October 11, 2012 / 3:01 PM / 6 years ago

Niger warns Areva on uranium mine delays

* Uranium mine startup slowed by kidnappings, labour strife

* Niger says Areva must meet its commitments

* West African state poised to become No. 2 uranium exporter

NIAMEY, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Niger warned French nuclear giant Areva on Thursday against any further delays to its Imouraren uranium mining project, saying it could not support a company that is unable to meet its commitments.

The mine is meant to boost Niger’s uranium output by 5,000 and make it the world’s second-largest exporter of the nuclear fuel, but the planned startup of production was delayed to 2013 or 2014 from 2012 after seven Areva workers were kidnapped in Niger’s north two years ago.

Construction work has also been hampered by labour disputes that triggered strikes earlier this year.

“The deadline for finishing civil engineering on the site must be strictly met,” said Niger Mines Minister Omar Hamidou Tchiana on state television after visiting the project on Wednesday.

“It is out of the question for Niger to endorse a company that is unable to honour its commitments.”

He did not specify what action Niger might take against Areva if it failed to live up to the government’s expectations.

Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for around four decades and is the country’s biggest single investor. It already runs two producing uranium mines in Niger’s desert.

Al Qaeda’s north African wing, which operates in a broad swath of the Sahara, claimed responsibility for the 2010 kidnappings of the Areva workers near the mining town of Arlit and later released three of the hostages. The other four are still being held.

An Areva spokesman in Niger declined to comment. The company says on its website that Imouraren will start up in 2013, but Niger officials have said the project is on track for 2014. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Robin Pomeroy)

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