African countries enjoying boost from uranium

14 January 2008

Niger and Malawi are both set to benefit from separate uranium mining developments with Areva and Paladin, while Namibia's newest uranium mine has achieved an operating milestone.


A new agreement signed by president Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of French full-scope nuclear company Areva, has laid down terms and conditions for buying the uranium produced from the Cominak and Somair uranium mines over the next two years in what Areva describes as a "win-win" partnership agreement. The agreement also provides for a price increase of around 50% to reflect recent rises in long-term uranium prices. The rate paid to Niger had previously been increased from $26 to $38 per pound U3O8 in a deal signed by Areva in mid-2007 and valid until 1 January 2008.


Areva also announced that it has received government agreement to begin mining at the Imouraren deposit and extend its exploration scope. The French company plans to invest over Eur1 billion (about $1.5 billion) in the project, which it says will produce almost 5000 tonnes of uranium per year and be Niger's biggest ever industrial mining project. Somair and Cominak's operating mines at Arlit and Akouta jointly produced over 3400 tU in 2006, making Niger the world's fourth highest uranium producing country.


According to Areva, the developments confirm the company's role as a mine operator in Niger "for the coming decades."


Meanwhile, a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that Malawi will benefit from a 25% increase in exports when the country's first uranium mine starts up in 2009. The report issued by the IMF's Bretton Woods Institute says that, at current prices, the output of the Kayelekera mine over the decade from 2009 could be worth about $1.6 billion. At its peak, the mine's output could raise the country's GDP by 10%, although the strong performance is assumed to be partially reversed once production from the mine peaks and then ceases in 2020.


Kayelekera is being developed by Australian-based Paladin Resources, which owns 85% equity in the project with the remainder held by the government of Malawi. Paladin plans to commission the mine, which it expects to produce 1000 tonnes of U3O8 per year, in the last quarter of 2008 with commercial production slated for early 2009.


Meanwhile in Namibia, Paladin has announced that its Langer Heinrich uranium project reached its production target for the fourth quarter of 2007 and expects output to be at nameplate capacity of 2.6 million pounds of U3O8 (1000 tU) per year for 2008. Delays during mine commissioning saw Paladin purchasing uranium from third parties as a "strategic holding" and to enable it to meet some early delivery contracts.