September 23, 2010 / 6:02 PM / 9 years ago

Congo and Areva in uranium exploration talks

KINSHASA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo and France’s Areva are in talks over possible uranium exploration at a now-closed site that once produced material for the Hiroshima bomb.

Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu and Areva’s Africa Chairman Zephirin Diabre met this week, both parties confirmed, and additional discussions were likely into next year.

“We are looking to have all the geological data available before a meeting in Paris,” Kabwelulu told Reuters by text message on Thursday, adding that the next meeting was likely to take place in March 2011.

“All I can confirm is that they did indeed meet,” a spokesperson for Areva told Reuters by email.

Congo’s largest uranium mine, Shinkolobwe, provided the uranium that went into the atomic bomb deployed by the United States on Japan in 1945 during the Second World War.

The site in the south of the vast and minerals-rich central African country was officially closed in 2004, but the United Nations has since cautioned that radioactive material from Congo is frequently smuggled out.

The site is in poor condition, likely suffering from leaks that would be costly to contain, and a lack of fencing is has opened it up to smuggling — raising fears among Western diplomats that some of the uranium is reaching Iran.

“Uranium is the one resource that’s always been at the back of everyone’s mind — it explains U.S. interest in a country that was otherwise not very interesting,” said Christopher Melville, Africa specialist with London-based risk consultancy, Menas Associates.

Reporting by Katrina Manson; editing by Richard Valdmanis

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