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Niger: Akouta miners appeal to Mohamed Bazoum

The Civil Society Coordination of Arlit, from the North of Niger, sent a letter to President Mohamed Bazoum. According to the group, the terms of closing the Akouta uranium mine would be dangerous and unfair.

The closure of a Franco-Japanese Cominak mining operation in Niger would, according to activists, cause more problems than it solves. The civil society coordination of Arlit, where the mine was closed, addressed a letter to President Bazoum. She urges the Nigerien head of state to reconsider the measure. According to the group, the modalities of the closure of the mine constitute future dangers for the local populations. In addition, more than 800 subcontractors will not have their redundancy bonus.

Whose fault is it ?

First, the closure is not the sole responsibility of the Nigerien government, being a public-private partnership (PPP) operation. Cominak's Board of Directors declared: "The depletion of reserves no longer allows operations to continue". The mine would have totaled $ 31 million in losses in 2018 against 16 million in 2019. The exploitation of the deposit did not stop until March 26, 2021, and the closure was granted in 2020, and formalized on Monday. Cominak produced 75 tonnes of uranium between 000 and 1978. The mining company is owned by the French Orano (Areva), the Japanese Ourd, the Spanish Enusa and the Nigerien SOPAMIN. The closure decision was granted between SOPAMIN and Orano, which hold 2019% of the company's shares.

In a speech before leaving the presidency, former Nigerien President Issoufou mentioned this step. He saw the closure as an emergency for the ecosystem and the health of citizens. Indeed, 41% of the uranium exploited by the giant Areva comes from Nigerien soil. The company has never been very careful about the working conditions of Nigeriens in its mines. However, Arlit's civil society request to Mohamed Bazoum does not concern the closure in itself. The closure contract excluded more than 800 agents who worked in the mine. Some for over 20 years.

Dark prospects

So we read in the letter: “800 workers will leave with nothing”. No details are given to the procedure which caused this fact. According to a tweet from a SOPAMIN official, the subcontractors were said to have been hired at the end of March.

On the Orano side (Areva), measures would have been planned to compensate workers. In this case, “financial aid and training”. A buffer solution by the French giant, knowing that most of the subcontractors are over 40 years old. After a career in uranium mining, these people would no longer be competitive in other industries. What Cominak describes as attributing “90% of hours worked to local jobs” does not suit the context. Some of the Akouta mine workers saw their colleagues die of Gulf Syndrome.

Then, the second point in the letter sent to Mohamed Bazoum would concern the environmental issue. The closing of the galleries and the burying of the quarry consist in burying radioactive residues. First, the only protective measure planned is the addition of a layer of clay. This would allow the earth to be separated from the hazardous areas of the quarry. In addition, the machinery used for the operation will be buried with it. So, it would be reasonable to assume that the inhabitants would go and dig up the buried galleries. Recovering motors, cables and other equipment from the mine would allow Arlit's families to support themselves.

For the moment, therefore, the reaction of the mining company is inadequate. For his part, the Nigerien head of state did not respond to the citizen letter he received. The only certainty would be that the landfill work begins within the week, under the supervision of the Ministry of Mines and the Environment of Niger.

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