Energy-hungry China to seek uranium in Niger

Energy-hungry China to seek uranium in Niger

Niger has awarded licences to a group of companies from China to explore for uranium as the Asian economic powerhouse steps up its hunt for strategic sources of energy and raw materials in Africa.

China, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, is looking to meet booming energy demand by rapidly expanding its nuclear energy programme. The exploration licences announced were the first for Chinese firms in Niger’s uranium sector.

The group led by the China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) would hunt for uranium at two sites, Madaouela and Teguidda, in the Agadez region, about 1,000 km (600 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey, a Niger government statement said on Monday.

“Approval of these agreements gives the CNUC the contractual framework to initiate mining activities in Niger,” said the statement, quoted by state media.

Beijing has launched a widening diplomatic and trade offensive in recent years to secure vital oil and raw materials supplies from mineral-rich Africa and Latin America.

Niger, an impoverished landlocked former French colony on the southern side of the Sahara, has significant reserves of uranium, from which nuclear fuel is made.

The Niger government said prospects for the development of the uranium sector, its biggest export earner, were being boosted by a pick up in world demand for the mineral and China’s nuclear energy expansion plans.

Uranium production in Niger peaked at 4,366 tonnes in 1981 and now stands at around 3,000 tonnes a year.

In March, Niger awarded three uranium prospecting concessions to Canada-based mining firms, Northwestern Mineral Ventures Inc and North Atlantic Resources .

Of Niger’s current uranium output, around 2,000 tonnes is produced by the Compagnie Miniere d’Akouta (COMINAK), owned by the government with French, Japanese and Spanish interests, and the remainder by the French-controlled Societe des Mines et de l’Air (SOMAIR).

SOMAIR has announced plans to open a second mining operation.

The China National Petroleum Corporation is also exploring for oil in Niger’s Agadez region.

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