Niger revokes mining permit for Imouraren project

21 June 2024

France's Orano has announced that Nigerien authorities have withdrawn the operating permit for the Imouraren uranium mine, which was issued to its subsidiary Imouraren SA in 2009.

Imouraren (Image: Orano/Maurice Ascani)

Imouraren is about 80 kilometres south of Arlit and about 160 km north of Agadez. First discovered in 1966, it has mineral reserves of over 200,000 tU and is described by Orano as containing one of the largest uranium reserves in the world. Operating company Imouraren SA - owned 66.65% by Orano Expansion and 33.35% by Sopamin and the State of Niger - began excavations in 2012, but development was suspended in 2015 pending more favourable market conditions.

According to recent media reports, Niger's Ministry of Mines did not consider Orano's plans for development of the deposit to meet with the authorities' expectations. It issued a letter to Orano on 11 June saying a notice period will end on 19 June "after which date the company's operating permit will be revoked".

Orano said: "Current market conditions, with a favourable rise in the price of uranium, make it once again possible to consider bringing Imouraren into production. This being the case, and at the authorities' request, Orano had submitted a concrete technical proposal to the State of Niger, enabling this development to take place as quickly as possible. To this end, the infrastructures have already been reopened since 4 June, 2024, to accommodate the construction teams and move the work forward."

However, the ministry has now decided to withdraw the operating permit for Imouraren.

Orano said the decision to withdraw the mining permit could have "a negative impact on the economic, social and societal development of the region".

The company said it "remains willing to keep all channels of communication open with the Niger authorities on this subject, while reserving the right to challenge the decision to withdraw the mining permit before the competent national or international jurisdictions".

Orano currently produces uranium in Niger - which saw a coup take place in July last year - from open-pit operations at SOMAÏR (Société des Mines de l'Aïr), near the town of Arlit. SOMAÏR is 63.4% owned by Orano and 36.66% owned by Sopamin (Sopamin manages Niger's state participation in mining ventures). It is also carrying out remediation of the former COMINAK underground uranium mine, where over 40 years of production came to an end in 2021.

"Engaged in Niger for more than 50 years, Orano together with its partners, through its subsidiaries, contributes to the development of the country's uranium potential and to the development of the regions of Northern Niger," Orano said. "Orano has always been committed to a responsible approach based on partnership and transparency, acting in continuous consultation with the State of Niger and local stakeholders, notably under the ambitious, long-term roadmap defined in the global partnership agreement signed in May 2023."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News