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Niger Revokes Uranium Mine Permit From France’s Orano

NIGERIEN military authorities have revoked the operating permit for a major uranium mine operated by the French company Orano, the company announced, marking a significant escalation in tensions between Niger’s military junta and France, the country’s former colonial power.

Key developments

Niger, a landlocked nation with a population of 26 million, ranks as the world’s seventh-largest supplier of uranium, essential for nuclear power and weapons production. In 2022, Niger supplied over a quarter of the uranium used in the European Union, making it the bloc’s second-largest source after Kazakhstan.

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Background

Before last year’s military coup, Niger was a crucial economic and security partner for the West in the Sahel region, a hotbed of violent extremism south of the Sahara Desert. The new military junta, which took power with promises to sever ties with the West, has since vowed to review mining concessions and ordered the withdrawal of Western troops.

The Imouraren mine

The Imouraren mine, located in northern Niger, is one of the largest uranium deposits globally, with estimated reserves of 200,000 tons. Initially set to begin production in 2015, activities were halted due to a crash in uranium prices following Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Despite recent resumptions of activities, the Nigerien junta decided to withdraw the permit. Orano stated, ‘Current market conditions, with a favourable increase in the price of uranium, make it possible to once again consider putting Imouraren into operation.’ The company noted that the infrastructure had reopened earlier this month.

The Nigerien mining ministry’s letter dated June 20 stated that Orano’s exploitation plan ‘did not meet our expectations,’ leading to the mine being ‘returned to the public domain’ and exempted from all contractual rights.

Orano, which has operated in Niger for over 50 years, emphasised its ‘responsible approach of partnership and transparency’ in continuous consultation with the Nigerien state and local stakeholders. The company expressed willingness to maintain communication with the junta but reserved the right to challenge the permit withdrawal in national or international courts.

This decision underscores the increasing strain in Niger’s relations with France and raises concerns about the future of uranium supplies from this key global source.

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