Niger revokes French firm’s license at major uranium mine

Tensions between Niger’s ruling junta and France escalated on Thursday as the African nation revoked the operating license of French nuclear fuel company Orano at the Imouraren uranium mine, one of the world’s largest.

The move follows a pledge by the junta to review mining concessions in the country. Niger’s mining ministry had previously warned Orano that its license would be revoked unless development work began at Imouraren by June 19th. Orano had assured they recently commenced “preparatory work” at the site.

Imouraren, located in northern Niger, holds an estimated 200,000 tonnes of uranium, a strategic resource used in nuclear power and weapons. Mining was initially planned to begin in 2015 but was put on hold due to a decline in global uranium prices following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Orano, present in Niger since 1971, expressed its intent to contest the decision in national or international courts. They claim the license revocation contradicts the recent resumption of activities at the mine, undertaken in accordance with the government’s wishes.

Niger is a landlocked country heavily reliant on uranium exports, with Europe being a key market. However, the closure of its border with Benin, its primary sea access, poses a significant logistical challenge. The government cites security concerns for the closure, but it hinders mineral exports.

Data from the nuclear agency Euratom reveals that Niger supplied roughly a quarter of the natural uranium used in European nuclear power plants in 2022. While Kazakhstan remains Europe’s leading supplier, Niger plays a crucial role.

The military takeover in July 2023 marked a shift in Niger’s foreign relations. The junta ordered the withdrawal of French troops and has been increasingly critical of its former colonial power. Niger has sought closer ties with Russia and Iran.

This development comes amidst a broader trend of diversification in Niger’s uranium sector. In recent years, companies from China, Australia, the US, and several other countries have secured uranium mining licenses in the nation. A Chinese-backed company, Azelik, is taking over previously suspended mining projects in northern Niger.

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