International Conference Addresses Abandoned Mines

Innovative ways to minimise the risks associated with abandoned mines in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were discussed at an international conference hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina on 28 – 30 November 2017.

Mining has been the backbone of developing economies in the region for many years and while contributing to growth and prosperity, abandoned mines have left a legacy which impacts on all aspects of society through various environmental and social challenges.  

There is also a growing need to find affordable ways of using exhausted mines in a way that prevents them from becoming long-term liabilities, often posing environmental and health risks while placing large financial burdens on future generations.  

The Science Business Society Dialogue Conference with the theme Linking Science, Society, Business and Policy for the Sustainable Use of Abandoned Mines in the SADC Region brought together international experts from a number of mining nations, including eminent scientists and representatives of the mining and associated manufacturing industry, civil society and policymakers. While the emphasis was on innovative ways to prevent closed and abandoned mines from becoming long-term liabilities in an affordable and sustainable manner, other options discussed included the use of closed mines for the generation and storage of renewable energy. Five international research teams currently investigating the feasibility of this concept at actual sites in Australia, Finland, Germany and South Africa attended the conference. 

Successes and failures in remediating legacy sites were shared based on national case studies (e.g. German uranium and hard coal mining) as well as regional (UNESCO’s current study on abandoned mines in Africa) and global experiences (International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA). The conference explored social and legal requirements for successfully turning inherited liabilities into future assets and for preventing legacy sites from forming in the first place. New ways of beneficiation and resource extraction from mining waste will also be addressed.

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