The Long Arm of the Kremlin and the Politics of Uranium – by Javier Blas (Washington Post/Bloomberg – August 3, 2023)

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.

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Despite Rift With Putin, the Wagner Group’s Global Reach is Growing – by Vera Bergengruen (Time Magazine – August 2, 2023)

Amonth after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s dramatic short-lived rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mercenary leader was back to business as usual. After a military coup in Niger, Prigozhin pitched his paramilitary Wagner Group as the solution to the West African nation’s security crisis. “A thousand Wagner fighters are able to restore order and destroy terrorists,” Prigozhin said on Telegram July 27, “preventing them from harming the civilian population.”

The message was a clear sign that Wagner is likely to remain a global force in spite of its rift with the Russian state and its leader’s alleged exile to Belarus. A new report exclusively shared with TIME by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a conflict-monitoring group that tracks political violence worldwide, sheds new light on just how deeply Wagner is embedded across Central and West Africa, where it is training local militias and propping up fragile governments allied with Russia in exchange for lucrative mineral rights.

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Niger coup raises questions about uranium dependence (AFP/France24 – August 1, 2023)

Paris (AFP) – The military coup in Niger last week raises the question of Europe’s dependency on uranium mined in the West African nation for its nuclear power plants. France’s nuclear fuel firm Orano, formerly part of Areva, operates a uranium mine in the north of the country, employing some 900 mostly Nigeran staff.

The company said last week that it was monitoring the situation closely but that the seizure of power by the military had not for the moment affected the delivery of uranium supplies. Niger accounts for only a small percentage of global production of natural uranium.

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[History] Women in Welsh Coal Mining – by Norena Shopland (Nation Cymru – July 31, 2023)

When 19-year-old Ann Bowcot from Dowlais was interviewed for the 1842 Children’s Employment report, she told the investigators that when she started work at the mines she was so small she had to be carried on her father’s shoulders to work.

She was not alone. It was common to see men carrying small children in the dark hours before dawn to the mine, where they would descend and remain most of the day. Society was appalled, and demanded something be done. The 1833 Factory Act had restricted the employment of children but why, people were asking, had this Act not been applied to other industries such as mining – so the government ordered an investigation.

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Niger coup sparks concerns about French, EU uranium dependency – by Giorgio Leali (Politico EU – July 31, 2023)

The military coup in Niger is raising fears, especially in France, over its potential impact on the import of uranium to power nuclear plants.

Niger supplies 15 percent of France’s uranium needs and accounts for a fifth of the EU’s total uranium imports. Orano, France’s state-controlled nuclear fuel producer, is continuing its activities in Niger and monitoring the situation, a company spokesperson said in a statement emailed to POLITICO, stressing that “our priority is to maintain the safety of our employees in the country.”

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The new ‘blood diamonds’: the elaborate plan to halt Russia’s trade – by Chloe Cornish, Sam Fleming and Harry Dempsey (Financial Times – May 10, 2023)

G7 nations are working on an inspections regime to target the country’s gemstones, but risk destabilising the global industry

Chloe Cornish in Surat, Sam Fleming in Brussels, Harry Dempsey in London – If you’ve worn, touched or seen a diamond which was cut and polished in the past decade or so, the chances are it passed through Surat, India. India boasts more than 90 per cent of the world’s diamond manufacturing, and this historic trading city on the north-west coast is the industry’s capital.

Surat’s polishers, who sit in cramped offices hunched over abrasive wheels to transform rough rocks into dazzling gems, have won the city its reputation in part by tackling small gems hewn from Siberian mines. Russia’s tiny diamonds are only cost-effective to manufacture when workers are paid less than in traditional diamond centres like Antwerp, but are favoured by jewellers for ornamentation such as the sides of a glitzy engagement ring.

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Column: LME’s Russian aluminium dilemma set to become more acute – by Andy Home (Reuters – July 27, 2023)

The London Metal Exchange (LME) is coming under renewed pressure to exclude Russian aluminum from its warehouse system. Norwegian producer Norsk Hydro has called for the exchange to reconsider its decision last November to continue accepting deliveries of Russian metal.

With Russian brands accounting for 80% of warranted aluminum stocks at the end of June, the LME contract is at risk of losing its benchmark status, Hydro warned. There are no government sanctions on Russian aluminum and the LME said in response that “we note that all metals of Russian origin continue to be consumed by a broad section of the market.”

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Diamonds for Putin: Russia is still earning $ 20 bn on metals and gemstones – by Bohdan Miroshnichenko and Olena Mukhina (Euromaidan Press – July 21, 2023)

Western countries are slow in imposing sanctions on metals and diamonds from Russia, despite achievements in reducing reliance on its oil and gas. While Russian exports of metals and precious gemstones to US and European markets still bring an additional $20 billion annually, concerns over economic consequences and the need for effective tracking mechanisms have delayed the implementation of restrictions.

