DRC starts audit of Glencore unit over radioactive cobalt export

4 December 2018 (Last Updated December 4th, 2018 12:35)

The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has begun an audit into how radioactive cobalt produced by Glencore’s Kamoto copper and cobalt mine was exported without being tracked domestically.

DRC starts audit of Glencore unit over radioactive cobalt export
An overhead view of flotation cells at the Kamoto copper and cobalt mine. Credit: Katanga Mining Limited.

The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has begun an audit into how radioactive cobalt produced by Glencore’s Kamoto copper and cobalt mine was exported without being tracked domestically.

The investigation covers Glencore unit Katanga Mining’s supply chain, Bloomberg reported citing Valery Mukasa, chief of staff to DRC Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu.

Kamoto is an underground mine located in the Katanga province. The exploration rights to the mine are held by Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), in which Katanga Mining owns a 75% interest and state-owned miner Gecamines owns the remaining 25%.

Last month, Katanga Mining halted cobalt export sales from the Kamoto mine after detecting excessive levels of uranium in processed cobalt.

At that time, the company stated that the levels of radioactivity were above those permitted to ship from African ports. The suspension of sales impacted 1,472 metric tonnes of finished cobalt.

The decision to suspend sales from the mine was criticised by the government officials.

In a letter dated 22 November and addressed to officials of Katanga, KCC and Gecamines, Kabwelulu wrote: “It is unacceptable that mining products crossed the Democratic Republic of Congo’s borders containing radioactive products” at levels that exceed limits tolerated by national and international regulations, according to the news agency

The audit is expected to last until 06 December.

The minister further called on KCC to take all necessary steps to ensure repatriation of all cobalt impacted by Katanga’s decision.

He underscored the need to fix the responsibility of the failure to prevent the exports of radioactive cobalt.

“It is unacceptable that mining products crossed the Democratic Republic of Congo’s borders containing radioactive products.”

KCC expects to produce as much as 300,000 metric tonnes of copper and 34,000 tonnes of cobalt next year.

Katanga is working on installing an ion-exchange system to remove uranium from cobalt processed at the mine. The facility is expected to be ready by mid-2019.

Meanwhile, in a major management shake-up, Glencore copper trading head Aristotelis Mistakidis is set to retire.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s most powerful commodities traders and a significant contributor to Glencore’s strong performance, Mistakidis is expected to depart by the end of this year as the company is facing legal pressure, including a probe by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) over allegations of corruption in the DRC.