NIAMEY – Activists in Niger urged President Mahamadou Issoufou to negotiate with Areva after the French company said it will cut 200 jobs at one of its uranium mines in the West African nation to adjust to lower prices for the nuclear fuel.
“It’s absolutely untrue that the only solution is to lay off staff,” said Al-Moustapha Alhacen, head of Aghirin’man, a nongovernmental organization in the northern Nigerien desert town of Arlit, about 1 200 km (745 miles) from the capital, Niamey. “Areva must accept to negotiate.”
Somair, one of two mines owned by Areva and based in Arlit, announced earlier this month that it plans to fire about 200 staff and retrench 500 contractors, according to Amadou Miou, an official of the Synamin workers’ union. The move is part of cost-cutting measures to enable Somair to deal with a decline in uranium prices, Abdoulaye Issa, general director of Somair, told Radio France Internationale last week. Output at the mine will be cut 20% to 1 700 t in 2018, he said.
Calls to the mobile phones of Niger government spokesman Assoumana Malam Issa didn’t connect on Tuesday. Areva Niger spokesperson Salifou Yaye said by phone he couldn’t immediately comment on the issue.
Areva has suffered losses in recent years due to cost overruns at a nuclear plant it’s building in Finland and a slump in demand for fuel and services. The French government injected €2-billion ($2.4-billion) in Areva in July and the company will sell a majority stake in its reactor business to raise further funds.
Somair said in a statement emailed Tuesday that its cost-cutting plan, approved by the board on Sept. 19, further includes a reduction of its fleet of mining vehicles. “It’s a question of survival,” the company said.
While Niger is one of the world’s poorest nations, it accounted for 8 percent of global uranium output in 2013, ranking as the fourth-largest producer, according to the World Nuclear Association. Advocacy groups including London-based Oxfam have repeatedly criticized Areva for not paying enough royalties to Niger’s government and accused the company of undervaluing its uranium exports to France. In a statement in April this year, Areva rejected the allegations, saying it has always acted in accordance with mining laws.