Bloomberg: Russia seeks Uranium assets in Niger

10:00 07.06.2024 •

Following a coup last July that ousted the west African nation’s Western-allied leader, Niger is the latest in a string of African countries, almost all military ruled, that have forged closer security ties with Russia. That’s opened the way for Moscow to seek access to mining interests as it tries to revive its Soviet-era presence in Africa, in particular by exploiting widespread resentment of France’s decades-old influence in its former colonies.

“Russia has been stepping up its economic, diplomatic, and military links in Africa, including after the Niger coup, and they see this part of the world as a strategic investment opportunity,” Mark Hibbs, a Berlin-based nuclear analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said for Bloomberg. “Hand in hand, Rosatom has been diversifying its uranium investments in Africa.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency is aware of a potential transfer of uranium assets in Niger, said a diplomat close to the Vienna-based United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, without specifying which entity may be involved.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Niger expelled French forces and ended a decade-long security agreement with the US in the wake of the coup. In April, 100 Russian military instructors arrived in the capital Niamey to train Niger’s forces in the use of air defense systems supplied by Moscow.

In March, a delegation from Niger for the first time attended Russia’s flagship nuclear industry event supported by Rosatom, the Atomexpo forum, in the Black Sea city of Sochi.

France has relied on Niger for as much as 15% of its uranium needs to fuel nuclear reactors that account for 65% of the country’s electricity production, Le Monde reported last year, citing Orano. European Union utilities depended on Niger, the world’s seventh-largest producer, for about a quarter of their uranium supplies in 2022, according to the Euratom Supply Agency.

Uranium prices have risen to a 17-year high, in part because the military takeover halted exports from Niger, whose supplies are drawn from Africa’s highest-grade uranium ores, according to the World Nuclear Association.

France’s Orano SA — formerly known as Areva — has worked in Niger for more than 50 years to develop deposits in the country’s northwest Aïr region. The Imouraren project in the Sahara Desert was forecast to help supply France’s 57 operable reactors with fuel for 35 years.

In February, Orano said it set aside a provision of less than 10% of operating income for what its chief financial officer described as the “worst-case scenario where we would have to stop our business and we would be expelled from Niger.”

A Russian takeover of Niger’s uranium assets would be one more step toward a market split, said Pendo Löfgren, the chief investment officer of Zug-based Arnova Capital AG, an investor in uranium miners and physical uranium.

“US-aligned countries will seek to import from allies only. Russia and China likewise,” he said. “But this is much more difficult for the US-aligned countries — in particular for the US itself, which today has essentially no domestic production.”


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