Areva in deal to open uranium mine in Niger

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

By Matthew Green in Nairobi

Areva, the French nuclear company, has secured a key source of uranium needed to supply its global expansion plans with a deal to open a new mine in Niger.

The agreement will normalise Areva's increasingly strained relationships with the former French colony, which has sought to erode the company's 30-year mon-opoly. Under the accord, Areva has won the right to invest more than €1bn ($1.5bn) in opening another uranium mine in the west African country.

In return, the company will pay about 50 per cent more to Niger's government for the metal it mines, to reflect surging prices. The agreement will soothe concerns about Areva's ability to source uranium to grow its nuclear reactor business by reinforcing its dominance in Niger, which supplies about 40 per cent of its uranium needs.

Areva, the world's largest nuclear group, has faced increasing competition in the past year after Niger's government awarded dozens of uranium exploration permits to Chinese, South African, Canadian, Indian and other competitors.

Growing global demand for nuclear power pushed uranium prices to record highs last year, driving renewed exploration in Niger, the world's sixth-largest exporter.

The price rises have coincided with a year-old uprising by the rebels of the Niger Movement for Justice, which says it is seeking a greater share of wealth and political power for the nom-adic Tuaregs in the desert north. The MNJ rebels attacked the proposed site of Areva's mine at Imouraren in April, but have generally avoided direct attacks on mining companies.

Aghaly ag Alambo, MNJ commander, said they hoped Areva would grant a greater share of profits and jobs to Tuareg communities.

"The company has already worked here for 30 years but the local population hasn't even benefited from 1 per cent of this wealth," Mr Alambo said.

Areva has pledged to continue funding development projects in Niger, saying the new site will create 1,400 permanent jobs.

The deal, signed by Mamadou Tandja, the president, and Anne Lauvergeon, Areva's chief executive, in the capital Niamey on Sunday, marks a big improvement in relations. Niger's government accused Areva of supporting the rebels last year and barred a top executive. Areva and the rebels denied the accusations.

Areva said the mine at Imouraren would add about 5,000 tonnes a year of uranium exports to an existing production of more than 3,000 tonnes.

Posted in |