- A UN investigation team has found that a uranium mine in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) that collapsed in July, killing eight people, is at high risk of caving in again and "must remain closed." The team had taken radiation readings at Shinkolobwe mine and found "high risks of mine collapse and potential chronic exposure to ionising radiation."
The interagency team, led by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), visited the Shinkolobwe uranium mine in the south-western province of Katanga between 25 October and 4 November, and is now preparing technical recommendations.
The mine had been exploited for uranium but closed before the country gained independence in the 1960s by sealing the main shafts with concrete. In the late 1990s, artisanal mining for cobalt was allowed, leading to uncontrolled and dangerous mining activities. No evidence of uranium mining was found.
Around 15,000 people were dependent on the mining activities and living in the nearby village of Shinkolobwe. However, during the UN team's visit, no artisanal miners were active on-site. Following the evacuation of the mining site in early August, the adjacent village had been destroyed. Artisanal miners and their dependants had reportedly dispersed to other artisanal mining sites and some returned to neighbouring towns.
- No immediate risks to the environment were observed, said Alain Pasche of the UN assessment team, "though we have taken samples of water, soil and sediments, which will be further analysed in Switzerland for heavy metal concentration," he added.
Nevertheless, UNEP said that the assessment team had found "high risks of mine collapse and potential chronic exposure to ionising radiation," and concluded that the mine must remain closed. The assessment followed an earlier mine collapse in July 2004 that killed eight people.
- The situation in Shinkolobwe could be described as anarchistic, according to Bernard Lamouille, an expert in artisanal (informal and manual) mining of the UN assessment team. "There is no respect for mining safety regulations, Mr Lamouille added.
In the next three weeks, technical reports will be prepared to assist the authorities of Congo Kinshasa with recommendations on short term and longer-term actions regarding the Shinkolobwe Uranium Mine, as well as the problems associated with artisanal miners in the region, according to a UNEP statement.
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