Uranium exploration firms flock to Niger desert
Niger has granted a wave of permits to British, Canadian and Indian mining firms allowing them to explore for uranium in its 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 some $55 million in exploration activities over the next three years.
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 bottom of a U.N. development index ranking countries by 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.
It hopes rising demand from fast-industrialising 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, the state of Niger will take a 40 percent stake in the projects, 10 percent for free, while it will pay for the remaining 30 percent.
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 percent 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, more than 1,200 km 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.
Uranium hunt: India strikes gold in Sahara
Monday, August 20, 2007 (New Delhi):
Even as lawmakers in India fight over the merits of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, which now threatens to destabilize the Manmohan Singh government, a bold and courageous move by an Indian company promises access to literally unlimited amounts of uranium, yes the very same mineral over which India is spending sleepless nights.
At a time when the country is trying to procure uranium at any cost, an Indian company has broken new ground by acquiring exclusive rights for exploration and mining of uranium in the west African country of Niger.
This is the first time any Indian has won a contract for uranium exploration and mining anywhere in the world.
Natural uranium is much sought after for use as fuel in nuclear reactors. India is not well endowed with uranium ores and it is this short supply that is becoming the stumbling block for the rapid expansion of nuclear power in India.
Taurian Resources Private Limited, Mumbai, a Rs 300 crore company, has recently won a contract which gives it exclusive rights over 3000 square kilometers of the Sahara Desert known to be rich in deposits of uranium.
According estimates of the Managing Director of the company Sachin Bajla (36-years-old), the area is likely to hold at least 30,000 metric tons of Uranium, which he says 'should be enough to meet India's requirement for the next 1,000 years'.
Against huge odds, Taurian won a permit to search for uranium in the Arlit region of Niger for an undisclosed amount.
Bajla says 'till he relinquishes nobody can take away this area earmarked exclusively for his company'. He received the permit from Mohamed Abdoulahi, Minister of Mines and Energy for Niger and also had an audience with Mr Mamadou Tandja, President of Niger.
Dr Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission 'welcomed' the development but said as of now the government has little role to play as it was a 'bold forward looking private venture'.
Interestingly, Niger is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 45 member nation that controls all nuclear related commerce and hence it should be easy for India to access uranium once the mines become operational which will take several years, with the possibility that the ground may not be that rich in uranium as is being envisaged.
Today, Niger is the fifth largest supplier of Uranium in the world, the refined form of this atomic element is also called 'Yellow Cake'. Uranium is the largest export item for Niger. Ironically, despite such a mineral deposit, Niger is still a very poor country as it ranks right at the bottom of United Nations Human Development Index.
The French company Areva SA has a huge presence in Niger, where the French giant has built a whole township in the desert and mines uranium from at least 600 meters below the ground. Niger exports about 3,500 metric tones of uranium mostly going to France.
Just yesterday, Australia the largest supplier of Uranium in the world expressed its willingness to supply uranium to India, but not without strings being attached.
Bajla says, 'I would be happy to meet India's uranium requirement if the government so desires'. He is also looking for government support for his huge venture having written about this to the Prime Minister.
Bajla feels to fully exploit the potential an investment of at least US$ 6-7 billion will be required and for which he hopes to raise money from the international market by listing his company on the London Stock Exchange. If uranium is indeed found by Taurian, the Government of Niger will also hold part rights over the sales of mineral.
He says as the region is very barren a whole new township will have to be created. In return for the permit Bajla says he has promised to the government of Niger that his company would green one million hectares of land using the plant Jatropha, a known source for biofuels.
The Arlit region where Taurian has secured its rights is known for its unending sectarian conflict, but Bajla hopes to win the hearts and minds of the locals though appropriate social development of the region.
The Tauruian group was set up a decade ago and iron ore mines in Jharkhand and Orissa and a big engineering unit in Roorkee.