Illegal uranium mining at shuttered Congo site -UN

Illegal uranium mining at shuttered Congo site -UN

Uranium is being mined illegally at a site in Congo that provided the radioactive material for the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, U.N. experts reported on Thursday.

The Shinkolobwe mine in mineral-rich Katanga province in southwestern Congo was ordered shut down by U.N. investigators in 2004 who found it unsafe to operate.

The investigators, sent in after a partial collapse of the mine killed eight people that year, concluded it was likely to collapse further and miners were in danger of chronic exposure to radiation.

But a team of experts monitoring a U.N. arms embargo on the Democratic Republic of Congo said they found ample signs of “artisan mining” by small groups of private individuals during a recent visit.

Local police and residents told them “local agents of the mining police and of the National Intelligence Agency not only encourage but also charge fees from the miners,” the experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.

“These observations stand in stark contrast to the assurances given to the Group of Experts by officials of the Ministry of Mines and of the National Intelligence Agency,” the experts said.

“They assured the group that the mine is secured and that no artisan mining is taking place,” their report said.

Some 14,000 miners, mainly youths under 18 living in the adjacent village of Shinkolobwe, once earned their living in the mine. The United States used uranium from the site to make the first nuclear weapons used in warfare.

The Congolese authorities destroyed the village in August 2004, at the same time the U.N. investigators ordered the mine closed.

But the U.N. experts said they found seven villages within a few miles of the mine, with a total population of nearly 10,000 people. They said they were able to drive their all-terrain vehicles right up to the mine and encountered “no barriers or even simple warning signs.”

Part of the experts’ work is to advise the Security Council on how to prevent Congo’s rich supply of natural resources from being used to fuel internal conflict that has long plagued the vast central African nation.

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