Arlit (Niger) (AFP) – Towering mounds dot the desert landscape in northern Niger’s Arlit region, but there is little natural about them — they are heaps of partially radioactive waste left from four decades of operations at one of the world’s biggest uranium mines.
An ambitious 10-year scheme costing $160 million is underway to secure the waste and avoid risks to health and the environment, but many local people are worried or sceptical. From 1978, France’s nuclear giant Areva, now called Orano, worked the area under a subsidiary, the Akouta Mining Company (Cominak).
It closed the site in 2021 after extracting 75,000 tonnes of uranium, much of which went to fuelling the scores of nuclear reactors that provide the backbone of France’s electricity supply. Cominak’s director general Mahaman Sani Abdoulaye showcased the rehabilitation project to the first French journalists to visit the site since 2010, when seven Areva employees were kidnapped by jihadists.
The company intends to hand back a “site (that is) safe, healthy and non-polluting, in line with national standards and international recommendations”, Abdoulaye said at his offices in Niamey. The toughest task is to deal with the estimated 20 million tonnes of tailings that have been in contact with uranium.
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