Areva reaches uranium mining deal with Niger, delays project

Areva reaches uranium mining deal with Niger, delays project

Areva's facilities in Niger.

French nuclear engineering group Areva SA said Monday it has reached a deal with Niger's government to continue uranium mining as it pledged to pay more taxes and to indefinitely postpone a large project over profitability concerns.

Opponents to Areva’s proposed Imouraren mine in Niger, the world's fourth-largest uranium producer, claim the country's riches haven’t been translating into wealth for its citizens. According to Associated Press, critics have even accused the state-owned French company of exploiting Nigeriens since it began operations in 1971.

The parties have been locked in talks for two years, failing to reach a deal before the previous 10-year production contract expired last December, requiring its temporary extension.

Under today’s agreement, which will last for five years, Areva and the Niger government will set up a joint committee to monitor market conditions and decide when to kick-off Imouraren. The project’s production start date had been pushed back several times and was last due in 2015.

"Based on current uranium market prices, it wouldn't be profitable to operate the Imouraren mine," Areva and the government said in a joint statement.

Uranium prices have recently continued their slide to new record lows. Although there’s no spot price for the metal, UX Consulting’s most recent indicator, published May 19, came to $28 a pound, down 31% over 12 months.

The firm also said production at its Somair and Cominak uranium mines in Niger now would take place in the frame of the country's 2006 mining code, which increased taxes on uranium to 12% from 5.5%.

The Imouraren mine is expected to more than double Niger's output of uranium to around 9,000 tonnes a year.

Images courtesy of Areva