Uncertainty looms between Niamey and Paris over the much- coveted nuclear fuel mineral uranium, it has emerged.
According to the Nairobi-based think tank, Analysis Africa, despite the falling global uranium prices, Niger is seeking to take control of the Areva-operated uranium mine of Imouraren which is 160km north of Agadez.
The Imouraren mine is expected to become the second biggest open-pit uranium mine in the world, after the Olympic Dam in Australia.
Niger’s Minister of the Mines and Industrial Development, Omar Hamidou Tchiana, said the cooperation between his country and French nuclear company Areva was “unbalanced and unfavorable to Niger”.
Tchiana made this statement after Areva postponed the launch of Imouraren uranium mine from the year 2012 to an unscheduled date in 2013 or 2014.
Areva delayed the opening of the mine due to security reasons. This followed the death of seven employees of Areva, who were abducted in Arlit uranium mine by the Islamic militant group Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in September 2010.
Three hostages were later released but four remain in captivity. The French government had asked its expatriates to leave the area and the project of Imouraren was suspended for one year.
TheFrench-owned nuclear giant Areva has been operating two uranium mines in Niger for the last 50 years through the companies Cominak and Somair.
But lately there has been a change of heart in Niamey as Niger is not satisfied with the impact of uranium mining in its economy.
In late October this year, Niger’s authorities announced suddenly that their country was yet to benefit from a 40-year partnership with the French Uranium mining company Areva.
The incomes from uranium exploitation count for only 5 percent of the country’s national budget.
This rate is being seen as exploitative and insignificant by Niger’s authorities. Presently Niger is the second largest uranium exporter in the world after Kazakhstan yet it is one of the poorest in the world.