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DR Congo’s lone nuclear reactor idle but safe: expert

Buildings housing a nuclear reactor are seen at the Regional Center for Nuclear Studies in Kinshasa (© 2009 AFP)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s lone nuclear research reactor is idle but safe, authorities said Thursday in the wake of Japan’s nuclear emergency.

“Our reactor is doing well. For security and safety reasons, it is idle,” Vincent Lukanda Muamba, the commissioner of the Kinshasa Regional Centre for Nuclear Studies (CREN), told a press conference.

The reactor, built in 1972, has been idle since 2004 because of a shortage of spare parts, including a digital control bay worth three million dollars, he explained.

Muamba pointed to good cooperation with the UN’s Vienna-Based International Atomic Energy Agency, saying the agency was sending inspectors every year to monitor the facility.

Even though “natural disasters are unpredictable”, he insisted that the Kinshasa reactor was built “in a non-seismic area, far from the ocean” and ruled out an accident similar to the unfolding disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The Congo’s Triga Mark II reactor with a one-megawatt capacity is located behind two glass doors and buried seven metres (23 feet) underground — and sits 500 metres (1,650 feet) from a crater.

This central African nation is blessed with enormous natural resources including uranium, which already holds a place in history.

Its uranium was most famously used for the so-called Manhattan project to make the world’s first nuclear bomb, which the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

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