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Niger junta revokes French company’s operating licence at major uranium mine

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The junta controlled government in Niger Republic has revoked the operating licence of French nuclear fuel producer, Orano, at one of the world’s biggest uranium mines.

State-owned Orano said on Thursday that it had been ordered out of the Imouraren mine in northern Niger which sits on an estimated 200,000 tonnes of the metal, used for nuclear power and weapons.

Imouraren mine site
Imouraren mine site

Niger, a landlocked country of 26 million, is the world’s seventh biggest supplier of uranium, used for the production of weapons and nuclear power.

In 2022, the country supplied over a quarter of the uranium used in the European Union, according to the bloc’s nuclear energy agency, making it its second-biggest uranium source, after Kazakhstan, AP reported.

Before the military coup last year, Niger was the West’s major economic and security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that has become a hot spot for violent extremism.

But the military junta which seized power last year July on the pledge of cutting ties with the West vowed to review mining concessions in the country and ordered the withdrawal of Western troops.

The decision has highlighted tensions between the junta and the former colonial power, France.

Thursday’s decision by the Nigerien junta comes “despite the resumption of activities on site, pursuant to the expectations they had expressed,” Orano said in a statement.

In a letter to the company dated 20 June, seen by the Associated Press, the Nigerien mining ministry said Orano’s exploitation plan “did not meet our expectations”.

As a result, the mine has been “returned to the public domain” and exempted from all contractual rights, the letter said.

Since coming to power, the junta has been reducing its ties to France.

After expelling Paris’ ambassador, Niger in December ordered the departure of French troops deployed to fight Islamist militants in the region.

The junta has been establishing closer links to Russia.

Orano, which has been operating in Niger for over 50 years, said it was “willing to keep all channels of communication open” with the military authorities.

But it added that it reserved the right to take legal action against the withdrawal of the operating licence in a national or international court.

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