Niamey, Niger: Niger has granted a wave of permits to British, Canadian and Indian mining firms allowing them to explore for uranium in the desert north, the West African country’s government said on Saturday.
A total of 23 permits were granted to three Canadian firms, three British firms and an Indian company, enabling them to explore in the former French colony’s Arlit and Tchirozerine regions, vast swathes of land in the southern Sahara desert.
Canada’s Southampton Ventures Inc., Delta Exploration Inc. and UraMin Inc., Britain’s COJ Commodity Investments Ltd, Agadez Ltd and Indo Energy Ltd, and India’s Taurian Resources Pvt. Ltd between them pledged to invest $55 million (Rs225 crore) in exploration activities over the next three years. Mumbai-based Taurian Group is a privately held company established in 1997. According to its website, the company has an annual turnover of $100 million.
Rising demand for uranium on international markets has renewed appetite for prospecting and mining in Niger, the world’s third-largest producer of the mineral, but at the bottom of a UN development index that ranks countries by the quality of life. The government is hoping the discovery of more deposits will again boost its economy, creating jobs and training, bringing development to some of its most remote communities, and raising tax revenues paid by foreign firms while they explore.
Meeting demands: A uranium mine in Niger, which is the world’s third-largest producer of the mineral that is used as a nuclear fuel in power stations and atomic submarines and vessels.
It hopes rising demand from fast-industrializing China, to whom it granted a series of exploration licences last July, means the industry will be sustainable in the medium term.
The government has already granted around 70 mining exploration permits for its desert north, mostly for uranium, and around 100 more are currently under consideration.
If new exploitable reserves are discovered, Niger will take a 40% stake in the projects, 10% for free, while it will pay for the remaining 30%.
Uranium is used as a nuclear fuel in power stations and atomic submarines and vessels, in the production of nuclear weapons and armour piercing bullets and in the aviation sector.
Rising demand saw spot uranium prices double last year on international markets, and a report by Deutsche Bank in January forecast they would rise by nearly 40% again this year.
Production in Niger—which also has reserves of iron ore, coal, copper, silver, platinum, vanadium, titanium and lithium, peaked at 4,366 tonnes in 1981, but has since fallen, standing at around 3,000 tonnes last year.
But the growing presence of foreign firms in one of the country’s most lawless regions is also catching the eye of Tuareg and Toubou nomads who have long complained of neglect and are demanding a share in the country’s natural wealth.
The light-skinned Tuareg and other northern tribesmen launched a full-scale rebellion against the government in Niamey in the 1990s and although peace deals were signed, the region remains a hotbed of resentment and is awash with arms.
Suspected Tuareg rebels last month attacked a uranium mine operated by a subsidiary of French mining group Areva SA, more than 1,200km northeast of Niamey near the border with Algeria.
The attack was the latest in a series of incidents on the ancient trade routes that criss-cross the Sahara, including the kidnapping of 20 European tourists last year, drugs and arms seizures and clashes with the army.