MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian firm acquires uranium mining rights in Niger

Published by MAC on 2007-08-19

Indian firm acquires uranium mining rights in Niger

Pallava Bagla, The Hindu

19th August 2007

New Delhi: Even as law makers in India fight over the merits of the India-United States civilian nuclear deal, which now threatens to destabilise the Manmohan Singh Government, a bold and courageous move by an Indian company promises access to literally unlimited amounts of uranium, yes the very same mineral over which India is spending sleepless nights.

At a time when the country is trying to procure uranium at any cost an Indian company has broken new ground by acquiring exclusive rights for exploration and mining of uranium in the west African country of Niger. This is the first time any Indian has won a contract for uranium exploration and mining anywhere in the world. Natural uranium is much sought after for use as fuel in nuclear reactors. India is not well endowed with uranium ore and it is this short supply that is becoming the stumbling block for the rapid expansion of nuclear power in India.

Taurian Resources Private Limited, Mumbai, a Rs. 300-crore company, has recently won a contract which gives it exclusive rights over 3000 sq. km. of the Sahara Desert known to be rich in deposits of uranium. According to estimates of the Managing Director of the company, Sachin Bajla, ” against huge odds, Taurian won a permit to search for uranium in the Arlit region of Niger for an undisclosed amount. Mr. Bajla says till he relinquishes nobody can take away this area earmarked exclusively for his company. He received the permit from Mohamed Abdoulahi, Minister of Mines and Energy for Niger, and also had an audience with Mamadou Tandja, President of Niger.

Bold venture: Kakodkar

Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission “welcomed” the development but said that as of now the Government had little role to play as it was a “bold forward looking private venture.”

Interestingly, Niger is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 45-member nation that controls all nuclear-related commerce, and hence it should be easy for India to access the uranium once the mines become operational — this will take several years. There is also the possibility that the ground may not be that rich in uranium as is being envisaged. Today, Niger is the fifth largest supplier of uranium in the world — the refined form of this atomic element is also called “yellow cake.” Government support sought

Uranium is the largest export item for Niger. Ironically, despite such a mineral deposit, Niger is still a very poor country as it ranks right at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. The French company Areva SA has a huge presence in Niger, where the French giant has built a whole township in the desert and mines uranium from at least 600 metres below the ground. Niger exports about 3500 tonnes of uranium, mostly to France.

On Friday, Australia, the largest supplier of uranium in the world, expressed its willingness to meet India’s needs, but not without strings attached. Mr. Bajla says, “I would be happy to meet India’s uranium requirement if the Government so desires.” He is also looking for Government support for his huge venture, having written about this to the Prime Minister.

Huge investment needed

Mr. Bajla says that to fully exploit the potential, an investment of at least $6-7 billion will be required. He hopes to raise money from the international market by listing his company on the London Stock Exchange. If uranium is indeed found by Taurian, the Government of Niger will also hold part rights over the sale of the mineral.

He says that as the region is very barren a whole new township will have to be created. In return for the permit, Mr. Bajla says he has promised the Government of Niger that his company will green one million hectares of land using the plant jatropha, a known source for biofuels. The Arlit region, where Taurian has secured its rights, is known for its unending sectarian conflict, but Mr. Bajla hopes to win the hearts and minds of the locals through appropriate social development of the region.

The Taurian group was set up a decade ago and has iron ore mines in Jharkhand and Orissa and a big engineering unit in Roorkee.


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