, export and sales from Rossing, as well as from South Africa (22). RTZ has often commented on the contracts between its Namibian mine and the British Atomic Energy Authority - later BNFL (to whom the contracts were assigned in 1974) - to supply the British CEGB with 7500 tons U3O8 (43) from the mid-1970s onwards. But these comments have always come in response to revelations from other sources. Indeed, when the matter of a third British Rossing contract became a minor cause celebre in the 1980s, RTZ's chair (and former chief executive) Alistair Frame declared it was cancelled. Whether he was lying outright, or being economical with the truth, is an academic point: by the following year he was forced to acknowledge the facts (44).
What has never been divulged is the degree to which the South African atomic energy programme - in which civil and military end uses of nuclear fuel have been inextricably interwined for many years (3, 45) - has benefitted from Rossing uranium. As already mentioned, South Africa's 1948 Atomic Energy Act theoretically appropriates to the apartheid state all fissionable materials in territory under its control: it also allows for the cancellation, at any time, of uranium contracts (43). Further legislation - the South Africa Atomic Energy Enrichment Act of 1967 (1948) and the Uranium Enrichment Act of 1974 - empowered the state-owned Uranium Enrichment Corporation to sequester Namibia's uranium (3). In 1977, the chair of RTZ, Mark Turner, agreed to this interpretation of the Act (46), but persisted in a claim, first made the previous year, that Rossing's uranium would not be diverted in this fashion (47). His denial was unfortunately somewhat diluted by a statement the following month from Rio Tinto South Africa's Deputy Chair, Alex MacMillan, which implied that South Africa would be free to receive Namibian uranium, once Rossing's other contracts were fulfilled in the 1980s (48).
The South African regime, from the start, included Rossing's production in its own figures: a 1976 Uranium Institute presentation made by R E Worrall (South African Chamber of Mines) and the leader of the country's Atomic Energy Authority, A.J.A. Roux, claimed that South Africa's total production could be 16,270 tons by 1985 - and there was no doubt a substantial third of this would derive from Namibia (49).
In 1970, the Rand Daily Mail commented that, once on-stream, Rossing's output would certainly lead to the establishment of a uranium hexafluoride industry in South Africa (50). Inevitably, throughout the 1970s, the mine would have been regarded by the South African nuclear elite as the prime source of feed for its Valindaba enrichment plant - a plant with prime military purposes (3). The Australian Financial Review, in 1976, had no doubt about it: "Production will also be available [from Rossing] for the South African enrichment programme, which will require between 20,000 and 30,000 tons of U308 from the early 1980s" (51).
Nor can the crucial involvement of the IDC in financing Rossing have been simply based on the expectation of healthy dividends, let alone the desire to see Namibia go it alone!
On the other hand, there is no concrete proof that Rossing's uranium has been diverted to South Africa. Once the cat was out of the bag in the late 1970s, over the UKAEA/BNFL-CEGB contracts, and details began emerging about South African Atomic weapons tests, it was hardly likely that any British government would be prepared to face the uproar caused by revelations that a British-owned company (headed by leading lights in all three political parties) (52, 56) was actively assisting the manufacture of an apartheid bomb. (This, notwithstanding the early cooperation by British nuclear scientists in developing both South Africa's uranium industry and its atomic plant) (3). In any event, there were soon to be boom days for South Africa's own uranium producers. It is Rossing Uranium's contracts with Britain that are usually remembered as the Namibian contracts, thanks to the enormous controversy surrounding their inception and implementation; the location of a well-organised and highly vocal pro-Namibia lobby in Britain (certainly the most important outside of Africa, apart from the SWAPO presence at the UN); and the presence of Rossing's masters, RTZ, in London. Here, at every annual general meeting from 1975 until the present, hundreds of questions on the deals have been propelled at a succession of increasingly beleaguered chairpersons, and numerous public protests have been mounted (see below).
We should not minimise the importance of Rossing's supplies to other consumers - especially Japanese and West German. After all, the total known to have reached Britain for the UKAEA/BNFL/CEGB was less than two years full output from the mine at peak production. Nonetheless, the signing of the British contracts (specifically the second, for 1500 tons U308) was vital in gaining financial underwriting for the development of the mine (43). Rossing's uranium has been Britain's only major source, not ostensibly designated for peaceful end-use, and can therefore be neatly dovetailed into the British Trident nuclear- weapons development programme. (Quite a lot has been made about this aspect by various groups in Britain: the fact is, that virtually any uranium entering a nuclear-weapons state can be diverted for military purposes, or be substituted by mixing, or "swapping," for other supplies supposedly covered by IAEA safeguards (53). Nonetheless, at the end of the day, those responsible for nuclear accounting may have to show that the books balance, and they need uranium supplies which are designated "N" (non-safeguarded) for military purposes).
Debate will persist for many years, no doubt, as to who was responsible for hooking Britain into Namibian uranium supplies to the extent that, by the early 1980s, the country was importing nearly half its requirements from this source alone (54). Discussion about the contracts took place in the Labour cabinet between 1965 and 1968, when the UKAEA was planning imports for the late 1970s and early '80s (43). Both RTZ (55), and the UKAEA (43) maintain unequivocally that the government - through the Ministry of Technology - was committed to taking Rossing uranium in 1968, and there was no question of an alternative supplier. The Labour Minister for Technology at the time, Wedgwood Benn, has always maintained that Rio Algom was the first option, and the choice of Namibia did not emerge until 1970, when he himself was not informed of the switch (43). When - thanks to an eagle eye in the Foreign office in 1970 - the Cabinet eventually got to know about the Rossing contract, no mention was apparently made of possible alternative supplies, nor of the buyers' market in yellowcake which was developing, nor the important fact that there were two Rossing contracts, and only the first had then been signed.
In the event, not only did the contracts pass muster, but many of those political figures who should have opposed their implementation especially in the light of the UN Decree No. 1 passed in 1974 (see below) - abandoned their principles, enabling Britain to become a major recipient, and processor/enricher of Namibian uranium (3, 43, 52). It was a case of the uranium tail wagging the nominally anti-apartheid dog politic, and bringing leaders of the two main British political parties into grave disrepute (43).
Rossing supplies for British civil consumption stopped in late 1984, two years after originally scheduled (43, 57). Just what had been paid for these illicit supplies is still a matter for conjecture. In 1970, the Economist reported that the UKAEA/BNFL had paid considerably below the going, not to mention the future, rates for uranium (58). It is generally agreed that the price for first deliveries was set at US$9.50/lb (43) - a third of the spot price at that time (51). But, in 1976, the price was re-negotiated to just under US$ 13/lb (59). (One source claims that the price had been increased threefold by then) (60). Two years later, Rossing's R S Walker stated that production costs were around US$20/lb (which included interest, but not depreciation, charges) (61). By 1982, the Financial Times reckoned that the price had probably risen to above US$30/lb (62): it seems to have increased to US$34/lb the following year (63). Imports to Britain of Namibia's yellowcake were worth around � million in 1982, rising to � million the following year, and � million in the last year of delivery (22) - a far cry from the estimated original cost of only US$72 million (6).
By the time the first imports were due to enter Britain, there was some justification for paying the piper's (RTZ's) tune. British stockpiles were dangerously depleted, thanks to the Canadian embargo on uranium exports to Europe (see Rio Algom) (64). The RTZ-managed uranium producers' cartel had also enormously boosted Rossing's prospects in the international market. Whether or not one of the main reasons for setting up the "Club" had been to secure contracts for the Namibian project, the secret share of 4% originally given to Rossing by the carteliers (4%), had risen to nearly 25% by the time the cartel was blown out of the water (3).
Tenders for the British contact were put out only to RTZ: Alistair Frame moved from his post as deputy director of research reactor operations at the UKAEA, to RTZ in 1968 - the year the contract was awarded (65).
