Orano claims the government of Niger has blocked it from resuming work at a large site for which it obtained a license in 2009 FILE PHOTO: A picture taken on June 26, 2018 shows the logo of French nuclear group Orano at the World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE) in Villepinte, near Paris. © ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

Niger’s military government has revoked the license of the French state-owned company Orano, which had allowed it to operate one of the world’s largest uranium mines in the West African nation, AFP reported on Thursday.

Orano said it’s been blocked from the Imouraren mine in northern Niger, which holds an estimated 200,000 metric tons of the metal used in nuclear power plants and weapons, AFP reported, citing a press release exclusively obtained from the company.

“Orano takes note of the decision by the Niger authorities to withdraw from its subsidiary Imouraren SA its license to work the deposit,” the company reportedly said on Thursday.

In 2009, Niger granted an operating permit to Imouraren SA, which is 66.65% owned by Orano and 33.35% by the Nigerien state-owned company Sopanin, to mine the deposit. Excavations started in 2012, but development was halted in 2015, allegedly due to a drop in global uranium prices following the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster.

However, the French nuclear fuel producer announced that activities resumed at the site on June 4, with dozens of people engaged “to make progress with the work” on the project, which is projected to employ some 800 people, including subcontractors.

The French company has been operating in Niger since 1971 and now controls another uranium mine, Somair, in the northern Arlit region, following the closure of Cominak in nearby Akokan in 2021. The Nigerien government owns 33% of Somair, which began operations over five decades ago.

Niger is the world’s seventh-largest uranium producer, accounting for 5% of global output, according to the World Nuclear Association. Last August, the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) said the former French colony was the second-largest supplier of natural uranium to the EU bloc in 2022.

The Sahel state’s mines are an important source of uranium for Paris’ nuclear reactors and account for 15%–17% of the uranium used in France to generate electricity, French media reports suggest.

Since taking control of Niamey last July, Niger’s military regime has taken steps to review not only security agreements previously signed between the ousted civilian government and its Western partners, but also foreign mining concessions.

The landlocked country’s new leadership banned uranium and gold exports to France just days after the coup, and has since kicked out French troops, with US forces set to leave by mid-September.

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Orano had previously stated that mining operations would continue despite “security events” in the former French colony following the coup.

On Thursday, the French firm stated that it is “willing to keep open all channels of communication with the Niger authorities” regarding the revocation of its license to extract at the Imouraren mine.

Orano said it reserves “the right to contest the decision to withdraw the operating permit before the authorities, competent judicial authorities, national or international.” (RT)