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Uranium industry in Niger from AREVA to Chinese companies

the Chinese-operated uranium mine is one of the most opaque business endeavours in Niger
“The nuclear industry itself really works as an oligopoly,” says Yi-Chong Xu, an expert in China’s nuclear policy at Australia’s Griffith University. “In every segment, it’s controlled by only 3 or 4 companies.”
Communities close to uranium sites in northern Niger generally haven’t derived a substantial or obvious advantage from them.
“There isn’t any benefit for the population who lives here,” “They’re just afraid of the contamination.”
uranium-oreOne uranium mine in Niger says a lot about China’s huge nuclear-power ambitions, Business Insider, 25 Oct 15,  ARMIN ROSEN “………the ambitions of the nuclear powers in Niger are still playing out today as Niger’s remote and inhospitable northern desert environment contains the world’s fifth-largest recoverable uranium reserves, some 7% of the global total.

The ore must be extracted and then milled into yellowcake in distant pockets of the Saharan wastes, where it’s then sent on a multi-day truck convoy to the port of Cotonou, in Benin, some 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) away………Those mines are operated by Areva, a nuclear-energy-services company that is 70% owned by France, the colonial power that ruled Niger between the 1890s and 1960…….
plans to begin large-scale mining at Imouraren are now on hold because of the worldwide plunge in uranium prices that followed the Fukushima incident and the resulting shutdown of Japan’s 43 commercial nuclear reactors…….

A fourth mine, in a place called Azelik, near the mostly ethnic Tuareg city of In’gall, is currently much smaller than the other three sites.

Like Imouraren, it’s currently shuttered as a partial result of the uranium price dip. But because of its ownership and a checkered recent history, it’s an instructive guide to the future of Niger’s uranium and the global nuclear energy industry at large.

Niger’s Azelik uranium mine, owned and operated by Chinese companies, is at the geographic and economic fringes of a continent-wide wave of Chinese investment, goods, and people.

In Niger alone, China has invested billions in the oil sector and has undertaken a number of large infrastructural projects. But, as the mine demonstrates, it’s far from a given that both sides will always benefit from a complex social and economic relationship that neither has fully figured out yet……..

the Chinese-operated uranium mine is one of the most opaque business endeavours in Niger……..

From the outset, the mine angered people in and around In’gall, with journalist Hannah Armstrong reporting in 2010 that locals hurled stones at mining machinery in protest of their land being leased to CNNC’s international subsidiary for uranium exploration without their permission or compensation…….

People from across northern Niger talk still about Azelik in unmistakable terms: It’s a dark zone, a place where the laws of Niger are disrespected with impunity, and living evidence of the government’s helplessness in the face of powerful foreign interests.

“China doesn’t respect any of the laws of the country,” Almoustapha Alhacen, the founder of the Arlit-based uranium industry watchdog group Aghir In’Man, told Business Insider in reference to the Azelik mine. “They are always in conflict with their employees and with the population.”

Kamil Khamed, a National Assembly candidate from the mostly Tuareg city of Tchin Tabaradin, goes even further.

“If you could see what In’gall has become, you’ll have tears in your eyes,” Khamed told Business Insider. “They violated all of the country’s mining laws. You can read through the laws. They don’t respect a single one.”

In Gani, a collection of cattle herds and wood-frame structures about 50 kilometers down the road from Azelik, Business Insider spoke with locals who blamed the Chinese mine for the area’s declining water table as well as for various nonlethal illnesses afflicting their sheep and goats.

The area’s residents, who are semi-nomadic Taureg herders whose flocks depend on predictable year-round water sources, claimed that the water table had dropped from 30 meters to 75 meters in the past decade alone, something they directly attribute to the mine’s opening in 2011.

It’s hard to verify that accusation. But their suspicion of the mine is fed by something that’s much easier to see: Communities close to uranium sites in northern Niger generally haven’t derived a substantial or obvious advantage from them.

“Today, 80% of Nigeriens don’t even know Niger has uranium,” Alhacen told Business Insider, “and 99% never get any benefits from it.”

The overriding concern in Gani is finding water to support the area’s herds………

In’gall mayor Sidi Mamane, who Business Insider met in Gani, echoed Moussa’s concerns.

“There isn’t any benefit for the population who lives here,” Mamane said. “They’re just afraid of the contamination.”

Alhacen specifically alleged that Azelik’s operators were improperly disposing of trash from the mine — a worrying possibility, considering that waste from uranium mining and milling is often radioactive.

For people in Gani, Azelik isn’t a source of jobs or a driver of local economic development, but something that’s sharpened existing local anxieties. Even seasonal nomadism may not be sustainable in a time of population growth, urbanisation, and environmental change……..

For over four decades, the French nuclear-services giant Areva and its predecessor companies had been allowed to operate in Niger with remarkable latitude. The government’s arrangement with the company meant that Areva avoided paying export taxes, while both the uranium purchase price and the mechanism for determining that price were kept secret from the general public……..

Mohammad Anacko, the president of the Agadez regional council, told Business Insider that Areva had greater transparency in its operations than Azelik.

“The Chinese are worse because they don’t say what they’re doing. They don’t respect the environment or workers’ rights.”

Anecko also believes Areva’s revenue is easier to trace: “At least Areva gives the 15%. With the Chinese mine we don’t know what they’re doing or how much they’re getting on it.”……..

For the time being, Chinese uranium exploitation is at a dead end in Niger.

“Azelik is test run for the Chinese,” one uranium industry official in Niamey told Business Insider. “And it’s failed.”

Or has it? The mine may be of immense value to its Chinese investors even in a state of indefinite closure…..

“The nuclear industry itself really works as an oligopoly,” says Yi-Chong Xu, an expert in China’s nuclear policy at Australia’s Griffith University. “In every segment, it’s controlled by only 3 or 4 companies.”……..http://www.businessinsider.com.au/niger-uranium-mine-and-nuclear-china-2015-10

 

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October 26, 2015 - Posted by | Niger, opposition to nuclear, politics, social effects, Uranium

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