Areva has signed a cooperation agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on uranium prospecting and mining.
The agreement was signed by Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon and the Congolese minister of mines, Martin Kabwelulu, during a visit to DRC by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The agreement includes the creation of a joint commission that will develop a technical prospecting program. The work will start with a detailed inventory of uranium mining sites and an update of all databases.
In a statement, Areva said that its agreement with DRC "is made in a spirit of sustainable development that they wish to turn into a win-win partnership to develop the country's mining resources."
Areva noted that DRC's "size and geographical profile have given it major uranium reserves."
The DRC has a certain history of uraniu mining. The Belgian Congo, as it then was, provided much of the uranium for the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s, particularly from the Shinkolobwe mine in south-eastern Congo. There was some uranium mining subsequently by Union Miniere, until the country's independence in 1960, when the shafts were sealed and guarded. About 25,000 tonnes of uranium was produced in the two decades until then.
However, the Shinkolobwe deposit has since been unofficially mined for cobalt. A United Nations report in 2004 described the situation as anarchistic, which prompted concern by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has tried and failed to inspect the mine.
In July 2007, Brinkley Mining of the UK signed an agreement with the DRC for the production of uranium and for financial assistance to halt uranium smuggling. The deal established a joint venture between Brinkley and the DRC's General Commission for Atomic Energy (CGEA) to develop the country's uranium sector. The joint venture was to explore and exploit uranium deposits with particular emphasis on initial five key areas, including the former Shinkolobwe mine. The other deposits are at Mindigi, Kalongwe, Kasompi and Samboa. The partnership was also to market the resulting uranium.
However, in September 2008, Brinkley announced that, following the completion of a strategic review of the company's assets in DRC, the company had decided to terminate its operations there. Brinkley said its decision was based on "the uncertainty surrounding enforcement of the current agreements."