France's Orano loses operating licence at major uranium mine in Niger


Niger has removed the mining permit of French nuclear fuel producer Orano at one of the world's biggest uranium mines, the company said Thursday, highlighting tensions between France and the African country's ruling junta.

State-owned Orano said it had been excluded from the Imouraren mine in northern Niger which sits on an estimated 200,000 tonnes of the metal, widely used for nuclear energy and weapons.

"Orano takes note of the decision by the Niger authorities to withdraw from its subsidiary Imouraren SA its licence to work the deposit," the company said in a statement Thursday.

Orano said the decision would have a "negative impact on the economic, social and societal development of the region".

Niger is the world's seventh largest producer of uranium and has the highest-grade ores on the African continent.

Mining at the Imouraren site was meant to have started in 2015 but development stopped after the collapse in world uranium prices in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

The Niger government had vowed to review mining concessions in the country and the mining ministry had warned that it would remove Orano's licence if development work had not started by 19 June.

In its statement, Orano said it had resumed "activities" at the site on 4 June, in line with the government's wishes, and remained willing to keep all channels of communication open with the Niger authorities.

It reserved the right to take legal measures to challenge the decision in the national or international courts.

Junta reviews mining concessions

The French firm (formerly Areva) has been present in Niger since 1971, extracting raw material intended mainly for France's nuclear industry.

It has three uranium mines in the country, but only one is in operation. The Cominak mine at Arkokan has been closed since 2021 but Orano runs another mine in Somaïr in northern region of Arlit despite what it calls "logistical" difficulties.

The junta vowed to review foreign mining concessions in the country after ittook power in July last year.

The military rulers have also turned against France, ordering out French troops based in the country and increasing criticism of the former colonial power. Niger has increasingly turned to Russia and Iran for support.

Chinese, Australian, US, British, Italian, Canadian, Russian and Indian firms have secured uranium mining licenses in recent years. In 2022 there were 31 prospecting permits and 11 mining licences.

The Azelik mining company, majority held by Chinese interests, is increasingly taking over uranium mining in the north of the country.

(with AFP)

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