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Congo Mine Shipments Halted Over Radiation Concerns

Zijin Mining Faces Scrutiny After Failed Safety Standards

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

Shipments from a prominent Congolese copper and cobalt mine, which is majority-owned by China’s Zijin Mining Group, were returned due to excessive levels of radiation. This incident has raised concerns about safety and regulatory compliance in one of the world’s top mineral-producing regions.

Following the return of mineral shipments that were found to exceed the allowed radioactivity levels upon their arrival in South Africa, the Congolese mines ministry has temporarily suspended the export license of the COMMUS project. Zijin holds a 72% stake in the project. This decision was made pending a thorough investigation into the breach of radiation safety standards.

The Mines Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Antoinette N’Samba Kalambayi, wrote a letter on April 12 to inform the management of COMMUS, a company located near Kolwezi, about the suspension of their shipments due to exceeding regulatory thresholds for radioactivity content. Reuters made the letter public and it explained the reasons behind the return of the shipments. The letter also stated that the ministry will investigate COMMUS’s compliance with export procedures and assess potential risks associated with radioactive materials in the export chain.

COMMUS is a significant copper and cobalt producer, with production of 129,000 tonnes of copper and 2,200 tonnes of cobalt in 2023, according to ministry data. These minerals are crucial, particularly cobalt, which is extensively used in the production of batteries for electric vehicles and mobile phones. To address this serious issue swiftly and comprehensively, the government is committed to taking steps such as conducting a detailed investigation and issuing an internal directive.

The Congo is the world’s third-largest copper producer and the top producer of cobalt, making it a vital player in the global mining industry. The recent incident not only poses a risk to local environmental and human health but also has potential ramifications for global markets relying on these critical minerals.

Zijin Mining Group has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the incident, and attempts to reach COMMUS for comment have been unsuccessful. The specifics of the materials in the shipments have not been disclosed, adding an element of uncertainty to the situation.

This incident highlights the difficulties the mining sector has in areas like the Congo, where it is frequently difficult to strike a balance between resource production, environmental protection, and legal compliance. The results of the current investigation could result in harsher laws to stop such incidents from happening in the future, as well as major implications for the parties concerned. The return of the shipments due to safety concerns highlights the necessity of strict control and regulation in the mining industry, particularly in regions vital to the global supply chain of essential minerals.

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