Over the past year, European Union countries have eliminated or limited their dependence on Russian oil, petroleum products, coal, and natural gas, which have been lucrative businesses for the Kremlin, bringing it approximately $354 billion in revenues over the first year of its invasion of Ukraine. However, there are other Russian profitable industries that have not been included in sanction packages.

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German police find melted-down gold after theft of Celtic coins, seek rest of treasure – by Geir Moulson (Associated Press/Toronto Star – July 23, 2023)

BERLIN (AP) — Investigators looking into the theft of hundreds of ancient gold coins from a German museum have found lumps of gold that appear to have resulted from part of the treasure being melted down, but still hold out hope of finding the rest intact, officials said Thursday.

Four suspects were arrested on Tuesday over the Nov. 22 break-in at the Celtic and Roman Museum in the Bavarian town of Manching in which 483 Celtic coins discovered during an archaeological dig in 1999 were stolen. The coins date to around 100 B.C.

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Europe’s quest for home-grown lithium – by Paul Krantz (The Parliament Magazine – July 20, 2023)

Lithium is the driving force behind our new battery-powered world, but can Europe ensure its supply keeps pace with demand? 

Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved the Fit for 55 package, the European Union’s ambitious plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Increasing use of electric vehicles will be essential to this plan – and to power those vehicles, Europe will need to significantly shore up its lithium supply.

According to a briefing prepared for the EU Parliament in 2021, Europe will need access to 18 times more lithium by 2030 and 60 times more by 2050, to meet projected demand for electric vehicles, which predominantly use lithium-powered batteries.

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UK to Offer Grants to Builders of Small Reactors in Nuclear Push – by Priscila Azevedo Rocha (Bloomberg News – July 17, 2023)

(Bloomberg) — The UK announced a funding package to support nuclear power generated by small modular reactors in a bid to boost energy security while lowering the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The government will provide grants totaling £157 million ($205 million) for companies to accelerate their nuclear business in the UK, as well as develop new reactors, it said on Tuesday with the launch of a competition.

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When coal was king in the Welsh valleys of the Rhondda – by Dana Huntley (British Heritage Travel – June 15, 2023)

The scars left behind by the collieries of Wales’ Rhondda Valley are beginning to heal, but some things never change.

Scarcely an hour’s drive west of the pristine villages, prosperous cottage gardens, and sylvan landscapes of the Cotswolds lies the southern Welsh county of mid-Glamorgan. Throngs of touring coaches, camera-wielding photojournalists, and well-heeled tourists don’t come here. These are the valleys of the Rhondda.

In the Valleys

Fanning out above the Welsh capital of Cardiff, these valleys are the coalfields of South Wales, narrow glens snaking their way south to north, from the Bristol Channel coast toward the Brecon Beacons. Every few miles up and down the hills lie the skeletal remains of a pit head, rusting silently, majestic.

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UK Needs to Revive Rich Mining History to Counter China – by Alan Crawford (Bloomberg News – July 5, 2023)

(Bloomberg) — When work began at the South Crofty tin mine in Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, the first English settlement in America had only just been established, and the world’s trade with the Far East was controlled by Portugal. It shut in 1998 after more than four centuries of continuous operation, a victim of sinking prices.

Now, South Crofty is part of a wave of mining activity across England’s southwestern tip aiming to resuscitate an industry that until recently looked all-but dead. Tin, copper, tungsten and lithium, along with associated geothermal energy, are the focus of companies trying to capitalize on the surge in demand for the raw materials that are key to the shift to clean energy.

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Why the world finds itself in a Greenland ‘gold rush’ – by Isabeau van Halm (Energy Monitor – July 3, 2023)

Melting ice in Greenland is exposing the country’s critical mineral resources. Mining companies, governments and billionaires are all eyeing the largely underexplored wealth.

Ice loss from Greenland hit a new record this year. The latest report from the European Space Agency shows that ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica has increased fivefold since the 1990s due to climate change. The receding ice is exposing Greenland’s rich mineral resources. Still largely unexplored, companies and governments are now eyeing mining in Greenland, including for the critical minerals needed for the energy transition.

The Artic has long been of geopolitical significance. Areas with vast mineral deposits can be found in north-east Asia, and northern Canada has large reserves of nickel, copper, cobalt and rare earths, among others. Both Russia and China are building nuclear-powered icebreaker ships that are able to mine the Arctic. In 2019, former US President Donald Trump said he wanted to buy Greenland.

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UK’s first commercial lithium mine could supply two-thirds of the country’s needs by 2030 – by Julia Robinson (Chemistry World – July 4, 2023)

The UK’s first commercial lithium mine is to open in Cornwall, following a new partnership between Imerys, the world leader in mineral-based solutions, and British Lithium.

It has been estimated that the site contains enough lithium to sustain mining there for 30 years, producing around 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent annually. By the end of the decade, the mine should be producing enough of the metal for batteries to power 500,000 electrical vehicles per year.

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