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Niger's junta returns French-run uranium mine 'back to public domain'

By RFI
Niger AFP - OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT
TUE, 25 JUN 2024 LISTEN
AFP - OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT

Niger has confirmed one of the world's biggest uranium mines has returned to public control after revoking the operating licence of French nuclear fuel producer Orano.

Last week, Orano said it had been excluded from the Imouraren mine in northern Niger, in a move that has highlighted tensions between France and Niger's military rulers.

The junta-led government had not reacted before releasing a statement on Monday saying the Imouraren mine had returned "to the public domain of the state".

The military have justified revoking Orano's licence by saying the company "never honoured its commitments" despite two "formal notices" handed to it by the mines ministry in February 2022 and March this year.

On Thursday, Orano said it had "taken note" of the withdrawal of the licence from its subsidiary Imouraren SA.

According to Orano, the move comes despite its recent resumption of "activities" at the site, which had been fulfilled in line with the government's wishes.

The company added that it was "prepared to keep open all channels of communication" with the authorities while reserving the right to contest the decision in national or international courts.

Collapse of Franco-Niger relations

The Imouraren mine sits on an estimated 200,000 tonnes of uranium, used for nuclear power and weapons.

But development was frozen after the collapse in world uranium prices following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Niger's military rulers have vowed to review mining concessions in the country since taking power in a July 2023 coup, as part of its focus on national sovereignty.

They have also broken ties with France – the former colonial power and traditional partner – and turned towards Russia which is seeking to extend its influence in the region.

In 2022, Niger accounted for about a quarter of the natural uranium supplied to European nuclear power plants, according to data from the atomic organisation Euratom.

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