Niger sees Areva mine start delayed to end of 2015

Reuters

* President sees uranium mine start-up delay

* Confident of balanced deal with Areva by year-end

By John Irish

PARIS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - French nuclear company Areva will delay the start of uranium production from itsImouraren mine in Niger by at least six months to the end of2015, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said on Friday.

Speaking ahead of the Franco-African Summit which begins onFriday, Issoufou told reporters he was confident a deal to renew10-year contracts for mines run by Areva in northern Niger wouldbe renewed by the end of the year with a fair outcome for bothsides.

The giant Imouraren mine, which is due to double Niger'sproduction of the nuclear fuel, was initially due to startproduction in 2012. The date has been repeatedly pushed backamid security fears in the desert north with mid-2015 the mostrecent target deadline.

In January, Niger announced that Areva had agreed to pay 35million euros ($46.71 million) in compensation for delays to theproject.

"We think that production at Imouraren will begin at the endof 2015, start of 2016," Issoufou said. "We have establishedthis timeframe taking into consideration Areva's concerns."

Members of Issoufou's government have said his campaign promises are based on revenues coming from Imouraren and haveinsisted that production begin before he seeks re-election inthe 2016 presidential elections.

Once Imouraren enters production, Niger will rank as theworld's second-largest uranium supplier. The mine will produce5,000 tonnes of uranium a year but requires investment of 1.2billion euros to begin.

Issoufou said Niger and Areva were in final negotiationsover the terms of their partnership deals for the Somair andCominak mines, which together produced around 4,500 tonnes ofuranium last year.

Areva has a 63.6 percent stake in Somair and 34 percent inCominak.

Ten-year contracts expire at the end of this year and Niger,one of the poorest countries, wants to dramatically increase thestate's revenues from the mines.

"The negotiations are progressing normally," Issofou said."Our objective is to balance the deal between us and Areva. Wehave been in this strategic partnership for 40 years and want itto continue, but it has to be balanced."

Industry watchdogs, including the local branch of PublishWhat You Pay, have accused Areva of a lack of transparency inhow it reports revenues and costs in Niger.

France relies on nuclear reactors for roughly three quartersof its electricity which Areva builds and supplies with fuel.International uranium prices, however, have slumped after the2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, squeezing Areva's earnings.

Niger is calling upon the company to invest ininfrastructure, including resurfacing the so-called 'uraniumroad' which links the town of Tahoua and the remote miningregion of Arlit, more than 1,000 km north of the capital Niamey.

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