By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
NIAMEY, March 7 French nuclear group Areva will start uranium production from its Imouraren mine in Niger from mid-2015, Areva's senior executive vice-president of mining Olivier Wantz said on Thursday.
The giant mine, which is due to double Niger's production of the nuclear fuel, was initially due to start production in 2012 but the date has been repeatedly pushed back amid security fears in the desert north.
"We will start the first production of minerals from the Imouraren mine in mid-2015," Wantz told a news conference in Niamey.
Seven Areva workers were kidnapped in Niger's desert north three years ago by al Qaeda's north African wing, AQIM.
In January, Niger announced that Areva had agreed to pay 35 million euros ($46.71 million) in compensation for delays to the Imouraren project.
However, Wantz said the payment as to ensure security at the site. "Authorities asked us to support the security efforts linked to our activities ... this has nothing to do with any delays at Imouraren," he said.
Once Imouraren enters production, Niger will rank as the world's second largest uranium supplier. The mine will produce 5,000 tonnes of uranium a year but requires investment of 1.2 billion euros to enter production.
Wantz, meanwhile, confirmed Areva and Niger were in negotiations over the terms of their partnership deals for the existing Somair and Cominak mines, which together produced around 4,500 tonnes of uranium last year.
The existing agreements are due to expire at the end of this year, he said.