Cablegate: Un Team to Shinkolobwe: Mine Not a Proliferation

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) A UN team, composed of officials from IAEA, UNEP and
WHO, visited Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga Province from Oct 25
to Nov 04 and concluded that the mine should remain closed
due to risks of mine collapse and potential chronic exposure
to ionising radiation. The objective of the trip was to
determine mine safety and health hazards to former workers,
and not a safeguards and proliferation assessment. A UN press
release announced the mine was vacated and no evidence of
uranium mining was found. Although the mine was unstable and
subject to additional cave-ins, team member Alain Pasche,
stated to UN press, "No immediate risks to the environment
were observed, though we have taken samples of water, soil
and sediments, which will be further analysed in Switzerland
for heavy metal concentrations."

2. (SBU) IAEA safeguards officer Bernard Weiss told econoff
in a phone conversation on Oct 29 that IAEA sent a
safeguards assessment team to Shinkolobwe in May 2004. The
safeguards assessment team concluded there was not a
safeguards/proliferation risk from the mine. He did note that
the higher than normal levels of radiation at Shinkolobwe are
to be expected due to the presence of natural uranium and
other heavy metals in the area. Although this does not pose a
proliferation risk, it could pose an alpha radiation health
hazard for the workers who breathed mine dust on a daily
basis. This assessment mirrors the USG assessment in March
2004 (reftel).

3. (SBU) Comment: Hype about Shinkolobwe, where the uranium
for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs was mined, is largely
created by a sensationalist press. Both USG and IAEA have
determined that there is not a nuclear safeguards or
proliferation risk from Shinkolobwe. The artisanal miners
have been removed from the mine. The UN team and local mining
sector contacts report that all mining has stopped. Although
miners previously at Shinkolobwe might be at higher risk for
health problems due to inhalation of radioactive dust,
naturally elevated levels of radioactivity should not be
confused with proliferation of highly radioactive substances.
End comment.

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