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DRC Investigates Suspected Illegal Dumping of Radioactive Ore

VOA News - November 7, 2007 10:07 PM

interview with reporter Joe Bavier audio clip
Listen to interview with reporter Joe Bavier audio clip

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are investigating the suspected dumping of 18 tons of radioactive minerals in the Mura River in southeast Katanga Province.  The minerals include 17 tons of copper ore that were seized by the government last month in the town of Likasi.  VOA's William Eagle spoke with reporter Joe Bavier in Kinshasa.

Reporter Joe Bavier in Kinshasa says they had a level of radioactivity 50 times the limit allowed by Congolese regulations: "We're talking about copper and cobalt ore?. The radioactivity comes from trace amounts of uranium found in any ore dug in that part of Katanga, which has pockets of [the mineral] that are no longer mined, due to restrictions."

He says according to the provincial environment minister, the government had ordered the minerals to be taken the now closed but radioactive Shinkolobwe uranium mining facility, [where] they were to be dumped. But the road to the mine was closed, and the truck carrying the minerals turned around. The minister says the team supervising the process dumped [the load] over the side of the bridge 10 kilometers south of Likasi, home to about 330,000 people.

No illnesses have been reported yet, but people use the river for transport and water. Tests done from its banks show radioactivity 33 times greater than the government limits.

Likasi authorities say that 17 tons of the ore belong to the Chinese firm Magma-Lumbumbashi. Another 1.4 tons of copper and cobalt belong to a Congolese mining firm, Chemaf, and a mineral broker based in Lumbumbashi, Louis Kiyombo.

Shinkonlobwe mine, near Likasi, provided uranium used in the American atomic bombs used on Japan during World War Two. It's been closed since 2004 because of lax enforcement of safety regulations. But Bavier says, "There has been some [informal] mining by diggers who pulled out bags of rocks (for sale). That's led to the deaths of quite a number of [unofficial] miners in Katanga. (But) the mineshafts are now covered with concrete and [are] inaccessible, [as is the road to the mine]. This is why [the truck] had the problem accessing the mine."

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