Radioactive ore dumped in DRC river

08 November 2007

[Mail & Guardian, 7 November; Reuters, 10 November] Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are investigating the suspected dumping of nearly 19 tonnes of radioactive minerals into the Mura River in southeast Katanga province. The minerals include about 17 tonnes of copper ore, which were set for export, seized by authorities in October in the mining town of Likasi. Authorities ordered the material to be disposed of in the closed Shinkolobwe uranium mine. However, workers are believed to have dumped the material from a bridge about 10 km from Likasi into the Mura River after finding the road to the Shinkolobwe mine blocked. According to an initial investigation, the 17 tonnes of ore belonged to Chinese company Magma-Lubumbashi, while another 1.4 tonnes of copper and cobalt earmarked for disposal belonged to Congolese mining company Chemaf and Louis Kiyombo, a mineral broker. The radioactivity comes from trace amounts of uranium found in ore mined in the region. Tests conducted on the river water indicate radioactivity 33 times greater than government limits. "If this information is really true, there are serious risks for the local population," said environment minister Didace Pembe. He added, "That would require serious punishment. There are grave consequences." Pembe said on 9 November that "the entire commission charged with disposing of these minerals is now under arrest. There are six people now in custody, and I expect a seventh to be arrested today." The previous day, Pembe and a group of experts from the Environment Ministry and Congo's Atomic Energy Agency visited the site of the dumping. He remarked, "Nineteen tonnes would be a small mountain. We did not see that. All of the minerals were not dumped. That is sure." Police in Katanga continue to search for the truck used in the dumping.

Further information

WNA's Uranium in Africa information paper

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