France’s uranium mining in Niger has lasting damage in West African nation

2021-09-19 12:01:53

Uranium mining in Niger by France continues to impact negatively on the health and environment of the dispossessed people of this West African country.

Niger is the world’s fifth-largest Uranium miner. However, it is considered as one of the poorest countries in the world.

Cominak, a Nigerien subsidiary of the French group Orano, formerly Areva, has been mining uranium in northern Niger since 1978.

Akouta, the largest underground uranium mine in the world, was operated by Cominak. The mine in the northern Niger town of Arlit, stopped production on March 31 after 43 years of service and 75,000 metric tons of uranium extracted.

The shutdown was decided by Cominak’s board of directors on October 23, 2019, in response to the depletion of the mine’s deposit.

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.

The towns of Akokan and Arlit, located about 250 kilometres from Agadez in northern Niger, are exposed to a serious danger of nuclear pollution, according to Bruno Chareyron, the head of the laboratory at CRIIRAD, a French NGO.

“Uranium and some of its radioactive descendants emit radiation called gamma radiation, which is invisible, extremely powerful radiation that can penetrate lead and walls. As a result, uranium miners are constantly exposed to this radiation from which there is no protection, because even lead clothing does not stop it,” explains the expert.

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