ORANO AND NIGER’S GOVERNMENT – THE REBIRTH OF THE IMOURAREN URANIUM DEPOSIT
The state of Niger authorities and Orano the French based nuclear fuel cycle company, signed a global partnership agreement.
This agreement, which illustrates the push by Orano and Niger to reinforce a strong, sustainable relationship, covers several shared topics of interest including the Imouraren project, the conditions under which the SOMAÏR mine will continue to operate, the remediation of COMINAK, and Orano’s social commitment in Niger.
The agreement combines Niger’s desire to maximize the economic and financial outcomes of operating its mining sites, to preserve SOMAÏR’s economic sustainability, and to limit the socio-economic impact of closing COMINAK.
Concerning the Imouraren project, it is agreed that Orano will pursue the search for future options around mining the deposit. For this purpose, a roadmap has been drawn up, including an investment budget of 85 million euros, to demonstrate the technical, environmental, and economic applicability of the ISR method (in-situ recovery) for the Imouraren deposit.This method would enable improving the project’s economic balance, making it less risky for all actors while reducing its environmental footprint very significantly. The relevant ministries will supervise these efforts in close collaboration with local communities. They are aimed at reaching an investment decision by 2028 if feasibility is confirmed.
Discovered in the late 1950s by the CEA exploration teams, the uranium-bearing zone has enabled an entire uranium mining industry to develop, led by the SOMAÏR and COMINAK mining companies. COMINAK will stop its production on March 2021 following the exhaustion of its resources. Orano is committed to responsible closure, in close collaboration with the other shareholders of the company. The Imouraren project, currently paused, will go into production depending on market conditions.
Located about 50 miles south of Arlit and about 100 miles north of Agadez, Imouraren is the largest uranium deposit in Africa and world’s second-largest uranium deposit. It is estimated to contain reserves of 179,000t of uranium and produce 5,000t of uranium yellowcake (U2O4) per year for a period of 35 years.
Following a feasibility study completed at the end of 2007, Orano was awarded an operating permit to mine the deposit in early 2009. However, since 2015, the work to bring the site into production has been suspended and the site has been put “under cocoon”, pending more favourable market conditions. The operating company is 66.65% owned by Orano and 33.35% by Sopamin and the State of Niger.
Following the new agreement, a pilot programme of small-scale tests is expected to begin in 2024.
(Source: Orano/Mining Technology/Wikipedia/Jeune Afrique/Mining Technology/Africa News- Image: desert road to Imouraren uranium mine)