The reality of French nuclear colonialism on the African continent is described in depth by Raphael Granvaud’s book Areva en Afrique, published in French earlier in 2012. Granvaud details the conditions under which France and Areva procure uranium at the lowest price, at the cost of political interference and environmental, health and social disaster for local people. It dispels the myth of French energy independence through nuclear power, since the uranium fueling civil and military nuclear power comes in large part from Africa.
In recent weeks, Areva’s practices in Africa were in the headlines several times, and Areva worries about this growing criticism.On April 25, 2012, employees working at Imouraren uranium mine in Niger (which could become the biggest in Africa when it should open in 2014), went on strike to protest against their working conditions. The information was published not only in local media, but also international media, which is quite new! On May 11, a French Court for social affairs condemned Areva for an "inexcusable mistake" in regard to the death from lung cancer of a French former employee who worked seven years for Cominak, one of the two subsidiaries of Areva in Arlit, Niger. This victory gives hope for African victims of uranium. These two affairs are only a visible part of how Cogema, since 2001 called Areva, worked and is still working in Africa. The reality is described in depth by Raphael Granvaud’s book Areva en Afrique, published in French in 2012 by Editor Agone. He reveals that since the 1950’s Areva mines African ore at the lowest cost and with no care for the environment, the workers and the communities.
The great development of French civilian and military nuclear power have been possible thanks to the exploitation of the soil of French African colonies (as in Madagascar from 1954) and then of African independent countries (in particular in Gabon and Niger). Even before the closure of the last uranium mine on French soil in 2001, the fuel for French nuclear plants was largely imported. So, the "French energy independence" was always only a myth spread by the French state.
The author shows that for more than 40 years, Cogema’s African subsidiaries were able to exploit uranium at low prices thanks to Françafrique and the support of dictatorial regimes sympathetic to French interests. ‘Françafrique’ is a system of domination developed by France over its former colonies in Africa in order to keep control of raw materials and strengthen its geostrategic and economic position. For instance, in 1974, when Nigerien President Diori attempted to demand higher uranium prices, he was ousted by a military coup, perpetrated under the watchful eyes of French authorities. Today the collusion between politics and interests of the French nuclear industry keeps going on. In 2009, French President Sarkozy supported Nigerien President Tandja, who sought to extend his term unconstitutionally, in exchange for which he obtained for Areva the contract of Imouraren mine. Similarly, he negotiated in trouble circumstances a memo between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Areva, enabling the company to explore the whole subsoil of Congo, representing an area the size of Europe.
The environmental, health and social scandal
The book points out that African people did not get any positive impact of uranium mining, and that conversely, they were sentenced to all its negative consequences. The disaster in terms of health, social and ecological aspects is immense.
In the case of Arlit, Niger, the uranium exploitation since 1967 resulted in agro-pastoral land-grabbing around the two mine sites, destruction of fauna and flora, air contamination by dust and radioactive gases, radioactive contamination of water or short-term irreversible exhaustion of the two aquifers - one is already dried up to 2/3 and the other will be irreversibly dried up within 40 years.
In the case of Gabon, the uranium mines closed in 1999 but the terrible consequences still continue despite a huge redevelopment program largely paid by the European Development Fund and not by Areva itself! Some areas are heavily polluted, as well as the river flowing nearby.
Areva’s stranglehold on local health facilities enabled a conspiracy of silence on occupational diseases. In forty years of operation in Arlit, Niger, Areva has not recognized any occupational disease!
Mobilization of civil society
In short, African debt of Areva is huge, but this doesn’t arouse much interest among authorities nor international institutions. Until now, mostly civil society organizations do care. The book recalls how local organizations first revealed the scandal of uranium mining in Africa, despite Areva’s ostracism.
As a consequence, Areva had to make some concessions, notably regarding the security of the workers, but generally refuses to take responsibility and continues to green wash its activities. 'Health observatories' were set up in Gabon in 2010 and in Niger in 2011. They are supposed to enable individual compensation for the (ex)-workers, who can prove that their illness is related to their work in the mines. After an initial phase of observation, NGOs that are part of these bodies are now denouncing the lack of independence of the Observatories. In the case of OSRA (“health observatory of the Agadez region”, Niger), they criticize the fact that Areva offers allowance for attendance, seen as a mean to buy their silence.
There is still a lot to do in terms of information, legal and policy work, in order to improve the lives of local people, reduce environmental risks, obtain a fair distribution of income lead to uranium, as well as to avoid new mines. Hard work is being led by Earthlife in Namibia; Brainforest in Gabon; the CED in Cameroon and in Central African Republic; ROTAB, Gren, Arlit’s coordination of civil society, Arlit’s civil society synergy in Niger; and many others.
More information on Areva in Africa (in English): http://survie.org/publications/4-pages/article/nouvelle-traduction-4-pages-areva
Source and contact: Juliette Poirson, Danyel Dubreuil, members of the French NGO ‘Survie’, which campaigns for the abolition of neo-colonial ties between France and its former colonies.