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July 3 (Reuters) - The United Nations, United States, France and the EU have this week criticised Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja’s plan to hold a referendum to enable him to extend his rule over the West African uranium producer beyond the expiry of his second term in office.
The plan, declared unlawful by the country’s constitutional court, has met with internal opposition, while the international community says it threatens to undermine democracy and destabilise the country.
Below are details of companies with mining, oil and industrial projects in Niger, a desert country of 15 million people which produces around 7.5 percent of the world’s uranium.
French state-owned nuclear energy group Areva is developing the Imouraren uranium mine in the north of Niger. Due to begin producing in 2012 after initial investment of 1.2 billion euros, Imouraren is expected to be the biggest uranium mine in Africa with eventual production of 5,000 tonnes per year for 35 years.
Areva has operated Niger’s two existing uranium mines, Cominak and Somair, since the 1970s.
Cameco, the world’s biggest uranium producer, last year bought an 11 percent stake in Govi High Power Exploration, which owns exploration properties around Arlit and Agadez in Niger.
Chinese state-owned CNPC struck a $5 billion deal with Niger’s government last June to pump oil from the Agadem block within three years, and lay a 2,000 km pipeline to export it.
CNPC also said it would build a 20,000 barrels per day oil refinery, which would be Niger’s first. President Tandja laid the foundation stone of the Ganaram refinery in October last year. The deal, which included a 127 billion CFA franc ($272.5 million) signature bonus, was criticised by rights groups for its intransparency.
China’s state-owned uranium firm, known as SINO-U, will invest $300 million in the Somina uranium mine, located at Azelik near Agadez. The mine, due to come on stream by 2010, will produce around 700 tonnes per year. In April, China extended a $95 million loan to Niger to support the project.
Indonesian mining, energy, construction and infrastructure firm Earthstone Group owns four uranium blocks in Niger.
The Islamic Development Bank has pledged $236 million to finance the construction of the Kandadji dam, the first stage of a hydropower project that will cost more than $700 million. Work began on the dam in August last year.
South Korean state-owned Korea Resources Corp signed a memorandum of understanding in March to buy around 10 percent of its annual uranium needs from Niger.
London-listed Niger Uranium owns eight prospecting licences in the Tim Mersoi Basin, which it describes as the world’s fifth most important uranium producing district.
Australian-listed NGM Resources owns three uranium exploration concessions in Niger via its subsidiary Indo Energy.
Niger plans to build a nuclear power station in the “medium to long term,” an advisor to the minister of mines and energy said in February. Adolphe Gbaguidi Waly said the country had not decided on a specific way to implement the plan but would seek help from South Africa, the only country on the continent that has a nuclear power plant.
TRANS-SAHARAN GAS PIPELINE
In conjunction with Nigeria and Algeria, Niger signed an agreement on Friday to build a 4,000 km gas pipeline across the Sahara capable of transporting 30 billion cubic metres a year to Europe. Capital costs are estimated at $10 billion for the pipeline and $3 billion for gathering centres.
(Sources: World Nuclear Association, company websites, Reuters data)
Compiled by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by William Hardy