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VENTURES AFRICA- Areva’s two uranium mines located in Niger, West Africa has resumed operations after it was officially shut down for maintenance weeks ago amid negotiations with the Nigerien government.
The French-owned nuclear company whose operational contract at the mines expired last year operates two uranium mines – Cominak and Somair- in the Northern part of the country. The mines are the group’s second-largest producer, after Kazakhstan.
Areva has been operating on the mines since the early 1970s and it pays just 5.5 percent royalties on extracted ore as stipulated under deals Niger signed with France, its former colonial ruler, in 1961 and 1968.
Now, Niger’s government wants to apply a 2006 mining law that ends tax breaks for foreign companies like Areva, which has thus far been exempt, but the firm is seeking to keep costs down, AFP reported.
Niger is seeking greater control of its natural resources and uranium accounts for more than 70 percent. The Sub-Saharan African nation wants more money from foreign explorers to help develop its country.
Although Niger is recognised as the world’s fourth-largest uranium producer, the West African nation ranks low on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
In January, Niger’s Minister of Mines Oumarou Hamidou Tchiana said the two sides had already met four or five times, alternately in Niamey-Niger and Paris – France with allowances for future negotiations.
Mines Minister Tchiana said both parties are going to “pursue the discussions until the end of February in order to find common ground.”
The outcome of the discussion will determine the fate of future Uranium mining in the country.
If the 2006 law were applied, the tax rate would be increased to 12 percent.
While confirming the opening of the Uranium mine to news agency, AFP,over the weekend, Secretary General of Mining Union (SYNAMIN), Salifou Chipkaou accused Areva of exaggerating the need for maintenance and negotiating in “bad faith”, using the shutdown to pressure the government.
According to him, the actual maintenance work at Cominak lasted only from December 25 to 31, and at Somair from January 1 to 25.
Chipkaou’s comment reflects that of Sanoussi Jackou, an advisor to President Mahamadou Issoufou, who recently said that “Areva’s people take advantage of negligence by successive regimes in Niger to practise their greed.”
In spite of this, the Niger government declared that the mines should be worked while negotiations continue.