(June 21, 2007) Niger is currently hitting the international headlines. Nomadic rebels carried out a series of raids on military targets and mining interests in the northern region of Niger and have killed 15 soldiers. According to market analysts their fight against the exploration of uranium could be a potential squeeze on world uranium supply.
(658.5819) Laka Foundation - Nomadic rebels in Niger have warned all foreign uranium and oil companies to end their operations unless a deal is struck with the central government under President Mamadou Tandja to give the rebels a larger share in revenues. If these demands are not met soon, the rebels have threatened to target international operations and possibly kidnap operators. Statements made by representatives of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), made up largely of Tuareg and other nomadic tribes indicated that main targets will be Chinese and Western firms. In the past months the MNJ has carried out a series of raids on military targets and mining interests in the northern region around Agadez. Late June it killed 15 soldiers and took dozens hostage during a raid on a remote army outpost. In the latest attack, on 4 July, the rebels attacked a compound 22 miles (35 km) northwest of Agadez of state-controlled coal mining and power company SONICHAR, which powers Niger's two uranium firms. The MNJ says it launched its campaign in retaliation for arbitrary arrests and killings of civilians in the north of Niger, where it says 253 civilians have disappeared after a wave of detentions by government forces.
Since 2006, a number of Chinese companies have been operating in Niger, awarded licenses to explore for uranium. The Chinese group is being led by a uranium prospecting company floated in Niger by China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (Group) Corporation, called Sino-U, currently searching for uranium at two sites, Madaouela and Teguidda, in the Agadez region, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) northeast of the capital Niamey. The MNJ accuses Chinese companies of arming the Niger government in their fight against the rebels. Official warnings have been made and Sino-U deputy general manager Zhang Guohua have already been kidnapped and was set free in the night from 10 to 11 July.
In March 2006, Canadian companies Northwestern Mineral Ventures and North Atlantic Resources, also were awarded three uranium prospecting concessions. Other uranium mining operations are controlled by Compagnie Miniere d'Akouta (COMINAK) and the remainder by the French-controlled Societe des Mines et de l'Air (SOMAIR). AREVA owns 34 percent of Cominak. Other foreign companies holding interests are Japan's Overseas Uranium Resource Development Company (25 percent) and Spain's Enusa (10 percent). Mining is currently performed by Areva and its subsidiaries only, all others are prospecting or possibly constructing mines.
The former French colony's desert north has long been a hotbed of dissent, largely beyond government control, full of disillusioned, unemployed youths and awash with arms left over from an uprising by Tuareg, Arab and Toubou nomads in the 1990s. Niger remains one of the poorest nations on earth, ranking bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index. Most of the nomadic groups involved in the uprising in the 1990s accepted peace deals in 1995. But the MNJ says the government has not lived up to its promises, leaving the north economically marginalized and rife with insecurity.
The government of president Mamadou Tandja is hoping to cash in on rising world uranium demand, particularly from China, by granting dozens of new exploration permits. Tandja's administration refuses to recognize the MNJ, saying the recent attacks have nothing to do with the insurgency of the 1990s and dismissing them as acts of banditry carried out by drug traffickers and common criminals.
Sources: ResourceInvestor.com 9 July, 2007. Niger's Uranium and Oil Sector Threatened by Rebels / Canada.com 9 July, 2007. Uranium prices fall again, conflict in Niger / The Conservative Voice 9 July 2007. Niger Rebels Pressure Uranium Miners / Reuters 5 July, 2007. Niger rebels attack power plant in uranium area / Reuters 27 June, 2007. Niger rebels want greater steak in uranium, oil.
For the first time since May 2001, the spot uranium price dropped twice in two consecutive weeks. The TradeTech's Spot Price Indicator dropped to US$133 per pound U3O8, a decrease of US$2.00 (1.5 euro) from the June 30th Exchange Value. Nuclear Market Review (NMR) reported current active spot supply rose to more than 3.2 million pounds U3O8 equivalent. The active supply/demand ratio also rose - to 3.5 to the advantage of future uranium buyers. This confirms a reversal of the supply/demand ratio which favored sellers in late 2006 and early 2007. Last October, Cameco Corp's (CCJ) Cigar Lake flooding drove a rush of buyers to the spot uranium market. After a relatively quiet period, this past winter, Energy Resources of Australia announced part of their Ranger uranium operations had been flooded by a cyclone. Both events triggered a buying frenzy. Market analysts are now speculating that the next potential squeeze on uranium supply is not caused by nature, but caused by "terrorism". The world's seventh and eighth uranium producing mines are found in the Republic of Niger: the underground Akouta and the open pit Arlit. Together, they produced 3434 tons of uranium in 2006, according to the World Nuclear Association. This accounted for more than eight percent of the world's mining production last year.