French company risks losing Niger uranium mine sought by Russia

    WORLD  16 June 2024 - 11:03

    The French nuclear fuel cycle company, Orano SA, could lose the right to mine uranium at one of the largest deposits in the world by June 19 after Niger rejected the French nuclear company’s plan for developing the asset.

    The move comes as Russia’s seeks to take over mining assets in the West African country controlled by the French company, Bloomberg reported on June 3. Niger’s Paris-allied president was overthrown in a coup last July, the latest in a string of military takeovers in the region that has seen strongmen spurn ex-colonial power France and forge closer ties with Moscow, per Bloomberg.

    Orano continues to operate a single large uranium mine in Niger but its proposed plan for the development of the Imouraren deposit “doesn’t meet the authorities’ expectations,” Niger’s mining ministry said in a letter seen by Bloomberg. A junta spokesman confirmed the letter dated June 11.

    “The second and final notice will end on June 19, after which date the company’s operating permit will be revoked,” the letter said. A Niger mining ministry official couldn’t be reached for comment. An Orano spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Imouraren is one of the world’s biggest uranium deposits, with reserves estimated at 200,000 tons. Niger’s move follows years of delays since Orano obtained the permit in 2009, according to the letter. Exploitation was initially scheduled for 2012, but the fall in uranium prices on the world market delayed operations. Niger accounted for about 4% of global uranium mine production in 2022, according to the World Nuclear Association.

    One of the world’s poorest countries, Niger expelled French forces last year and ended a decade-long security agreement with the US, which has until mid-September to withdraw its troops stationed in the country. In April, 100 Russian military instructors arrived in the capital, Niamey, to train Niger’s forces on how to use air defense systems supplied by Moscow.

    France has relied on Niger for as much as 15% of its uranium needs to fuel nuclear reactors that account for 65 per cent of the country’s electricity production, Le Monde reported last year, citing Orano. European Union utilities depended on Niger, the world’s seventh-largest producer, for about a quarter of their uranium supplies in 2022, according to the Euratom Supply Agency.

    Orano has a majority stake in Imouraren SA with Niger’s Sopamin SA controlling the remaining 33.35 per cent.

    Orano currently operates Somaïr, an open-pit mine in the northern Arlit region, after the closure of Cominak in 2021. Mine activities at Somaïr resumed in February after a production stoppage of several months following the coup. Imouraren has been suspended since 2015, according to the company’s website site.

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