Uranium at issue in Great Game for Sahel

The ruling junta in Niger has revoked the operating license of French nuclear fuel producer Orano at one of the world's largest uranium mines. State-owned Orano announced June 20 that it had been ordered out of the Imouraren mine in Niger's north. The junta reportedly cited the company's slowness in developing the mine, which has been repeatedly put off due to a plunge in world uranium prices following the Fukushima disaster. 

Orano, which has been present in Niger since 1971, has other operations in the country. A mine at Arkokan has been closed since 2021, but Orano continues to run a uranium mine in the northern region of Arlit. However, exports are beset by what the company calls "logistical" difficulties. Niger, which accounts for about a quarter of the natural uranium supplied to Europe, is landlocked, depending on sea access through neighboring Benin. And Benin authorities shut the border in May as tensions between the two countries grow.

The dispute also places in jeopardy Niger's plan to begin exporting oil via a recently completed Chinese-built pipeline through Benin.

Russian companies have meanwhile indicated interest in picking up the uranium mining lease at Imouraren. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, BBC News)

The uranium dispute comes as French and US forces have been forced to withdraw from Niger, and Russian forces have moved in.

Also June 20, the chief of the Pentagon's Africa Command (AFRICOM), Marine Corps Gen. Michael E. Langley, appeared to confirm that he had had travelled to other West African countries to discuss the stationing of US troops following the withdrawal of US forces from Niger. Addressing a virtual news conference after a meeting of African military leaders in Gaborone, Botswana, Langley expressed concern about extremist organizations exploiting instability in regions with weak governance, especially naming West Africa. 

When asked whether Benin, Ghana or Ivory Coast are being considered for a US military base, Langley replied: "Yes, I've travelled across West Africa, across coastal West Africa. Those that are up against the growing threat, whether it's on their borders or already across their borders... I listen to what they need to be successful." (MyJoyOnine)