Within five years, however, Canadian uranium deliveries had been resumed and, with average annual consumption for Britain's nuclear programme running at 1500 tons a year, the Rossing deliveries were a surplus to British requirements. The stockpile had grown alarmingly large - possibly in 1982 it was bigger than the entire amount covered by the Namibian contracts (66) and, three years later, it had grown even more (54,67). By then, political embarrassment caused by Rossing's operations in defiance of world opinion, and concern at dependence on RTZ, had prompted the UKAEA and the CEGB to set up the British Civil Uranium Procurement Directorate (later: Organisation BCUPO) to diversify the country's sources of supply. This in itself does not end the story, however: BCUPO buys on the spot market, and there is nothing to prevent such purchases containing uranium of Namibian origin (67).
Indeed, early in 1989 (just as RTZ claimed it had finally recouped its US$164.3 million start-up investment in Rossing, and was now going after US contracts to be implemented on Namibian independence) the Financial Times commented that some Namibian uranium was already finding its way to the US through the depressed international spot market, despite the formal embargo on uranium imports from Namibia and South Africa (68).
There is now no doubt that Rossing negotiated a third contract with the UKAEA, almost certainly on behalf of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 1975/76 (69). This comprised 1100 tonnes of uranium, was labelled "N" - suggesting strongly that it would be used for military purposes (70), either being enriched to weapons-grade at the relatively new military enrichment plant at Capenhurst, near Chester, or passing through the plutonium-producing reactors of Calder Hall and Chapelcross (69, 71). Although an estimated 4000 tons of uranium would be required for the Trident missile programme (69,71), Rob Edwards of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) estimated in 1984 that this one contract would neatly cover Trident's fuel needs (140 tonnes) and those of its warheads (780 tonnes) (54).
In mid-1988, after years of prevarication and denial, the British government finally admitted to the existence of this contract, though continuing to deny its military purposes (70). A few months earlier, RTZ supremo, Alistair Frame, had told a crowded annual general meeting that the contract was cancelled (72). In October 1988, the government admitted that the entire 8600 tonnes had been designated "N", and that any of it could be withdrawn for use by the military at the government's discretion (7) (see below). Two months later, the Guardian confirmed that uranium deriving from the British military stockpile (which, the paper said, consisted of South African and Namibian uranium) had been shipped to the USA to make warhead components for the Trident missile programme (73).
Rossing's largest single set of contracts are with the Japanese utilities Kansai, Tokyo, Chubu, Kyushu, Tohoku, Hokkaido and (probably) Chogoku - possibly also Shikoku and Hokuriku (74, 76). RTZ Mineral Services contracted to supply 41,851 tons of U3Os from Rossing during 1977-96 (71). In 1974, the Japanese researcher, Yoko Kitizawa, revealed that Japanese uranium contracts were handled by virtually all the Sogo Shosha (commercial production/marketing conglomerates) - including Mitsui, Sumitomo, Nisho-Iwai, C Itoh, Mitsubishi and, in particular, Marubeni. Forty per cent of Japan's needs, said Kitizawa, were provided for by RTZ (75). The first Japanese contract to be confirmed was handled by Mitsubishi and guaranteed 8200 tons of Rossing uranium to Kansai Electric Power Co(500 tons for delivery each year in 1977-78, 600 tons each year in 197980, and 1000 tons annually from 1981 until 1986) (76). This contract, amounting to 8% of the country's needs, was signed before Rossing was developed (75). Tokyo Electric Power Co landed a Rossing contract for 8900 tons, although the delivery schedule is not known. (From 1985-1988, according to Nuexco figures, Tokyo was due to receive only 136 tonnes U3O8 equivalent annually) (76). This contract, and most of the others, appear to have been handled by Marubeni, working hand- in-glove with RTZ Minserve (Mineral Services) (77, 154). In late 1974, the Japanese Diet debated the issue of Namibian uranium, and the government confirmed the contracts. A few months later, when the UNCN (United Nations Council for Namibia) visited the country and demanded their cancellation, the response they received was emphatically hostile (75, 78). Marubeni itself made no attempt to conceal its pivotal role in the whole shabby business. In a self-adulatory publication issued in 1978, it described how it had "... played an important role for RTZ Mineral Services Limited in obtaining many orders of uranium concentrates from Japanese electric power companies ..." As of 1977, RTZ Mineral Services had received orders from almost all the major power companies in Japan for the supply of approximately 50,000 tons of uranium concentrates, which represents 35% of total Japanese purchases over the same period. (Marubeni went on to describe how the uranium was "hexed" into uranium hexafluoride by Eldorado in Canada, under a service agreement with the Japanese company; enriched in the USA; converted into UO2 powder by General Electric; shipped to Japan by the Japan Nuclear Fuel Co Ltd; and eventually reprocessed by Cogema at La Hague, and BNFL at Windscale/Sellafield, after transportation by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, a JV under British initiative, with Marubeni holding a small equity portion. The company claimed that the processing part of the contract alone was worth some US$3200 million to Marubeni) (79).
Namibian uranium is likely, in future, to play a less important role for Japan since the bulk of the contracts has been fulfilled: according to Nukem, Namibia was expected to supply 25% of the country's needs from 1987 to 1996 (with Canada providing 23% and Australia 22%, Niger 17% and South Africa 7%) (80). The country might not rely on Namibian imports at all beyond 1996. In 1986, Japan had already considered switching contracts as part of a sanctions package, and initiated talks with Niger to this end (81). Then, following revelations and demonstrations by Canuc and the Namibia Support Committee over the Minserve/Tokyo, Kansai and Chubu contracts (82), and a TV programme screened by NHK (the national TV company), Tohoku, Kansai, Chubu and Kyushu electric power companies announced they would be ditching Namibian imports, to replace them with Australian and Canadian imports (83). Chubu concluded a 6 million lb contract with the Canadian company, Cameco, in 1989, covering 1992-2001 (84) . Alone among the utilities, Tokyo took a combative stance, refusing to acknowledge its reliance on Rossing yellowcake: "Rio Tinto-Zinc tells us there is no Namibian uranium in what they ship to us and we believe what they say" (85).
Rossing's next most important customers have been France and Iran. Minatome/Total's 10% equity in Rossing entitled it to a substantial share of the output, though how much is not known: according to one source, in 1975, it was more than its equity share would suggest (86). Deliveries from Rossing to France between 1984 and 1988 were scheduled at 2726 tonnes U3O8 (87).
Iran's contracts with Rossing have been shrouded in mystery, provoking considerable speculation. According to Thomas Neff (89) repeated reference in the trade press was made in the 1970s to Iranian purchases of up to 50,000 tons U308 (88). At least one delivery was made before the Shah of Iran met his just desserts in 1979 (89), and then the country's nuclear programme was brought to an abrupt stop. However, the new regime did not sell its equity in Rossing, and it is conceivable that deliveries were being still being made, even while the Ayatollah was lambasting nuclear energy as Satan's work. In any event, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran has been revived in recent years, and latest reports state that the country has received 7200 tons of yellowcake since 1979 (24).
West Germany's imports from Rossing commenced in 1976, and lasted ten years. According to SWAPO spokesperson, Hadino Hishongwa, they comprised 30% of the country's needs in 1981 (90). In 1980, both Nordwestdeutsche Kraftwerke AG, and Rheinish-Westfalisches Elektrizitatswerk AG (RWE), admitted using Namibian fuel at the Biblis, Wurgassen, Essenhamm and Stade reactors (91). Euratom estimates that Uranges' share of total Namibian output in 1983 was 11%, falling to less than 6% in 1984, '85 and '86 (92). The federal West German government says that Rossing provided 6% of the country's uranium requirements in 1985 and 1986 (93). It is not known whether uranium has been imported since 1986. Veba has also imported Rossing uranium (71).
