Niger Rebels Pressure Uranium Mining, Possibly Price

The world’s seventh and eighth uranium producing mines are found in the Republic of Niger: the underground Akouta and the open pit Arlit. Together, they produced 3434 tonnes of uranium in 2006, according to the World Nuclear This accounted for more than eight percent of the world’s mining production last year.

How badly would this impact a tight uranium market if either of the Niger mines stopped producing? A Paris-based spokesman for the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) Seydou Kaocen Maiga told reporters this weekend, “This region has been declared a war zone by the government and in this situation we cannot allow the Chinese to continue extracting natural resources while civilians are being killed.”

He had made this statement after Tuareg and other nomadic tribes, led by the highly trained militant Aghaly ag Alambo, kidnapped China Nuclear International Uranium (Sino-U) deputy general manager Zhang Guohua. The kidnapping took place near Ingall, an area which is currently being heavily prospected for uranium deposits, and which we discussed nearly 15 months ago.

Ag Alambo appears to be emerging as a folk hero among the nomadic tribes, who control northern Niger and where the uranium mines are located. We have been following the Tuareg story since April, when thirty armed MNJ nomads attacked Niger’s Akouta uranium mine, controlled by an AREVA subsidiary. A security guard and three others were killed. There had been two previous violent incidents before then, but none were uranium mining related.

Little took place until June when another 20 MNJ members boldly, but unsuccessfully, attacked an international airport, located in Agadez. This is another area being prospected for uranium deposits. In late June, a widely respected security expert, Neil Thompson of RED24, issued travel warning advising ‘against all non-essential travel to the northern parts of Niger.’ Thompson was formerly the Detective Superintendent in the UK’s National Crime Squad, is a trained hostage negotiator, and has worked closely with foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Thompson also wrote in his travel advisory, “The combination of widespread Tuareg discontent, a highly motivated and increasingly capable Tuareg insurgent group, and the Niger government’s entrenched political position suggests that a protracted, and possibly bloody, conflict in northern Niger is now highly likely, and may even spread to neighbouring countries.” The MNJ has been active for the past six months, as the spot uranium price reached a historic high.

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