Debswana installs radiation-emitting X-rays

Debswana Mining Company is going ahead with plans to install the controversial low dose full body X-ray scanners (Scannex) at its mines. Debswana is pushing ahead in trying to use a technology, which countries such as Canada and the European Union have ditched. The diamond-mining giant has of late gone to extremes to protect its diamonds. It has installed spy cameras inside toilets at its mines to monitor its employees and now wants to add the radiation-emitting Scannex.

Botswana Guardian can reveal that plans are at an advanced stage to have the machines installed in all its operations. But experts fear that exposure to ionizing radiation could result in cell death, cell damage, cancer and that prolonged exposure could lead to death. The plan has received a resounding “no” from the Botswana Mine Workers Union, and some of the company’s employees who fear for the worst. The diamond mining giant got a conditional license from the Department of Radiation to install the low dose full body X-ray scanner (Scannex) in various locations at the Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines.

Debswana has submitted a Draft Scoping Report to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and is currently a subject of discussion. This publication is in possession of documents from DEA and the University of Botswana experts who were engaged by the Mine Workers Union. The documents seem to question Debswana’s motives. According to the Scoping Report the Scannex machines will be used for searching “personnel leaving mining areas at all Debswana operations with the objective of deterring and detecting diamond theft.” Statistics indicate that 687 diamonds were stolen in the past 25 years. From 1988 to 2001, 589 diamonds were stolen. While 98 cases of diamond theft were recorded from 2005 to date.

The DEA questions whether the latest statistics imply a decline in cases of diamond theft. “Does this also suggest the success of the current security measures?” reads a document from the department, which was discussed on the 20th of March at a meeting between Debswana, Mine Workers, Department of Radiation and the Department of Health among others. Sources say Debswana was asked to go back to the drawing board to address a number of questionable issues. The report from the UB experts, which was submitted this week, quotes the Radiation Protection Regulations of 2008. Regulation 37 (5) requires that records of workers be preserved until the worker reaches 75 years, and for not less than 30 years after termination of work involving occupational exposure.

“What hardware and software facilities are going to be used to ensure data will be preserved that long?” the report asks. Under “dose limitations” DEA has asked Debswana to stipulate the number of times employees are expected to be exposed to these scans in the different areas of the mine per day “in order to determine the possibility (or lack thereof) of exceeding the limits.” The scoping report is also silent on how operators of the Scannex technology will be affected. The Scoping Report exempts certain people such as pregnant women and individuals under the age of 16 from exposure to the scanner. This has prompted the UB academics to suspect whether indeed the machines are safe or not.

“If the Scannex produces such a low dose which is also regarded as safe, why are certain categories of persons being excluded? Isn’t that proof enough that there remains an uncertainty on safety of ionizing radiation?” Debswana has justified the use of Scannex saying the current physical search methods and surveillance of personnel at work areas have proven insufficient. “Since diamonds are portable, and easily concealable a diamond thief can conceal the stones in body orifices such as: nostrils, ears, mouth, navel, penis (urethra and foreskin) or vagina or the rectum,” reads the Draft Scoping Report under the subhead “Rational for the Project”.

The company dismissed concerns by its employees as “fear of the unknown” and “clouded opinions”. But the DEA have opined that the fears and concerns of the people are genuine and justified considering the long standing medical submission that humans should not be exposed to x-ray unless there is a medical purpose. DEA also argues that there has never been a study specifically done to ascertain safety in the use of Scannex. “This is why Canada and European Union countries are only using non x-ray technology,” reads the paper further stating it is thus difficult to trust x-ray technology before independent studies are conducted to assure people of their safety. Reached for comment Debswana’s Public Corporate Affairs Manager – Corporate Communications Rachel Mothibatsela said Debswana received a conditional approval from the Radiation Protection Inspectorate in June 2012, “and we are in the process of addressing the terms and conditions we need to meet in order for us to get an approval.”

She defended her company’s move for the use of the machines saying X-rays are the only known method capable of consistently detecting stolen diamonds concealed within the human body. “Not all stolen diamonds are currently being recovered because physical search methods that we currently use are not capable of detecting diamonds that are hidden within body cavities.” Mine Workers secretary general, Bob Molele on the other hand said they are against the introduction of Scannex. “We have never agreed to the use of Scannex,” he said Wednesday.

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 July 2013 16:13

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