In 1987, a researcher was visiting the offices of the Uranium Institute in London, when he noticed a document, pertaining to customers for South African uranium, lying on a desk. Taking advantage of the temporary absence of staff, he copied it. This Nuexco special report (for an unspecified customer) was later found to reveal what appear to be comprehensive figures for all customers for southern African uranium, with deliveries commencing in 1984 and finishing in 1988. The study revealed that Enusa, the main supplier of yellowcake to Spanish nuclear power plants, would receive 544 tonnes U3O8 in 1987 and again in 1988 (76). Using this information and figures from other sources, SWAPO the following year alleged to the Spanish government that a quarter of Spain's uranium needs between 1983-1991 had been, or would be, fulfilled by imports from southern Africa, including a substantial proportion from Namibia. This announcement created uproar in the country. Led by the PCE (Communist Party), members of the parliamentary Left Unity group, Basque MPs and Trade Unionists from the COO (Confederation of Workers' Commission), demanded the trade should stop immediately (94). Jose Manuel Jimenez, head of Enusa, confirmed that the company had imported Namibian uranium - starting before 1983: the contracts, he stated, were with Minserve; 100 tons had been imported in 1987 alone (95).
Three months later, Spain was still importing Namibian uranium through Minserve, although the Spanish Parliamentary foreign affairs committee had demanded that the trade should stop (96). A few months later, the government announced that it would no longer import Namibian uranium, as of the beginning of 1989 (97).
There is one other major RTZ contract which will almost certainly be fulfilled by Rossing, although the parent company has never admitted it. In 1982, Taipower, the Taiwanese state utility, contracted for 3400 tonnes (4000 tons) of uranium for delivery from 1990 to 2005 (89, 98). (Regardless of the source to be used by RTZ in fulfilling this contract, it should be noted that Taiwan has reportedly collaborated with South Africa on reprocessing of uranium into plutonium, and the development of rockets which could deliver nuclear warheads (99), while its nuclear waste is being dumped on Orchid Island - land essential to the livelihood of indigenous people) (100).
This outline of Rossing contracts would not be complete without brief reference to two respects in which Namibia's uranium supplies have assisted globally in breaching anti-sanctions measures against South Africa, and in further confusing the already-tenuous dividing-line between fuel imported for civil and for military purposes.
In 1986, the US Congress passed a series of measures intended to curb investment in South Africa, and prevent the import of certain strategic products to the mainland USA. Section 309 of the 1986 Comprehensive Anti Apartheid Act put an embargo on uranium in its unprocessed form, but did not exclude uranium hexafluoride deriving from southern African yellowcake. What the Act effectively did in the first instance, was to provoke a flood of uranium oxide into the USA before the law took effect, and an increase in the hexing of Rossing (and other apartheid uranium) in Europe, before re-export to the USA for enrichment and further processing. In December 1986 alone, some 4000 tonnes of Namibian and South African uranium arrived in the USA, including about 300 tonnes transshipped through Liverpool, as part of a Taipower contract (71). In 1986 as a whole, 481,650kg of unenriched UF6 was despatched to the USA through Liverpool docks: Canuc has concluded that most of this probably derived from Namibia and South Africa (71).
The US importing company in these instances was Edlow International Ltd, which is linked to Nukem of West Germany and, in the early 1980s, acted as a conduit for enriched uranium entering South Africa itself. There is little doubt that Edlow has continued importing uranium oxide (under a general licence which extends to 1992) and UF6, both of which derive partly from Namibia (71).
Edlow has also been used by European customers to evade the Anti-Apartheid Act: in early 1987, a 168-ton shipment of U3Os, deriving from Rossing and destined for the Confrentes plant in Valencia, went from Walvis Bay (Namibia) to Zeebrugge (Belgium), then to Springfields for hexing, before being imported as British fuel through the port of Norfolk, Virginia. Afterwards, it was enriched by the US Department of Energy at Paducah, Kentucky; finally the product was sent back to its Spanish customer, Hidroelectrica Espanola (96).
The same year, details emerged of another laundering operation, by which Namibian uranium was processed in Britain, sent to Riga in the USSR for enrichment by Techsnabexport under contract with BNFL, returned to Britain for manufacture into fuel rods, and finally sent to RWE in West Germany (101). Swapo and Canuc protested vigorously to the USSR about this trade, which clearly violated Soviet sanctions against South Africa and its occupied territory of Namibia (102). At this time, BNFL stated that between 50% and 65% of a typical shipment of uranium could have originated in southern Africa (103). (If anything, this represents an increase on the proportion of uranium entering Britain in the early 1980s for domestic use and reprocessing for foreign customers).
The north American embargo on Namibian uranium (Canada also imposed restrictions), combined with the TGWU blockade on material of Namibian/South African origin (see below), resulted in an increase in the common practice of"swapping" titles to specific consignments, thus concealing their origin. Nulux (Nukem Luxembourg, a company in which Minserve has a 30% stake) is known to have arranged with Comurhex, the French UFs producer, for South African-origin uranium to ostensibly derive from Niger, and then consign it for enrichment to the USSR. In March 1988, Comurhex documents surfaced at the port of Liverpool, in which the French company baldly cited an agreement between Minserve and Comurhex for the swapping of uranium concentrates. In this instance, Comurhex promised RTZ that it would produce documents showing that uranium concentrates, which entered the northwest England port in April on the Atlantic Conveyor, was of Canadian origin. Since no one in the region could remember when Canadian ore had last entered the port, it was reasonably assumed that this consignment derived from Namibia or South Africa (104).
At around the same time, the Grunen (Green party) in West Germany accused Gewerkschaft Brunhilde of importing uranium from Namibia, while declaring that it originated in Australia. (This may, however, have been outright deception rather than an origin swap.) (105) In short, although both the British and West German governments had maintained that Namibian uranium ceased flowing through its ports for domestic civil use, there is irrefutable evidence that supplies continued to be imported into Europe and re-exported world-wide.
Every aspect of management at Rossing has given cause for alarm and protest since the mid-1970s; ranging from housing standards at the black township of Arandis, to gross discrimination in wage awards, suppression of legitimate trade unions, and a patronising attitude to employees and poor standards of health and safety. Arandis was built especially to house the majority of Rossing's black and coloured workers (43). RTZ chairperson, Val Duncan, in 1975, said he would be very surprised "if it isn't by far the best African township in southern Africa by the time it's finished (106) ". Two years later the Guardian newspaper reported that Arandis' single living quarters were: "the worst [we] had seen in Namibia" (107) and, the same year, the new RTZ chair, Mark Turner, admitted himself to be horrified by conditions there. Two years later, RTZ claimed that housing had been enormously improved, and this is the line the company has pursued since (43). Certainly, considerable improvements were made during the 1980s, and services and amenities both at the mine and in Arandis now compare favourably with those elsewhere in southern Africa. But one important question is whether, of their nature, housing provision and job allocations at Rossing have been discriminatory. There is abundant evidence to confirm that they have been and, in most respects, still are. Rossing management has always denied that it used the infamous contract labour system characteristic of South African mines (108) - whereby single workers are separated for long periods of time from their families, themselves banished to black areas or homelands. In fact, Rossing at its outset was to a large extent reliant on migrant labour: since the local Damara people failed to be attracted to the project, Ovambos had to be drafted-in from the north into appalling temporary camps (38) - from which they were rescued only later, as Arandis accommodated them. When a BBC crew visited Rossing in 1977, it found only 550 Damaras out of a workforce of 1600 black workers: the majority of workers were from Ovamboland, or as far afield as South Africa and Malawi. All were on a one-year contract and the majority were separated from their families: if not in name, this was contract labour in fact (109). In 1978 a German journalist who visited Rossing, while reporting a somewhat smaller African workforce (1300 people) and agreeing that Arandis itself was not ethnically zoned, nonetheless described conditions virtually indistinguishable from those operating on mines using contract labour. "Many black workers considered to be single were in fact married, and their wives and children lived illegally in the single quarters ... The workers were taken to the mine by bus. The buses carrying blacks were always checked at the mine entrance, and those who had forgotten their ID-cards were jailed for up to a day. The buses for white personnel were never checked." Ingolf Diener also recorded that black workers were living two to a room (including the kitchen and sitting room), while white personnel at Swakopmund had a room with private toilet each. There were no regular medical check-ups for non- white workers, and Arandis had no hospital. Industrial relations were "of the apartheid type", using ethnically-based liaison committees, where blacks had no power of decision "and their role was purely advisory". Training courses were limited to those who showed signs of forming "the future elite", while those Namibians who qualified "were never employed at the level of their real qualification ... they became de-qualified, and because of systematic fault-finding, they had no chances of being promoted" (110). Indeed, evidence presented to a Trade Union seminar three years later, stated that only seven salaried staff, out of a total of 680 at that time, were black Namibians (111). Living conditions did not measurably improve until well into the 1980s. In 1979, two researchers called them "akin to slavery" (112), and in 1981 they were still "grossly overcrowded" (111). Although, by the late 1980s, Rossing had responded dramatically to international criticism, introducing better housing, regular medical examinations, new training schemes, cottage industries, and a host of sports and social facilities (113), the General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Union of Namibia (MUN) was still able to report in February 1989 that, while "... the people who live in Arandis live with their families ... about half of Rossing's workers live in the hostels and, of course, the question of families not being allowed, applies. So one can say that about half of Rossing's workers live without their families" (114).
