January 28, 2011 / 10:53 AM / in 7 years

Niger grants uranium permits to Russian Gazprombank

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger’s ruling military junta has awarded Russia’s Gazprombank rights to explore and produce uranium at two sites, according to a statement read over state TV late on Thursday.

<p>A Gazprom sign is seen in front of the White House, the seat of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow January 14, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin</p>

“The company Gazprombank GTB NGS of the Gazprom group has been awarded mining conventions for research and mining of uranium on the perimeters of Toulouk 2 and Toulouk 4,” according to a government statement, refering to mining blocks in the northern Agadez region.

Niger is a leading uranium exporter, and the top supplier of the nuclear fuel to France’s power industry.

Gazprombank, one of Russia’s largest lenders and a former banking arm of state-owned energy giant Gazprom, holds a minority stake in Russian nuclear firm Atomstroyexport - which is helping build Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant.

A company official was not immediately available.

The statement said Niger expected exploration work on each permit to average $5 million, and said Niger would be granted a 20 percent stake in any operating company should commercial quantities of uranium be developed.

France’s Areva is Niger’s biggest uranium player, but the country’s resources riches have also attracted planned investments from minerals and energy firms from China, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

Niger’s junta took power in a coup in February 2010, but plans to hand leadership back to civilians after elections -- the first round of which is due on Monday.

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