THE world's last untouched natural
nuclear fission 'reactor' is in the centre
of a row between conservationists and a
mining company. The reactor was
formed naturally two billion years ago,
VIken deposits of high-grade uranium
ore went critical in what is now Gabon,
in western Africa. A group of European
scientists is trying to stop the company
from digging up the site.
There are 15 such reactors in the
region and only one of them has escaped
mining. The only intact prehistoric
nuclear waste site contains "fission products very similar to spent fuel from
modern reactors," says Francois
Gauthier-Lafaye of the Centre for Surface Geochernistry in Strasb@urg, France,
who is leading the campaign to save the
reactor. For the,@Kientists, it provides an
opportunity to observe how buried uranium isotopes and fission products
behave. The French government has, on
behalf of the scie*mists, reached an agreement with French-Gabonese mining
compaliy COMUF to postpone work at the
intact reactor at Bafigombe in the
Franceville basin. The deposit contains
100 to 200 tonnes of uranium buried 10
metres below the surface.
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