In more than a decade, and despite noticeable efforts by the company, the vestiges of discrimination between blacks and whites in the workplace have still not disappeared. In 1978 Kenneth Marston, the Financial Times' mining editor, had observed that the Rossing systems of grading wages and work was: "... a form of segregation in living areas", while there was "no instance where a black worker is in a supervisory position over a white" (115). Six years later, notwithstanding the Paterson system of job evaluation (116) and sophisticated training schemes, a mine worker could tell the Namibian public that the company's "proclaimed non-racial policy and the saying that they are only discriminating between the different grades, is a sweet, convenient lie" (117). A year later, Gwen Lister of The Namibian, after a visit to the mine, concluded that Rossing "does more for its workers than any other mine in Namibia" (hardly an accolade!), but she still found that qualified black workers were excluded from facilities enjoyed by whites as a matter of course: for example, they were not entitled to send their children to school in Swakopmund (118).
In 1989, after black workers secured a 23% wage rise which fell far short of their demands, The Namibian returned to Rossing. The newspaper found that whites were still being offered jobs over the heads of black miners qualified for the same post (119). A week later, Ben Ulenga, General Secretary of the MUN, lambasted the company in a comprehensive condemnation of its practices: lowest-grade pay did not in any way constitute a "living wage"; 92% of all black, and 51 % of all coloured workers, still remained in the company's lowest income bracket; no Rossing employee who lived in Windhoek, as opposed to Arandis, had even been provided with a company house; black workers in the company's exploration department had "no house, no housing allowances. Their living conditions in crowded army- style tents are, in fact, among the worst in the mining industry" ( 120) . Ulenga went on to comment about radiation monitoring at the mine: the company had "complete control" over such matters, and the MUN played no part in determining "the exact nature and extent" of hazards from radiation which, the MUN knew full well, were "not hypothetical". Ulenga demanded that, as at Rio Algom, the Union should have full control over its own safety and health: "... we and our representatives should be the people to declare our working environment safe enough to work in" (120, 121).
Ulenga was echoing a demand made at the MUN's 1989 Congress, where fears about radiation dangers at Rossing formed a large part of the discussion, and workers expressed grave concern about "inexplicable ailments" that had developed, not only among the workforce, but also their families (skin blotches, loss of skin colour) (119,122). In particular, workers were worried about the roasting rooms, where the yellowcake is burned into oxide - the part of the plant that Rossing acknowledges produces potentially hazardous accumulations of radiation (113). The company claims that all workers in this area are given special clothing, respirators and film badges. But as the MUN's President, Asser Kapere, asked the General Meeting: what occurred to the health of cleaners, when put on duty in the roasting room, if they had not completed their task before radiation levels reached a critical point? (123).
Nine years before, SWAPO representative, Theo-Ben Gurirab, had voiced similar disquiet: "We are ... gravely traumatised when we anticipate the immense health hazards and the dangers of radioactivity that threaten the well-being of our people and the environment," he declared (124). Several months earlier, a Rossing workers' representative had smuggled a letter out of Namibia in which, as well as describing horrific conditions of privation at Arandis ("eight to ten people in one cell"), he portrayed the grim reality of labouring at the open-pit: "Working in open air, under hot sun, in the uranium dust produced by grinding machines, we are also exposed to the ever- present cyclonic wind which is blowing in this desert. Consequently our bodies are covered with dust and one can hardly recognise us. We are inhaling this uranium dust into our lungs and many of us have already suffered the effect. We are not provided with remedies and there is no hospital to treat us. Our bodies are cracking and sore" (125). The following year, another Rossing worker testified before the United Nations: "Now [it appears] all workers have respirators of some sort, but are required to wear them only in the very dusty areas and when some of the chemical plant breaks down - as it does from time to time and emits a very toxic smoke". But all workers were still exposed to "very heavy dust" and there was always "pulverised rock dust in the air". The dust blew "for many miles towards Swakopmund" ( 126).
In 1984, Dr Robert Murray, OBE, visited Rossing and declared it an "oasis of safety" (127). His report said nothing about dust, radiation or noise; no comparative data were provided, and he satisfied himself merely with a description of Rossing's medical facilities. This was hardly surprising since Dr Murray had, earlier in his professional career, acquitted asbestos of a negative impact on the human body (128)! The same year, no doubt emboldened by Murray's mint of wisdom, RTZ reported that it had observed "no case of either silicosis or lung carcinoma" at Rossing. Again, this was hardly ground-shattering news (since such diseases can take between ten and thirty years to display themselves). But, in 1985, the first four cases had been confirmed out of a total of 1200 workers tested since 1980 (118). What, we may be allowed to ask, has happened to medical records for the thousands of other workers employed at Rossing since 1973: presumably there are none, because there was no thorough medical checkup? In 1981, Rossing/RTZ claimed that all employees were given a medical examination, which included monthly urinalysis, but only for the final product area (that notorious roasting room) (129). X-rays, a lung-functions test and other laboratory testing, were added within three years, claimed RTZ. A film badge was supplied to all employees, which was analysed "on a monthly basis" (116). However, film badges only distinguish between gamma and beta radiation. Though, combined with efficient urinalysis, they can assist in the detection of radiation from uranium, thorium and radium in the mill and tailings areas, they do not compensate for the lack of other measures, such as whole-body gamma-counting (130) or the introduction of dosimeters which measure the alpha, beta and gamma radiation characteristics of so-called radon "daughters" to be found at any part of the mine, mill and tailings area.
In 1984 RTZ could baldly assert that: "... the radiation hazard to the general population is so small that, for practical purposes, it can be regarded as insignificant" (131). We may conjecture that such appalling complacency has been a premature sentence of death for scores, if not hundreds, of employees.
Lastly, we should note the existence of the Rossing Foundation, set up in 1978 under a "multiracial panel of trustees" to provide education, training and scholarships to black Namibians. By 1981, three hundred students had enrolled at the Rossing Foundation Centre, and scholarships (named after former chair, Mark Turner) had been awarded to three Namibians at British Universities, and two at the United World College of the Atlantic, in South Wales - itself sponsored by RTZ (129). Within two years the number of students had doubled, and 13 were at University (131). Figures have been rising ever since (132). The Foundation's Director in 1986 was David Godfrey, an ex- instructor in jungle warfare in Burma, and the organisation has managed to project an image of efficiency, political neutrality and self-confidence. Apart from the radioactive bequest of the mine itself and Arandis township, the Foundation is Rossing's most conspicuous contribution to an independent Namibia.
