February 8, 2016 / 4:12 PM / 3 years ago

In Congo's stormy heart, Randgold uses radar to prevent mine blackouts

CAPE TOWN, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Mining in Democratic Republic of Congo has many challenges and as Randgold Resources developed its Kibali gold mine in the north-east of the central African nation, it came across an unexpected one: the weather.

“The electrical storms there are hectic,” Chief Executive Mark Bristow told Reuters after the company reported an 11 percent fall in full year profit because of depressed bullion prices.

The meteorological challenge is a serious one, as the intense nature of such tropical storms can knock the power out - a major problem when a firm has to supply its own electricity because of the remote and rugged terrain where it operates.

Bristow said at Kibali, the company uses “storm scopes” - basically, a small radar system - that monitors a storm as it approaches, giving details on the speed of its movement, its intensity and the number of lighting strikes it is generating.

“The guys who manage the power station monitor it and when it gets close enough and we can see it’s a real storm then we take off one of the hydro turbines and put on high-spinning diesel engines,” he said.

“They are much more responsive and protected but a turbine is one solid piece of power and you can blow the whole thing.”

Kibali’s production is seen rising to 750,000 ounces a year by 2018 from just over 600,000 ounces currently.

“They key is you want to distinguish between an electric storm and a normal storm and there aren’t too many normal storms where we are in the rainy season,” Bristow said.

Randgold has signed three joint venture agreements with junior miners to explore potential gold deposits in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Bristow said in January. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia)

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