Niger uranium mine closure: hundreds of jobs cut, concerns for environment

A Cominak site near the Akouta mine in Arlit, Niger
A Cominak site near the Akouta mine in Arlit, Niger AFP PHOTO PIERRE VERDY

A uranium mine in the northern Niger town of Arlit is scheduled to shut down on 31 March, cutting 600 jobs, after its resources were depleted, leaving mine workers without jobs and a very small payout package, according to an official of the National Union of Mines.


“We have a lot of our workers who are young-- as long as there is no economic recovery in the country, that means that many of these young people will find themselves unemployed,” Niou Amadou, general secretary of the National Union of Mines, told RFI’s Gaelle Laleix.

They have been working at the Akouta mine for Cominak, a Nigerien subsidiary of the French group Orano, formerly Areva, which has been mining uranium in the mine for 43 years.

The fear that the Akouta mine and others would close has been on the cards for some time. In a statement from 2019 that originally announced the end of Akouta operations, the company summed it up as a combination of lack of the mineral and the economic market.

Sharp drop in uranium prices

"The depletion of reserves no longer allows operations to continue. With very high operating costs and a sharp drop in uranium prices, Cominak has been in deficit since 2017, despite the implementation of savings plans," it noted.

Niger is the world’s fifth-largest Uranium miner.

In total, employees will receive between 20 to 60 million CFA francs, roughly 30,000- 90,000 euros in compensation.

“I don't think anyone will say they are happy, no matter how much money we give them,” said Amadou.

Others are not included in the package, including 800 subcontractors who work on site.

Niger is considered as one of the poorest countries in the world, and was ranked last globally according to the 2018 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme.

Environmental damage

The mine site will be dismantled, but environmentalists worry about the lasting damage the area will incur due to what will be left over.

“There are about twenty million tonnes of treatment residues which contain about 80% of the radioactivity which is stored in the open air,” said Rahmar Ilatoufegh, Arlit’s civil society coordinator.

Cominak says it plans to build a receptacle to secure the residues and will line the inside with a layer of clay, says Ilatoufegh.

“Then, maybe, but it is not even sure, that they will put a layer of cement, which will not withstand time and bad weather, ” he adds.

Last Thursday, Cominak General Director Moussa Souley said in a press conference that the whole installation would be dismantled, and the holes would be totally filled up to ground level.

In all, the redevelopment plan for Cominak amounts to 145 million euros.

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