Orano sees 10 more years for Niger uranium project

13 March 2020

France intends to ensure the continuity of uranium production in northern Niger, Nicolas Maes, head of Orano's mining business unit, said following an 11 March audience with Nigerien Prime Minister Birgi Rafini. This will mean ensuring that Orano subsidiary Somaïr can continue operating for as long as possible, or at least until the Imouraren project resumes, he said.

Niger Minister of Mines Hassane Barazé Moussa, Nicolas Maes and the CEOs of Cominak and Somaïr pictured at the French embassy earlier this week (Image: @ambafr_au_niger)

Niamey et les 2 jours quoted Maes as saying a "visibility" of 10 years had been confirmed for Somaïr (Société des Mines de l'Aïr), which produces uranium from the Arlit deposit.

"It's about defining the conditions for the development of the Imouraren project [that] take into account both the uranium market today and the legitimate expectations of the State of Niger. And that also means knowing how to manage the shutdown of the Cominak mine responsibly," he said.

Somaïr is 63.4% owned by Orano and 36.66% by Niger mining assets company Sopamin and, according to Orano, has produced nearly 68,000 tU since operations began in 1971. Cominak, which stands for Compagnie Miniere d'Akouta, was set up in 1974 and started production from the Akouta deposit. Owned by Orano (34%), Niger assets mining company Sopamin (31%), Overseas Uranium Resources Development Co of Japan (25%) and Enusa Industrias Avanzadas SA of Spain (10%), Cominak has produced more than 70,000 tU since the start of operations in 1978 but is scheduled to cease activities by the end of March 2021. According to World Nuclear Association, the output from the two operations provide about 5% of world uranium production.

Orano describes Imouraren, about 80 km south of Arlit and 160 km north of Agadez, as its "mine of the future" and says it is one of the largest uranium reserves in the world, with over 174,000 tU. The operating company is 66.65% owned by Orano and 33.35% by Sopamin and the State of Niger. Following a feasibility study completed at the end of 2007, Orano was awarded an operating permit to mine the deposit in early 2009, but work to bring the site into production has been suspended since 2015 pending more favourable market conditions. The government of Niger and Orano in 2014 agreed to set up a joint strategic committee to determine when mining should start at Imouraren.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News