Nuclear
Tuesday, 22 March 2011 14:28

International firms cause unrest over uranium in Niger

The Azelik mine in Niger produced its first barrel of uranium just before the New Year. The mine, which is 32.7% owned by China Uranium Corp, a unit of China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), will be the first overseas uranium deposit developed by China once it goes into full operation later in 2011.

“The Niger project would produce 700 tonnes per year,” said Chen Yuehui, Deputy-General Manager of China Uranium Corp. The trial operation at Azelik began on 10 December 2010, with the first barrel being produced on 30 December.

CNNC previously stated that it hopes to raise production at Azelik, which has reported resources of 13 000 tU at 0.2%, to 2 500 t/yr by 2015 and double that by 2020.

On 28 January 2011, Russia’s Gazprombank were awarded the rights to explore and produce uranium in two mining blocks (Toulouk 2 and Toulouk 4) in the northern Agadez region.

France’s Areva is Niger’s biggest uranium player, but the country’s resources have also attracted investments from minerals and energy firms in Canada, China, Australia and elsewhere.

Unrest at the mine
The Tuareg women of Azalik declared war on China when the government leased their land to the China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation (www.wise-uranium.org). The women, who sold salt from an ancestral well in the area, gathered to launch stones at mining machinery.

“Now it is eternal war,” says Tinatina Salah, their 50-year-old leader, who still seeks compensation for the loss of her salt. The largely Tuareg rebel organisation Movement of Nigerians for Justice (MNJ) was unhappy when Nigerian President Mamadou Tandja awarded a fresh round of exploration and operating permits for uranium, gold, silver and oil in the desert of northern Niger. Despite the large amount of money pouring into the country, MNJ accuses Tandja’s administration and mining companies of neglecting development in the north. The group wants local people to have greater control over resources.


Uranium in Niger
The first uranium discovery at Azelik was made in 1957 by the French Bureau de Recherches Geologiques et Minières (BRGM), looking for copper. Uranium has been produced in Niger since the early 1970s, and its two major operating uranium mines – Arlit and Akouta – provide 7.5% of the world’s mining output from Africa’s highest-grade uranium ores.

Niger is the world’s third to fifth-ranking producer of uranium. In 2005, the country produced 3 434 tU, and cumulative production from the country passed 100 000 tU in November 2006. About 56 000 tU of this has been from underground and 44 000 t from open pit.

Arlit and Akoka are both 900 km northeast of the capital Niamey (more than 1 200 km by road) on the southern border of the Sahara desert and on the western range of the Air mountains. The concentrates are exported for conversion, mostly to Comurhex in France.

Sources: www.cnnc.com.cn, www.af.reuters.com, www.wise-uranium.org, www.vaec.gov.vn.

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