Of course the cost of setting up and running the Foundation is a drop in the desert, when compared with Rossing's long-term profits. Nor can its underlying motive be judged as completely above suspicion. In a major self-advertising campaign prior to 1982's annual general meeting, RTZ published a sketch of a Namibian woman and child growing vegetables "in the back garden", as one of "the new skills taught by the Rossing Foundation to families in Namibia". The outrage triggered by this grossly ignorant and patronising attitude (133) was not lost on the company, which never used such an image again.
"Uranium is an evil, a threat to Namibia and the entire world".
SWAPO and Rossing
(Hadino Hishongwa, at the International Conference on the Third and Fourth Worlds and Uranium, Copenhagen 9/79, quoted in The Guardian 21/1 /80).
There is no doubt that RTZ expects the Rossing mine to continue operating, long after SWAPO's 1989 victory in UN-organised elections in Namibia. Not only has economic, technological and contractual dependency carefully been built in to the whole project, but RTZ in recent years has been very cautious in its official (and, it must be assumed, unofficial) statements, not to question the legitimacy of SWAPO or the need for South Africa to quit the Territory (134) . It is not difficult to see why SWAPO has markedly shied away from any undertaking to nationalise the Territory's major mine (135). There is no precedent anywhere in the world of a Third World government taking over management responsibility for a uranium mine - especially one so dependent on the special expertise which RTZ has brought to the peculiar geo-physical characteristics of Rossing (136). It is also clear that, whether or not an independent government in Namibia would claim compensation from RTZ for its exploitation of the country's natural resources (to which it is entitled under UN Decree No.1), it will think at least twice before jeopardising its relationship with the one entity that has the funds and expertise to rehabilitate the mine-site and compensate for any future medical claims. (The lessons of CRA's speedy withdrawal from the dangerous mess at Rum Jungle are not lost on the MUN). On the other hand, the least that an independent Namibian mining authority would surely demand is majority control of the board of directors of Rossing, full oversight of contracts, and power to cancel existing contracts, and workers-directed inspectorates in all areas of the project's operations.
Although early RTZ statements were frankly critical of SWAPO and suggested it did not represent the people of Namibia (43), the company was even more dismissive of the UN. The 1975 RTZ chair, Val Duncan, declared he was "... not prepared to take any notice of what the UN says on the matter" (43, 52) and, as for intervention by UN forces: "... you may feel that perhaps the United Nations navy is not all that efficient" (43, 52). Five years later, the company stated that it had never consulted with the UNCN (137) while, in 1982, the new chair, Anthony Tuke, was even more belligerent: the UN had been "beyond its powers" in setting up the UNCN, and, anyway: "one battalion of paratroopers is worth countless numbers of United Nations Resolutions" (28). (It was at this same AGM that RTZ admitted to the existence of a 69-man armed squad of employees and vigilantes to "defend" the Rossing mine) (see below).
In fact, Val Duncan and Lord Shackleton had held talks with SWAPO as early as 1975, at the instigation of the British Foreign Office, where the liberation organisation had (apparently) requested RTZ to issue a statement recognising SWAPO as a prospective Namibian government: the company had obviously refused (138). Three years later, the Rossing management, and in particular R S Walker (one of the main architects of mine and company policy), expressed confidence that they could do a deal with any independent government, because of the complexity of the mine operations and the need for "immediate revenue". Only a "Russian dominated" future administration, it was thought, would be completely inimicable to Rossing's objectives (139). At the 1982 AGM, where chairperson Tuke snubbed the UN, he was almost deferential to SWAPO. "We do meet with them," declared Tuke - citing the 1981 Ditchley conference on South Africa as an occasion when the parties conferred; he also quoted an alleged statement by Sam Nujoma, SWAPO's President, that it would be "extremely unrealistic to march in and nationalise Rossing" (140). Moreover, said Tuke, the company in London did not feel it necessary to set aside any money for future reparations. Even if SWAPO had met with RTZ or Rossing management, it is very unlikely that the liberation organisation gave any promises on which such complacency could be based. In 1980, SWAPO issued a press statement "... as the legitimate representative of the Namibian people," in which it regarded "the exploitation of Namibian uranium as theft, and, as is provided in Decree No.1 of the UNCN, SWAPO will claim compensation for it as the Government of an independent Namibia with the full authority of international law behind it" (141).
In 1983 SWAPO set up a special commission to study the type of compensation it would demand from RTZ on independence (142) and, two years later, Sam Nujoma at a Nairobi press conference called on all multinational companies to quit Namibia forthwith, because they "fuel Pretoria's war machine". An olive branch was nonetheless extended: "When Namibia is free, we will certainly reach an agreement with [the multinationals] which will be beneficial to all of us" (143).
Now that independence has arrived, we must assume that RTZ will not be shown the door: whatever "greening" of Namibia occurs in the near future, it will not include the precipitate closure of this vast, destructive, radioactive, and ultimately useless hole in the land.
As is well known, uranium mining in a desert environment creates dust-borne radiation, both from the mine-workings and tailings dams (if not properly covered) which are not such a hazard in more temperate climes. Rossing has consistently claimed that water sprinkling keeps dust down to an acceptable level (113, 144) but this is clearly only in the context of silica contamination: the company refuses to acknowledge that dangers result from radon gas inhalation in the open-pit, from blasting operations, the transport of ore, and the tailings disposal. (Nearly half the tailings dam is not covered by water, according to observers in 1988) (145). Notwithstanding the large amount of research which demonstrates that such "low level" or "background" (!) radiation is a considerable liability - both for the workforce and those living upwind of the mine (146) - the company blithely asserts that, because Rossing is an open pit operation, radon "... is rapidly diluted [during blasting] and is therefore no hazard to the miners or the environment" (113).
Impact on the Environment
Such dereliction of responsibility is typical of Rossing's parent company, whose former chief executive and chairperson, Alistair Frame, once outraged shareholders by asserting that uranium mining is no more dangerous than the background radiation from a Scottish city (140).
Two other aspects of Rossing's operations have concerned observers: water-borne radiation from the tailings dam affecting the Khar river, evidence of which was found, according to Canuc, "even in a tame report commissioned by Rossing" (7), and the dehydration of a huge area around the mine, caused by the demand for water at many stages of the operations.
The Akafrik group which visited Rossing in 1987 confirmed that measures were being taken to reduce high acidity in the tailings dam, but that leaks probably occurred into both the Swakop and Khan rivers, possibly reaching to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund (145).
Rossing was originally intended to use water deriving from the Kunene (Cunene) hydroelectric scheme on the Angolan border: the South African-inspired war against Angola interfered with this project, at which point Rossing turned to the Kuiseb river. By 1980 it was suggested that the water-table for this river has been lowered considerably, thanks to the mine's demands (147).
In 1982, the US National Geographic reported that Rossing was taking some 23,000 cubic metres daily from both the Swakop and Kuiseb rivers. Two years later, Rossing claimed to have reduced its consumption by half this level, thanks to "further recycling of water" (22, 148). But internal memoranda from the mine, secured by Canuc and Partizans in 1987, showed that water taken from the Kuiseb was still running at an average of 21,223 cubic metres/day, three years after the remedial measures were supposedly taken (74, 149).
"The only hassle we get around Namibia is at this meeting." (150).
Opposition Outside Namibia
RTZ's Rossing mine has aroused opposition world-wide for about fifteen years. The most important single measure taken against it was one of the first. In 1974, the United Nations Council for Namibia (UNCN) enacted Decree No. 1; shortly afterwards the measure was endorsed by the General Assembly of the UN.
This followed a series of steps taken by the UN, supported by the International Court of Justice in the Hague between 1946 and 1963, which terminated South Africa's mandate over Namibia, called on South Africa to withdraw from the Territory, ordered UN member states to refrain from any further dealings with the apartheid state over Namibia, and recognised SWAPO as the legitimate representatives of the country (43).
