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Official: China buried nuclear waste in Sudan desert

November 12 - 2015 KHARTOUM
Chlorine storage cylinders outside a chemical plant in Burri, Khartoum, in 2007 (UNEP)
Chlorine storage cylinders outside a chemical plant in Burri, Khartoum, in 2007 (UNEP)

China has buried dozens of containers with toxic waste in the desert of Northern Sudan, according to a high-ranking official. The waste was most probably coming from nuclear plants in China.

According to the former director of the Sudan Atomic Energy Commission in Sudan, Mohamed Siddig, 60 containers have been brought to Sudan together with construction materials and machinery for the building of the Merowe Dam (Hamdab Dam) in the Northern part of Sudan. He did not mention the exact year of the import and the date the nuclear waste was disposed. China worked on the dam between 2004 and 2009.

During a conference held by the Sudanese Standards and Metrology Organisation (SSMO) in Khartoum on Tuesday, he disclosed how the Sudanese authorities allowed the import of the waste ‘without inspection’.

40 containers were buried near the construction site, while another 20 were disposed of in the desert

He told the audience that 40 containers were buried in the desert not far from the Merowe Dam construction site. Another 20 containers were also disposed in the desert, though not buried. Mohamed Siddig was quoted by several local reporters, of whom some did not mention China, but ‘an Asian country’ instead. During the conference, titled ‘Raising awareness of the danger of chemicals’, Siddig said that a ‘number of Asian industrial countries’ had approached African countries to dispose their nuclear and other toxic waste.

Siddig was responsible for the Sudan Radioactive Waste Management programme that started in 1995, a central radioactive waste management facility was established in Soba near Khartoum. The Atomic Energy Committee is responsible for overseeing the safety in activities that involve the use of atomic energy in Sudan, and promoting the use of nuclear techniques.

Gold miners complain

In 2010, the government was already confronted by complaints of local gold diggers, according to the Sudanese newspaper El Tariq. Several gold workers approached the government complaining about many of the worker suffering from cancer and skin diseases. The Sudan authorities downplayed the questions saying the waste they dug up were remnants from earlier times. However witnesses told El Tariq that 500 sealed barrels were discovered in the El Atmur desert area in River Nile State.

Merowe Dam

The Merowe Dam, known by locals as Hamdab Dam, is located near the Nile’s fourth cataract was completed in 2009 by Chinese, French, and German companies, and largely funded by China and Arab financiers. The project doubled Sudan’s electricity generating capacity, but displaced more than 50,000 people from the Nile Valley to arid desert locations. 

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