Niger’s Uranium Facilities Under Assault

FRANCEOne of the scariest scenarios for Western intelligence analysts is possible nexus between terrorism and nuclear materials. Recent events in Africa have heightened these scenarios. On 23 May 2 suicide bombers got into French-owned Areva Somair mine in the Arlit, Niger, 620 miles northeast of capital Niamey, detonating their vehicle. The resultant blast damaged the grinding units, it may take two to nine months to get facility up and running again. At almost the same time, twenty people, mostly soldiers, were killed in an attack against a military camp in Agadez, 160 miles to south, both attacks being claimed by jihadist groups. Niger Defense Minister Mahamadou Karidjo told a press conference, “The situation is under control and the search for the other attackers is under way. There will be a 72-hour period of national mourning starting from today.” The Mouvement pour le Tawhîd et du Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (“Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa,” MUJAO), formed in December 2011, one of groups fighting French military in Mali since January, claimed responsibility. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui said, “Thanks to Allah, we have carried out two operations against the enemies of Islam in Niger. We attacked France and Niger for its cooperation with France in the war against Sharia (Islamic law.)” Areva, majority-owned by the French government, has been operating in Niger since 1958 and currently has 2,500 workers employed by four subsidiary companies there, where it is the largest private-sector employer, producing 3.000 tons of uranium every year on the Arlit site through the companies COMINAK and SOMAÏR. According to company website,” During the more than 40 years AREVA has been present in Niger, the group has successfully built a long sustainable partnership with the country. It is a major contributor to the Nigerien economy. It carries out many social projects that help to improve living conditions of the local population. Its commitment is expressed through action plans for local economic development + healthcare. The group also has a continuous improvement program and pursues an active policy of risk prevention, impact limitation, environmental protection. It reports regularly on these policies, strives to maintain an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders.” Somaïr is 64% owned by Areva and 36% by Niger, last year produced 3.065 tons of uranium. Uranium currently produces 5% of Niger’s budget revenues but Niger, the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, is one of the poorest countries of the world and its government has repeatedly criticized its “very unbalanced” partnership with Areva and called for renegotiating the terms of its contract. Uranium is France’s major strategic economic interest in Sahel, hardly surprising, given that France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, with its 58 nuclear power plants producing 75% of country’s electricity. Roughly a quarter of uranium fueling France’s NPPs comes from Niger, where France has been mining since 1969. Blowback? Earlier this year, Niger sent troops to provide ground support to French-led military operation to end Islamist control over northern Mali. The military action displaced MUJAO from the region. But France intends to stand firm in its new conflict zone in Niger. Last week French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Niamey, telling French citizens at the embassy France intends to stay in Niger because Niger is France’s friend, contributes a lot to France, Niger needs assistance before concluding that Niger’s authorities have been “extremely brave in the fight against terrorism.” Further bolstering French policy, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Philippe Lalliot stated France has pledged its “full solidarity with the Nigerien authorities in the fight against terrorist groups.” How long before the bombings hit Paris? (source: John Daly – Oilprice.com – 04/06/2013)

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