The Decree forbade any "person or entity," whether a "body corporate or unincorporated," to exploit or export, in any form, any of Namibia's natural resources, unless licenced by the UNCN. It also enabled the UNCN or its agents to seize "any vehicle, ship or container found to be carrying animal, mineral or any other natural resources produced in or emanating from" the Territory. Any corporation contravening the Decree "may be held liable in damages by the future Government of an independent Namibia" (151).
Within a year, the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Sean McBride, was warning foreign companies to cease illegal activities in Namibia, and announced that a fund had been set up to finance possible court actions against those trading in the Territory's products (152, 153). US companies responded to these announcements with commendable alacrity: Getty, Continental Oil, and Phillips Petroleum abandoned exploration leases (153) and Amax said it would be getting rid of its holdings in the Tsumeb mine (153). The West German government also promised to discourage further investment by domestic companies in Namibia, notwithstanding the heavy commitment by UG/Uranges already made (43).
For its part RTZ, supported by the British government, studiously ignored the Decree, and has done so ever since.
The Japanese government also flagrantly violated the terms of the Decree - at least until 1988. Appropriately, perhaps the first demonstrations against Rossing, outside of Namibia, came from Japan, when farmers, students, nuclear scientists, and lawyers banded together in Osaka in early 1975 to protest the Kansai contract. Demonstrations were also held in Tokyo, and an Open Letter from the Anti-apartheid Movement was presented to the Japanese Prime Minister (154).
In London the following year, a number of organisations formed what was to develop into a full-time movement against the Rossing mine and, along with the French anti-apartheid movement, they monitored routes out of Namibia taken by uranium transport companies. Unfortunately, before French and British trade unionists could take direct action against these shipments, the French radical daily Liberation, followed by the British Sunday Times, published comprehensive details: the routes were changed, and the action was abandoned (155).
After 1981, opposition internationally by trade unionists escalated considerably, though the ground was much thicker with resolutions than with practical steps to stop the export/import of Namibian yellowcake.
In November 1981, a National Labor Conference for Safe Energy and Full Employment, held in Gary, Indiana, condemned the Namibian uranium trade (156). Early the following year, the British trade unions ASLEF (railways), NUS (seaworkers), and TGWU (Transport and General Workers), met with British and French activists, along with SWAPO and the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), to agree on steps for a blockade of uranium shipments entering Europe (157). At the same time, a petition to stop the mine, signed by some 10,000 people, was presented to British Prime Minister Thatcher, while demonstrations were carried out at local offices of the British CEGB and RTZ (157, 158), as well as at Edmondson's, the uranium transport company (159).
Unfortunately, because of differences between the motley groups of opponents to the Rossing uranium trade (for example, the French CFDT and CGT) another conference was called in Bristol, England, in the summer of 1982, to decide a selective blockade of Namibian uranium imports, hopefully with strong trade union support (156, 158).
Once again, problems surfaced: in this case, the members of the TGWU working at the Springfields uranium hexafluoride processing plant near Preston, refused to have anything to do with a blockade. As this was the main first destination of Namibian uranium entering Europe, their resistance rendered united trade union action impossible (160).
Meanwhile, 1982 saw a wide variety of imaginative activity focusing on Britain's illegal uranium trade in Namibia: a picket of the RTZ "milk run" (student recruitment session) at Surrey University (16); a day of action with street theatre at Cambridge (162); more demonstrations outside a hotel in Oxford where RTZ was conducting interviews with potential future employees, which were cancelled after only two hours, thanks to the vociferous opposition (163) . Several groups, including Students Against Nuclear Energy (SANE), Anti-Apartheid, Third World First, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Campaign Atom, and Partizans, participated (156).
In October, a national week of action was launched, supported by Anti-Apartheid, SWAPO, the National Union of Students, PARTiZANS and others.
1982 saw another attempt to mobilise concerted trade union action against Rossing imports into Britain - but, again, it stumbled on the recalcitrance of workers at the Springfields plant. However, on May 10th, forty activists turned out in Baltimore to protest the arrival of a South African ship, the SA Constantia, carrying Namibian uranium for use by Baltimore Gas and Electric Company at its Calvert Cliff nuclear plant - in 1981 the biggest US buyer of Namibian yellowcake (164).
The following year, the well-known authority on Namibian uranium, Alun Roberts, visited the Territory on behalf of the UNCN, only to find himself detained after a visit to the minesite. He was interrogated by a Mr Murray, second-in-command of security at Rossing, as well as South African police (165). Although Alun Roberts was convinced that Rossing officials must have collaborated with the South African police in his arrest and detention (166) - and, while in jail, was in fact shown a photo of himself, taken at the 1982 London AGM of RTZ! (40) - RTZ's then-chair, Anthony Tuke, denied any complicity in the affair (167). At a time when RTZ was beginning to allow journalists to inspect the Rossing project, Roberts' detention was a considerable embarrassment to the London company. Strident protests from several countries secured his release after 26 days.
The Greater London Council (GLC) - then one of the largest administrative bodies in the world - in May 1985 announced that it would sell its L4 million shares in RTZ, in protest at its Rossing connection and other objectionable activities around the world, after a well-known left-wing lawyer, Lord Gifford, told the Council it could sell without legal hindrance (168). Months later, the GLC had done nothing towards this declared end, which prompted the international umbrella group working against RTZ, PARTiZANS, to picket the GLC's council chamber and publish an indictment of this "socialist", anti-apartheid, nuclear-free zone, local authority's continued support for investment in apartheid (169). At the end of 1985 a disinvestment conference in London, addressed by the African National Congress (ANC), SWAPO and a representative of the National Federation of Aboriginal Land Councils, reiterated the call for the GLC and other soi-disant anti-apartheid councils with RTZ shares, to disinvest. The GLC took another year before doing so. Many local authorities in Britain continued to hold RTZ shares, at the same time as they boasted their opposition to the South African regime and all things nuclear (40, 132, 170).
September 1985 found the United Nations holding hearings on multinationals operating in Namibia: once again, the call for disinvestment was made, with little apparent result. (At that stage the UN identified no less than 1086 transnationals exploiting the Territory in one way or another) (171).
However, this was also the year in which the UNCN decided at last (and pretty long last more than a decade!) to take legal action against the theft of Namibian uranium. In May, it announced that it would take to court Urenco, the joint Dutch- British-West German uranium enrichment company, with plants in Capenhurst (Cheshire, England), Almelo (Netherlands) and a (then) pilot plant at Gronau, (West Germany), for accepting and processing material obtained in defiance of UN Decree No. 1. The case, it was optimistically predicted, would be ready by the end of that year (172). Urenco, with 7% of the world's market for U-235, has been enriching uranium of Namibian origin since 1980 (173). But the company maintained it was impossible to tell where specific consignments came from: "The customer doesn't tell us" (174).
When the case did reach court in July 1986, the Dutch government took Urenco's line: it too didn't know where the uranium had been mined (175). Until the time of writing, there have been three adjournments of the UN proceedings (176), although SWAPO's chief representative at the UN, Helmut Angula, recently said that other companies, such as Shell, De Beers, Consolidated Diamond Mines, Newmont, and RTZ, may also be sued (177). That year, the Senator for Ports and Shipping in Bremen, West Germany, announced that, if it could be identified, he would ban uranium of Namibian origin from entering his port (178).
Sixty women protested against the delivery of "hexed" Namibian uranium to the Capenhurst enrichment plant in March 1984 (179). When 19 of them were arrested and fined L2780 plus damages, the United Nations rallied to their support, issuing a press release claiming that they were acting lawfully - indeed with a high moral purpose (180). Four of the women refused to pay their fines and were jailed. They cited seven international acts of law as being violated by the production and import of Rossing uranium, including three UN Security Council Resolutions, the Geneva Conventions, and the Convention on Genocide.
