The town of Arlit, a desolate settlement on the southern fringes of the Sahara, is the improbable ground zero of a new geopolitical tussle: the fight for the control of uranium, the fuel that powers the nuclear industry. It was there, in the arid ranges of northern Niger, where French geologists found the radioactive mineral in the 1950s.
Since then, French state-owned companies have dug it out from their former colony, transforming Niger into the world’s seventh-largest producer. In 2022, the mines surrounding Arlit accounted for 25% of all European Union uranium imports. Now, a coup d’Etat in the impoverished west African nation has put that flow in jeopardy.
The commodity may not attract the headlines of oil, gas or even coal, but it’s crucial for a world desperately in need of carbon-free energy.
While the Kremlin doesn’t appear to be directly behind the coup, its propaganda machine has boosted anti-French and American sentiment all across the Sahel, the area just south of the Sahara. Unsurprisingly, the region has seen a bout of palace revolutions — including in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan — since 2020.