Jane VaynmanCongo nuclear official arrested

Reuters and a number of other sources are reporting the arrest of Fortunat Lumu, Commissioner General for Atomic Energy in Democratic Republic of the Congo, over suspected plans to illegally sell uranium.

Basically, this is all the info: a Kinshasa newspaper alleged (no public evidence yet to support the claim, notes BBC) that uranium is missing from the city’s atomic institute, Congolese authorities confirmed the arrest of Lumu and another associate, and Congo’s Minister of Scientific Research Sylvanus Mushi said that there was contact with a criminal network, “a group of people coming from all over the world, from Europe, from South Africa, from the Seychelles.”

Stories on uranium from the Republic of the Congo have been popping up for a while, and like this most recent one, each time seem to lack any details. Global Security Newswire reported on it in June 2004 and July 2006. In November 2006 Reuters quoted unnamed officials on concerns of sales to Iran.

Last August, Jeffrey wrote a post tearing into a Sunday Times of London article which claimed uranium sales from Congo to Iran. Clearly, the AP was not paying attention to Jeffrey’s wisdom (which, by the way, comes up quickly in a google search for the story), and again referenced the Sunday Times report.

Comments

  1. yale (History)

    I think that Dr. Jeff trashed the Sunday Times story in error.

    He appears to have misread the sources and conflated incidents, and confused the use of containers.

    In his post Dr. Jeff wrote:

    The UN report, as you may note, does not mention Iran or Kazakhstan, details that the Sunday Times claims to have obtained from anonymous Tanzanian customs officials….First, said Tanzanian customs officials told the Sunday Times the shipment was bound for land-locked Kazakhstan via the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas:“The shipment was destined for smelting in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, delivered via Bandar Abbas, Iran’s biggest port.”This fact … contradicts the headline (“Iran’s plot to mine uranium in Africa”),…Second, this is not a large consignment in the sense of the “Saddam Hussein sought significant quantities of uranium.”The shipment was 100 kilograms of uranium ore—which contains about 70 grams of fissile U-235. A bomb would require 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to 90 percent U-235 —well more than 3 metric tons of uranium ore. Fueling a clandestine uranium enrichment program with 100 kilogram increments of ore would be a huge pain in the ass.

    The Times story:

    A senior Tanzanian customs official said the illicit uranium shipment was found hidden in a consignment of coltan… The [COLTAN] shipment was destined for smelting in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, delivered via Bandar Abbas, Iran’s biggest port.“There were several containers due to be shipped and they were all routinely scanned with a Geiger counter,” the official said.“This one was very radioactive. When we opened the container it was full of drums of coltan. Each drum contains about 50kg of ore. When the first and second rows were removed, the ones after that were found to be drums of uranium.’

    The UN Letter July 2006:

    Letter dated 18 July 2006 from the Chairman of the SecurityCouncil Committee…1. Reported incidents of smuggling149. … [CONGO SECURITY] have, during the past six years, confiscated over 50 cases containing Uranium or cesium IN AND AROUND KINSHASA. The last significant incident occurred in MARCH 2004 WHEN TWO CONTAINERS WITH OVER 100 KILOGRAMS OF STABLE URANIUM-238 AND URANIUM-235 WERE SECURED.150. … Tanzania has provided limited data on four shipments that were seized over the past 10 years. Unfortunately [TANZANIA] CHOSE NOT TO PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT THE QUANTITIES OF THE SEIZED CONSIGNMENTS northe specific method of smuggling. At least in reference to the last shipment from OCTOBER 2005, THE TANZANIAN GOVERNMENT LEFT NO DOUBT THAT THE URANIUM WAS TRANSPORTED FROM LUBUMBASHI

    What we see is that Jeffery’s 100 kg is from UN 149 – a local Congo theft of maybe a lunch-box sized container.

    The mass smuggling (in UN 150) was a Tanzanian intercept and was unquantified.If the source is to be believed it would be large shipment. The container held 50kg drums and a number of these drums are implied. Only 20 would be a ton, and there may have been many shipments.

    The fact that the Coltan was been addressed to Kazakhstan is sensible. Labeled “Hidden Shipment of Uranium to be Diverted to Iran” may have been problematical as to unhindered delivery.

    As to Iran’s need for the ore, it would allow unsafeguarded feedstock for clandestine enrichment.

    If not to Iran, then we need to be pretty suspicious as to what the Kazahkstanis are up to with smuggled uranium.

    I don’t know what the “truth” is about these issues, but it should not be simply blown off.

  2. Hass

    Its a cheap frame-up at best.

  3. yale (History)

    The stolen 100 uranium “bars” mentioned in the Le Phare newspaper story may be referring to TRIGA-II fuel elements.

    These have previously been stolen from Congo, including fuel confiscated from the Mafia.

    If it is TRIGA fuel, then the theft would contain 19 kilograms of 20% enriched U.

    This would require only about 100 or so SWUs to create 4 kilograms of 90% HEU.

    This is enough for a bomb made by real experts, or about a fourth of the required amount for a first-generation design.

    Either way, it would be quite valuable to a country with any sort of enrichment capability.

  4. Mark Hibbs (History)

    I’ve recently met some pretty senior nuclear official people in the Congo. If I can find the time, I will check this out.

  5. yale (History)

    Jeffery may have been thinking of this earlier incident from 2002

    Police in Tanzania say they have seized 110kg of suspected uranium and arrested five people, including a national of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In its raw form – yellow powder – uranium can be used to make radioactive material for the nuclear industries. The suspected uranium, which was ready to be sold in four plastic containers, came from a neighbouring country, but investigators will name it only when an investigation has been completed. The containers were transported through three towns in south-western Tanzania, including Kigoma. One of the five people arrested, a Congolese national, has been named as Makambo Mayunga. The other four are all Tanzanians, including a woman who is an economist with the civil service. Director of criminal investigations Adadi Rajab told the BBC that it was not yet clear if the find was linked to terrorism but thought “they were just doing business”. He said that in recent months, five tanks of suspected uranium had been seized.

  6. nad

    Note that Lumu and his “accomplice” were released from custody after three days, per the BBC – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6445303.stm

  7. yale (History)

    Update to the story

    Congo frees scientist in uranium smuggling scandalTue Mar 13, 2007KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo has provisionally released the country’s top nuclear researcher, arrested last week on suspicion of belonging to an international ring to illegally export uranium, a minister said on Monday.Minister of Scientific Research Sylvanus Mushi said he was deeply disappointed by the release from custody on Saturday of Commissioner General for Atomic Energy Fortunat Lumu, just four days after he was arrested with one of his colleagues.Mushi, recently appointed as part of a new government, accuses the two men of illegally negotiating partnerships with foreign companies. He said he learned of Lumu’s release on Monday morning.“This was a great disappointment, because we haven’t yet uncovered everything there is to uncover,” Mushi told Reuters. ”(Lumu’s) presence outside of custody will seriously harm any chance of succeeding with this investigation.”Lumu declined to comment, saying he would not speak publicly while the investigation was ongoing.Mushi last week denounced a deal signed between Lumu and a subsidiary of UK-listed Brinkley Mining to mine and export uranium in the vast mineral-rich central African nation. He said the deal, agreed last year under a post-war transitional government, was part of what he called “a criminal enterprise”.

    Read the whole article HERE

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