Soon afterwards, there were more actions organised by CANUC against the British Nuclear Fuels plant handling Namibian-origin uranium at Capenhurst (181). The following year there was yet another International Week of Action on Namibia, which included loud condemnation of continued operations at Rossing in defiance of the UN (182).
At last, in 1987, Britain's largest union, the TGWU (Transport and General Workers Union) adopted a national policy against the import of Namibian uranium (183). This gave the lead to dockworkers at the northwest port of Liverpool, in February 1988, to refuse handling 13 containers of UF6 emanating from BNFL at Springfields and destined for Portsmouth, Virginia, on the Atlantic Carrier. The uranium hexafluoride was to be enriched by Martin Marietta Energy Systems on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DoE). (RTZ's Australian associated company, CRA, in its purchase a few years earlier of Martin Marietta's aluminium operations, had obtained rights to port facilities at Portsmouth, although transport in this instance was to be handled by Burlington Northern).
The dockworkers prevented four containers being loaded, though nine got away: these were met at the other end by protesters, including members of Congress, claiming that the shipment breached the US Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (184). The other nine containers were sent to the British east coast port of Felixstowe, where they were also turned away by dockers and ended back at Springfields. BNFL claimed - like Urenco - that all uranium, once it reached the hexing plant, was mixed together. (This is a point which has been made consistently by anti-nuclear campaigners to justify blockading all uranium supplies, from whatever source). But, BNFL had previously admitted that "between one-half and two-thirds" of yellowcake entering Britain was of South African or Namibian origin: this admission naturally inspired the TGWU to try to extend its blockade (183).
Later that year, the National Union of Seamen (NUS) unanimously opposed all trade in Namibian uranium and, during another International Week of Action, the offices of P&O Ferries (notorious for the Zeebrugge disaster, and a carrier of Namibian yellowcake) were picketed (72). BNFL then turned to the east coast ports of Ipswich and Immingham, as reception and disembarcation points for the illicit cargo (185). Before the year-end, the Immingham port authorities said they would ban the import of UF6 from Almelo (186), although Exxtor, the Danish shipping company responsible for the transportation, declared that it would continue its trade (187).
Meanwhile, Dublin dockworkers were angry at the use of their port as a nuclear conduit (for waste and weapons components as well as uranium), although the Dublin government appeared to make a promise to ban enriched UF6 coming from Riga, USSR, into Europe via Dublin (188).
Despite enormous applications of energy and expertise (more than has been expended on any other uranium producer), attempts to stop the transport of Rossing-origin uranium met with little success. The lesson, no doubt, is that opponents of the Rossing mine should have been more willing to adopt an anti-nuclear stance, while adherents of the anti-nuclear movement (especially in its heyday between 1977 and 1985) should have paid closer attention to the uranium issue. In any event, the opposition forced RTZ to change its route on several occasions. First known consignments to Europe were carried by South African Airways and UTA (Union des Transport Aeriens) without airline livery identification: these cargoes were destined for BNFL at Springfields and the Comurhex UF6 plant at Malvesi in France (189). Once this route was revealed at the turn of 1979, Deutsche-Afrika Linie (a member of the South African Conference of shipping lines) took over the transportation, providing docking facilities at Southampton, Marseilles, Rotterdam and Hamburg. The first vessels importing Namibian uranium into Europe via this route were the Urundi and Ulanga (both of West German registration). They landed at Zeebrugge in early 1980, off-loading their ill-gotten cargo onto lorries owned by an unknown and rather mediocre transport company (its speciality appeared to be furniture) - F Edmondson's of Morecambe (155) . A South African subsidiary of RTZ, James Estate of Cape Town, also shipped Namibian uranium concentrates to Canada at this time (140).
The sea route has remained the main thoroughfare by which Rossing's spoils gain entry into Europe: vessels of the South African European Container Services (including P&O Ferries) dock in Marseilles, where uranium for French processing is offloaded, and in Southampton or Zeebrugge, which acts as the staging post for various destinations (7).
Within Britain, the uranium travels by rail to container depots in Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds, and thence for hexing at Springfields. The road route is not exactly known, but believed to still depend on Edmondson's. The shipping agency for the hexed or enriched product is ACL (Atlantic Container Lines) using various ships, including the Atlantic Conveyor and Atlantic Cartier (7).
One notable victory has been registered against F Edmondson's. In 1982, the northern England town of Lancaster refused a permit to the furniture removers to store up to 1000 tons of uranium (presumably in the form of U308) in an old ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) factory at Heysham. Officially the rejection was made because of the worries about a negative impact on tourism (190) . According to journalist Martin Bailey, what really rankled Lancashire councillors was Edmondsons' secrecy: the company wouldn't say where the uranium was coming from or where it would be going. BNFL was a little more forthcoming, but hardly more enlightening: the uranium was not for British power stations, it stated, or to be processed "by us" on behalf of foreign customers. That left the possibility that it was for stockpile only (because of excess production at Rossing), could be en route to the USSR for hexing (66), or could be earmarked for processing for the Trident missile programme.
It was not until 1987 that an independent union was recognised by Rossing's management. RTZ undoubtedly attempted to put off recognition of the union for as long as possible and, in this respect, it was significantly behind even some South African companies (such as Anglo-American Corporation). It maintained, until then, that its Employee Representative System was quite sufficient (113, 191). Although there have been several major actions by Rossing employees since 1978 against working conditions, as in South Africa it would be impossible to separate strike action by workers from demands for freedom and independence. In December 1978, 2000 Rossing employees went on strike for a week, because of the introduction of a unified pay system which still perpetuated racial discrimination in wages and working conditions (43, 192): at the same time the strikers vociferously opposed the counterfeit elections for a puppet administration in the Territory (6).
...and Inside Namibia
The following year, as the "seething mass of discontent in the workforce" (a phrase later used by Gordon Freeman, Rossing's General Manager) (193) reached its height, tear gas, dogs and brutal police action broke up another strike against derisory pay awards (L5 per month for blacks and L60 a month for white employees) (194). Several workers were held under the South African Anti-Terrorism act; one of whom, Arthur Pickering, found asylum in Britain.
Strike action continued into 1980 - not just against the new pay scales, but radiation hazards, as the Rossing Mineworkers Union, now affiliated to the NUNW, began organising (195). In 1980, the NUNW had its headquarters closed down, its funds frozen, union records and equipment impounded, and it saw much of its leadership imprisoned without trial (196).
Early in 1986, attempts to set up an independent Mineworkers Union in Namibia, with the support of the South African National Union of Mineworkers, was thwarted by Rossing's management. The Turnhalle (South African-sponsored) administration in Namibia introduced legislation forbidding any non-residents from helping set up trade unions in the Territory (197). That summer, a Rossing employee was shot by South West African police and died later (198) . However, soon afterwards, Namibian labour laws were "liberalised", and black trade unions made legal. The MUN, headed by Ben Ulenga, emerged as the most important union: shortly afterwards it began organising at Rossing (201), supported by the NUNW. It issued demands for a minimum wage, upgrading of living standards at Rossing, and implementation of UN Resolution 235 on Namibian independence (193).
A month later, RTZ maintained that the new Union had not negotiated a recognition agreement with the company (200). But, as the MUN gained strength, so the company had to come to terms with its claims to represent the majority of workers. Even so, the management continued trying to ignore the Union. (In 1989, it arbitrarily sacked one of its key figures in the mine) (202). In 1988, thousands of black Namibians, including many from Rossing, went on strike in support of independence, as the international focus shifted to south-west Africa; Rossing lay idle for two days (203).
