Death trap uranium mine closed down by UN

Assessment of a uranium mine by the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo has shown it could be very dangerous and must be closed indefinitely.

The Shinkolobwe Uranium Mine was found to be at a high risk of collapsing, as well as potentially chronically exposing miners to ionising radiation. After the mine was originally closed down and sealed off, artisanal (informal or manual) mining for cobalt began in the late 1990s.

Artisanal mining expert from the UN assessment team Bernard Lamouille said that all work at the mine needed to be terminated before any serious incident could occur.

"The situation in Shinkolobwe could be described as anarchistic," he said. "There is no respect for mining safety regulations."

Around 15,000 people were dependent on the mining activities at the Shinkolobwe mine and living in the nearby village. The assessment was conducted after part of the mine collapsed in July 2004 and killed eight people.

Despite concerns, there is not yet any evidence of environmental risk posed by the mine according to environmental expert Alain Pasche, who was also part of the UN's assessment team.

"We have taken samples of water, soil and sediments, which will be further analysed in Switzerland for heavy metal concentration," Mr Pasche confirmed.

He added that technical reports will be prepared over the next three weeks to assist local authorities in the Congo with recommendations on both short and long term ways of dealing with the Shinkolobwe mine, as well as the region's problems associated with artisanal miners.

The assessment was led by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

By Jane Kettle



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