* Industry minister backs idea of new mines
* Geological survey, mining code reform planned
* Minister grappling with industrial setbacks
PARIS, Oct 16 France wants to develop mining
projects on its mainland, reversing decades of mine closures, to
help secure supply of mineral resources like rare earths that
are seen as strategic, the country's industry minister said on
The French government wants to conduct a new survey of
mineral resources to update studies conducted 30 years ago, and
also wants to use a planned reform of France's mining
regulations to facilitate future projects, Arnaud Montebourg
told a gathering of a French strategic metals committee.
"It's a matter of concern for us to renew the mining sector
in France," the minister said.
"In many processing industries there is a desire to go
upstream ... to get to where there are wealth and margins to be
found. We need to think about that kind of strategy."
The interest in reviving the mining sector in France forms
part of Montebourg's push to halt industrial decline, which has
seen him try to stem a wave of plant closures and layoffs.
The minister was due to meet on Tuesday unions from a French
aluminium plant that has been put up for sale by mining group
The development of new mines on home soil could require the
role of a major mining group, he said, touching on an idea
reportedly considered by the previous government in the form of
a tie-up between the mining activities of metals group Eramet
and state-owned nuclear firm Areva.
"We have major industrial players - Eramet, (mineral
processor) Imerys, (cement maker) Lafarge with its quarries,
Areva in uranium - but we no longer have a major non-specialist
operator," he said. "We need to think about a development in our
Development of mineral resources in France has been put into
doubt by opposition to shale gas drilling, which led President
Francois Hollande to keep a ban on shale gas exploration,
although Montebourg supports keeping the option open.
The minister said the planned revamp of France's mining
code, which dates back to the Napoleonic era, would address
environmental concerns and facilitate new projects.
The new Socialist government is pursuing the work of a
strategic metals body set up in early 2011 under former
President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government.
The impetus for the committee partly came from fears over
access to rare earths, a group of minerals used in various
technological applications and whose concentration in Chinese
mines has led to trade tensions with other countries.
Montebourg said that rare earths were one type of minerals
that would be targeted in the updated geological survey.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by Muriel Boselli)