Shinkolobwe is the name of a town and a mine in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), located near the larger town of Likasi and about 120 miles northwest of Lubumbashi. Around 15,000 people live in the town.
The mine produced uranium ore for the Manhattan Project. It was officially closed in 2004.
The mineral deposit was discovered in 1915 by Robert Rich Sharp (1881-1958).
The mine was worked from 1921 onwards. Uranium-bearing ore was initially exported to Belgium for the extraction of radium.
The United States used Shinkolobwe's uranium resources to supply the Manhattan Project to construct the atomic bomb in World War II. Edgar Sengier, then director of Union Minière du Haut Katanga, had stockpiled 1,200 tonnes of uranium ore in a warehouse on Staten Island, New York. This ore and an additional 3,000 tonnes of ore stored above-ground at the mine was purchased by Colonel Ken Nichols for use in the project. Nichols wrote:
Our best source, the Shinkolobwe mine, represented a freak occurrence in nature. It contained a tremendously rich lode of uranium pitchblende. Nothing like it has ever again been found. The ore already in the United States contained 65 percent U3O8, while the pitchblende aboveground in the Congo amounted to a thousand tons of 65 percent ore, and the waste piles of ore contained two thousand tons of 20 percent U3O8. To illustrate the uniqueness of Sengier’s stockpile, after the war the MED and the AEC considered ore containing three-tenths of 1 percent as a good find. Without Sengier’s foresight in stockpiling ore in the United States and aboveground in Africa, we simply would not have had the amounts of uranium needed to justify building the large separation plants and the plutonium reactors.
The mine was closed in 1939 and flooded. The US Army sent a squad from its Corps of Engineers to reopen the mine, expand the aerodromes in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa and Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi), and extend the port at Matadi, on the Congo River. Between 1942 and 1944, about 30,000 tons of uranium ore were sold to the US Army.
On July 18, 2006 the DRC Sanctions Committee, (United Nations Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1533 (2004), to give it its full name) released a report dated June 15, 2006, which stated that artisanal mining for various minerals continues at the Shinkolobwe mine:
149. During an investigation into alleged smuggling of radioactive materials, the Group of Experts has learned that such incidents are far more frequent than assumed. According to Congolese experts on radioactive materials, organs of State 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.
American interest in the Shinkolobwe mine for the purpose of developing of nuclear weapons led to the implementation of extensive security measures. Shinkolobwe's location was removed from maps and journalists were denied access to the mine and official information.
In 1963 he served in the UN mission in the Congo, where he was chief of staff of the Katanga command and was mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry.
It was about this time when India had tested its own Nuclear bomb. General Sundarji had long been an advocate of a nuclear policy, and now emerged as an articulate military spokesman for nuclear policy.
In 1984, he led Operation Blue Star, intended to evict Sikh extremists who had occupied the Golden temple in Amritsar. The Indian army marched into the gurudawara with their boots off. He was to later say - "We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips". According to his wife, Sundarji emerged a changed man after this operation.
In 1986, he was appointed the Chief of Army Staff. After taking over as the Army Chief, he wrote a letter to his soldiers warning of deteriorating standards, and the evil of sycophancy.
On August 9, 2006 the Sunday Times published a report claiming that Iran was seeking to import "bomb-making uranium" from the Shinkolobwe mine., quoting the UN report of July 18, 2006. This report gives "Tanzanian customs officials" as its sole source for their claim that the uranium was destined for processing in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan via the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.