President Mamadou Tandja of Niger has laid the foundation stone for Areva's Imouraren uranium mining complex. The mine is the most recent major uranium project to hit the headlines following developments in Malawi, Kazakhstan and Australia.
A ceremony attended by several hundred guests including Alain Joyandet, French secretary of state for cooperation and francophony, and Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon, was held to mark the formal start of work on the Imouraren complex, where mining is scheduled to begin in earnest in 2012. According to Areva, its 5000 tU per year output will double the country's annual uranium output and give Niger second place in world uranium production rankings.
Areva was granted a permit to mine the deposit earlier this year, but the French nuclear company's involvement in Niger dates back over 40 years. As well as the mine, which will have a 35 year operating life and an initial investment of over €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion), Areva is also committing an annual €6 million ($8 million) to actions to strengthen social and economic development in the West African country over the next five years.
Strong foundations for U
Imouraren joins a growing list of major uranium projects to make serious progress in recent days, following the launch of the Kayalekera mine in Malawi and the official openings of the Kharasan 1 and Irkol projects in Kazakhstan. Even more recently, an environmental impact statement for a planned expansion that could see a massive increase in production at the Olympic Dam mine in Australia - already one of the world's largest uranium producers - has been published. According to Steve Kidd, Director of Strategy and Research at the World Nuclear Association, such large, low-cost projects will be the building blocks for future uranium production even as smaller projects are put on the back burner in the current economic climate.
"Everyone recognizes that world uranium production needs to increase substantially over the next 10-15 years, to cover both declining secondary supplies and increasing demand," said Kidd. He went on to explain that, given the sharp increase in the uranium price (despite the decline from the peak in summer 2007, the spot price is still four times its average during the 20 years to 2003), production increases over the past few years have been somewhat muted, and some expected new projects have become casualties as prices have fallen from their peak. There has also been a substantial shake-out in the junior uranium company sector.
"We are left, however, with a number of large, lower cost projects, in Kazakhstan, Australia and Africa which will form the solid foundation for uranium production in the future. These take time to get underway, but are now proceeding gradually to the production stage. This will give the reactor operators the supply security they require, with uranium available from competitive major operations in a variety of countries," said Kidd.