Congo Uranium Mine Poses Threat

CAROUSEL - 60 Minutes/Rahm Israel Emanuel
Massive illicit digging at the uranium mine that fueled the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs threatens to put the mine's nuclear ore into terrorist hands, U.N. investigators warned on Tuesday.

The 15,000 miners now working east Congo's Shinkolobwe mine without authorization from the government risk contracting cancer and developing other health problems because of high radiation levels at the site, concluded investigators from the U.N. mission in Congo.

Privatizing the mine could bring illicit mining under control, suggested U.N. investigators, who launched their inquiry earlier this month after part of the mine caved in, killing seven miners.

U.N. authorities "recommended that this mine be secured and put in the charge of a private operation for much more disciplined operations, with the aim of avoiding risks including the high rate of radioactivity ... and uranium trafficking with those who shouldn't get it in their hands," U.N. mission spokesman Alexandre Essome said in Lubumbashi, capital of Congo's mineral-rich Katanga province.

Uranium from the mine was used in the nuclear bombs the United States dropped on Japan in World War II.

Congo's colonial ruler, Belgium, stopped uranium mining at the site around the time of independence in 1960, and filled the main shaft with concrete.

But widespread mining has continued in the area, though most miners are digging for cobalt at the site — not uranium.

President Joseph Kabila earlier this year ordered all mining there stopped, acting under pressure from the United States and others who feared terrorists might use the mine as a source of uranium.

But the presidential order has been widely ignored.

"We urge rigorous control by the Congolese government on those who buy and sell uranium coming from that mine," Essome said.

Geologists also concluded the uranium poses a health risk not only for the miners but for their women and children, some of whom live in the shaft, investigators said.

By Eddy Isango