* President sees uranium mine start-up delay
* Confident of balanced deal with Areva by year-end
By John Irish
PARIS, Dec 6 French nuclear company Areva
will delay the start of uranium production from its
Imouraren mine in Niger by at least six months to the end of
2015, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said on Friday.
Speaking ahead of the Franco-African Summit which begins on
Friday, Issoufou told reporters he was confident a deal to renew
10-year contracts for mines run by Areva in northern Niger would
be renewed by the end of the year with a fair outcome for both
The giant Imouraren mine, which is due to double Niger's
production of the nuclear fuel, was initially due to start
production in 2012. The date has been repeatedly pushed back
amid security fears in the desert north with mid-2015 the most
recent target deadline.
In January, Niger announced that Areva had agreed to pay 35
million euros ($46.71 million) in compensation for delays to the
"We think that production at Imouraren will begin at the end
of 2015, start of 2016," Issoufou said. "We have established
this timeframe taking into consideration Areva's concerns."
Members of Issoufou's government have said his campaign
promises are based on revenues coming from Imouraren and have
insisted that production begin before he seeks re-election in
the 2016 presidential elections.
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 begin.
Issoufou said Niger and Areva were in final negotiations
over the terms of their partnership deals for the Somair and
Cominak mines, which together produced around 4,500 tonnes of
uranium last year.
Areva has a 63.6 percent stake in Somair and 34 percent in
Ten-year contracts expire at the end of this year and Niger,
one of the poorest countries, wants to dramatically increase the
state's revenues from the mines.
"The negotiations are progressing normally," Issofou said.
"Our objective is to balance the deal between us and Areva. We
have been in this strategic partnership for 40 years and want it
to continue, but it has to be balanced."
Industry watchdogs, including the local branch of Publish
What You Pay, have accused Areva of a lack of transparency in
how it reports revenues and costs in Niger.
France relies on nuclear reactors for roughly three quarters
of its electricity which Areva builds and supplies with fuel.
International uranium prices, however, have slumped after the
2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, squeezing Areva's earnings.
Niger is calling upon the company to invest in
infrastructure, including resurfacing the so-called 'uranium
road' which links the town of Tahoua and the remote mining
region of Arlit, more than 1,000 km north of the capital Niamey.