"... That is what we are doing at Rossing ... freeing the country's natural wealth. Freeing it, not so that it can be taken away and stored elsewhere for someone else's benefit, but freeing it so that the country and its people may move further along the path of progress and development. I don't think that I need describe to any of you the position that would exist here in South West Africa/Namibia today if Rossing had not been developed ... And lastly the shareholders ... There might be a tendency to say "why worry about their interests? They live outside the country and are only taking our money." But wait - it is we who have take their money and we owe them a great deal, physically and morally, for it is they who have made it possible for Rossing to be established. Through the shareholders we obtained the R350 million that was required at very considerable risk and had to be spent before Rossing could produce a pound of uranium ... we must establish a pattern whereby investors are assured of getting their money back and are rewarded for their courage and confidence. In this way, we shall be looking after ourselves as well as them. This then outlines the Rossing ethos ... As part of the RTZ Group, we are contributing to the strengthening and economic development of the free world with a highly-developed sense of social responsibility" (204).
Had Rossing's General Manager not delivered the above statement from his own lips, it might have been necessary to invent it.
Here, in one brief volley, is encapsulated much of what millions of people across the globe fear and detest about multinational corporations. There is only one word of truth in it: Rossing Uranium Ltd has undoubtedly been a source of considerable reward for its investors, particularly RTZ. Ever other sentiment is a travesty of the facts. Rossing's "natural" resource is a mineral that is alchemised into a highly unnatural and destructive product, that will almost certainly never be converted into energy in its country of origin. For a decade and a half this raw material was purloined in defiance of international law and world opinion, to be stored, processed, enriched and used, not just for nuclear power plants in an over-developed world governed by exploitative elites, but for weapons of war which might one day mean the end of us all. As part of the RTZ Group, Rossing has contributed to the grotesque profiteering of a band of expatriate robber barons, to their growing domination of the world's uranium markets and the global mining industry. If Rossing had not been developed, the Territory might well have achieved independence before now. And who knows what political and economic choices the people of Namibia might have made, had Mr Louw not stubbed his foot against the Rossing outcrop sixty years ago?
But there is more to it than this. Exploitation of Namibian uranium has had a "disastrous impact" on British foreign policy (218), and the relationship between Britain and many Third World countries. (A visit to the mine paid by the country's prime minister, M Thatcher, in early 1989, where she commented that the project made her "proud to be British" (205) can only have deepened this sense of disillusionment and mistrust among Third World peoples). Moreover - and whether or not the mine's output has ever directly fed South Africa's nuclear plants - Rossing has certainly buttressed the apartheid state. Rossing's managing director, Colin Macaulay, was elected President of the Chamber of Mines in Namibia in 1984 (206); two years previously, the Chief Executive of RTZ-South Africa (RTZ's vehicle for investment in Rossing) became the only corporate representative on South Africa's Atomic Energy Commission (207). The Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (no doubt influenced by Alistair Frame of RTZ) set up a "South West Africa" section in 1985, with Gordon Freeman of Rossing as its chair (208). These appointments contributed significantly to justifying South Africa's occupation of Namibia and white control of the sub-continent.
The company's protestations that it promotes good worker- management relationships is of a piece with the myth that its operations are a boon to Namibia. A succession of miners' leaders at Rossing has been dismissed or downgraded, and all have faced the mailed-fist-behind-the-velvet-glove, in the form of Rossing's crack security force. South African legislation, passed in 1980, "required" major mines under apartheid administration to form a "commando-type force" for their "protection" (209). In fact, it was two years earlier, in a secret memorandum circulated on 29th November 1978, that Rossing proposed setting up its own armed gangs prepared for "civil or labour attack against the mine" (210). This memorandum marked "to be destroyed by shredding" - was leaked from Rossing to the Namibia Support Committee (NSC) in London, which divulged its contents at the 1981 RTZ AGM. RTZ's chair, Anthony Tuke, flatly denied that the document existed. A year later, he was forced to swallow his words, and admitted in a letter to Brian Wood of the NSC, that 69 men were employed as a security force at Rossing; two units comprised Rossing employees, and the third a "local citizens vigilante unit" (211). Tuke added that it was "the duty of management" at Rossing to plan for the protection of its employees and their equipment: "The same," he added, "would be true if there were unrest, let us say, at Bougainville, or Chile, where we have no investment, or indeed anywhere else in the world" (211, 212).
A final aspect of the company's operations must be mentioned. Whatever the outcome of its mining at Rossing, the management wants to stay in Namibia and exploit other promising mineral finds. Even before the uranium lode was mined, RTZ had exploration claims "all over Namibia" (213), and had identified deposits around Rossing itself (214). After 1973, the South African regime improved conditions for exploration companies in the Territory (215).
However, as attention was turned to getting Rossing underway, the initiative seems to have diminished. It was not until 1981 that Rossing declared it would take up exploration again this time for copper, zinc, and other minerals. The Financial Times predicted that the South African-inspired Turnhalle "government" would "welcome" the decision (2 16) . Soon, prospecting teams were set up and despatched throughout the Territory (16). 1983 saw the establishment of an Exploration department (217). Nor is RTZ's penetration of Namibia confined to Rossing Uranium Ltd: Riofinex owns Skeleton Coast Diamond Pty Ltd, which operates around the country's coastline (2).
Whatever guise RTZ may adopt to continue its exploitation of Namibia, one thing is certain: its arrogance and ruthlessness at Rossing must belong to a bygone era. Robbery on such a scale, and with such little consideration for people or ecology, will hopefully never happen again.
To watch: "Follow the Yellowcake Road" Granada TV Production, transmitted 10/3/80. (copies available from Concord Films Ltd, Nacton, Ipswich, England.)
...Or will it?
Further reading: (Many of the works mentioned in this bibliography come from a data-base belonging to the Centre for African Studies at Bremen University. Sincere thanks to Werner Hillbrecht for access to this study) (R.M.).
A.A.B. Bremen (and others), Uranabbau in Namibia: Gestohlznes Uranfur dic Strahbnde Zukunft der Bundesrepublic, Verlag roter Funke, Bremen, 1982.
Anti-Apartheid Bewegung in der BRD und West Berlin, Gruppe Bremen, "Kein Uran aus Namibia und auch nicht von anderswo", Informationsdicnst Sudliches Afrika No.1 Bonn, 1982.
J.W. von Backstrom, "The Rossing uranium deposit near Swakopmund, South West Africa: A preliminary report", Uranium exploratory geology: proceedings of a panel on uranium exploratory geology held in Vienna, 13-17 April 1970, Vienna, 1970.
J.W. von Backstrom, "International uranium resources evaluation project", IUREP, National favourability studies Namibia, IAEA, Vienna, 1977.
J.W. von Backstrom, R.E. Jacob, "Uranium in South Africa and West Africa (Namibia)", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, SER.A, Vol.291, London, 1979.
David de Beer, "Namibisches Uran in Europa: letzte Nachrichten", Informationsdicnst Sudliches Afrika No.4 1980, Bonn, 1980.
David de Beer, The Netherlands, Namibian uranium and the Implementation of Decree No. 1, Working Group Kairos, Brussels, 1986.
David de Beer, "Der URENCO-Fall: in den Niederlanden beginnt der Prozess um die Anerkennung von Dekret Nr.1", Informationsdicnst Sudlichcs Afrika No.5 1980, Bonn, 1987.
J. Berning, S.A. Hiemsua, U. Hoffman, "The Rossing uranium deposit, South West Africa", Economic Geology Vol. 71, Lancaster (USA), 1976.
Sterling Bjorndahl, Saskatchewan and Namibia: the uranium connection, Washington, 1982.
Blockade stolen Namibian uranium: sink Trident, Campaign Against the Namibian Uranium Contract, 1984.
SOURCE: "The Gulliver File - Mines, people and land: a global battleground" by Roger Moody.
Published in 1992 by Minewatch, 218 Liverpool Road, London Nl ILE, UK, and WISE-Glen Aplin, Po Box 87, Glen Aplin Q 4381, Australia.
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