Radioactive waste in Congolese river

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered residents of Likasi town to stay away from the local river Mura following reports that a large consignment of radioactive material has been illegally dumped in it.

Likasi is a large town in the mineral-rich Katanga province and home to an estimated 300,000 people. The contaminated site lies just a few kilometres from a pumping facility that supplies water to the town. "We have broadcast messages on radio telling police and local authorities to prevent people drinking or bathing in the river and not to give its waters to their livestock,' said environment minister Didace Pembe.

Media reports say local authorities had confiscated 19 tonnes of copper and cobalt ore, with traces of highly-radioactive uranium, early in November, and ordered the safe disposal of the seized cargo at an abandoned uranium mine. Officials charged with doing this instead dumped some of the waste in the Mura. Officials investigating the contamination said radiation levels near the area where the waste was dumped are 50 times over legal limits. Authorities have arrested seven people, including those from the anti-fraud squad, in this connection. The national mining company Gecamines has been asked to clean the river.

The radioactive waste belongs to a Chinese company Magma-Lubumbashi, which operates in Katanga. Copper and cobalt ores mined from the province usually contains traces of uranim. Congo has banned the export of these minerals.