Press Release


GENEVA/NAIROBI/NEW YORK, 9 November (OCHA) -- A United Nations assessment at the Shinkolobwe Uranium Mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 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 -— there is no respect for mining safety regulations”, according to Bernard Lamouille, an expert in artisanal (informal and manual) mining of the United Nations assessment team.

The Shinkolobwe Uranium Mine had been exploited for uranium, but closed before independence 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 visit of the United Nations assessment team, no artisanal miners were active on-site.  Following the evacuation of the mining site in early August, the adjacent village had been destroyed.  Reportedly, artisanal miners and their dependants dispersed to other artisanal mining sites and some returned to neighbouring towns.

“No immediate risks to the environment were observed”, said environmental expert Alain Pasche of the United Nations assessment team, “though we have taken samples of water, soil and sediments, which will be further analysed in Switzerland for heavy metal concentration.”

The inter-agency mission, led by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through their Joint Environment Unit, assessed the impact of a partial collapse of the artisanal workings upon request of the Minister of Solidarity and Humanitarian Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The team, which visited the mine in the south-western province of Katanga between 25 October and  4 November, also included experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

In the next three weeks, technical reports will be prepared to assist the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo 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.

For further information, please call:  René Nijenhuis, Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit Geneva, +41 22 917 1815, Mobile +41 79 477 0872; Nick Nuttall, UNEP Nairobi, + 254 20 623084, Mobile + 254  733 632755 ; Stephanie Bunker, OCHA New York, +1 917 892 1679, Mobile 917 892 1679;

You may download print-quality photos of the Shinkolobwe assessment mission from  Type in the following images codes 200411919 to 24 or search using the keyword “Shinkolobwe”.  Click on the image to open it into a separate window and follow the instructions to save it to your hard drive.  Reprints are permitted free of charge.  Photo copyright should be ©IRIN/OCHA.

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For information media. Not an official record.