January 9, 2009 / 6:55 PM / 9 years ago

Uranium-rich Niger eyes nuclear power generation

NIAMEY, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Niger, one of the world’s top uranium producers, said on Friday it would study the possibility of building a nuclear power plant to meet its electricity needs.

Landlocked and on the southern side of the Sahara, Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries. It imports around 80 percent of its electricity from neighbouring Nigeria, Africa’s top producer of crude oil.

“Looking forward, in 2009 we will study the installation in the medium term of a civil thermonuclear power station,” Albade Abouba, minister of the interior and public security, said in a speech expressing New Year’s wishes to the prime minister.

Concerns about global warming have increased interest in nuclear generation, although many environmentalists worry about the risk of contamination, especially in developing countries, and the long-term problem of safely storing nuclear waste.

French nuclear energy group Areva <CEPFi.PA, said on Monday it had been awarded a licence to operate the huge Imouraren mine, which will more than double Niger’s uranium output and make it the world’s second biggest producer after Canada.

Imouraren, in which the Niger government will have a 33.35 percent stake, will require an initial investment of 1.2 billion euros ($1.67 billion). It is due to open in 2012 and will ultimately produce 5,000 tonnes of uranium a year for 35 years.

Areva, controlled by the French state, has operated Niger’s two existing uranium mines since the 1970s.

COMINAK, an underground mine, produces 1,781 tonnes of uranium, while the open-cast SOMAIR operation produces 1,150 tonnes per year, according to the group’s website www.areva.com.

China Nuclear International Uranium Corp. (Sino-U) also is creating a mine in Niger.

Many other companies have mining research permits in the sparsely-populated north of the country, where Tuareg nomadic rebels have waged a 23-month uprising in which at least 250 rebels and 80 government soldiers have been killed.

The rebels have demanded a greater share of mining revenues. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; writing by Alistair Thomson; editing by Michael Roddy)

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