* Industry minister backs idea of new mines
* Geological survey, mining code reform planned
* Minister grappling with industrial setbacks
PARIS, Oct 16 (Reuters) - 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 Tuesday.
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 Rio Tinto.
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 capacities domestically.”
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)