Niger audits U mines, seeks better deal
The Nigerien government has ordered an audit of French nuclear group Areva's uranium mines. Areva operates two mines in Niger − Somair and Cominak. The Nigerien government holds a 36.4% stake in Somair (Areva 63.6%), which produces roughly 3,000 tonnes of uranium a year, and a 31% stake in Cominak (Areva 34%), which has an annual output of 1,500 tonnes.
With the two mines' 10-year contract coming up for renewal at the end of this year, Niger wants to increase its tax take and is calling on Areva to make infrastructure investments, including a new road to the remote mining region of Arlit, more than 1,000 km north of the capital Niamey.
President Mohamadou Issoufou, elected in 2011, has said he wants to dramatically increase state revenues from uranium, which accounted for 5 percent of the 1.4 trillion CFA franc (US$2.9 billion) budget last year.
Former president Mamadou Tandja succeeded in 2006 in roughly doubling the official uranium price, used to calculate profits and tax revenues, and ended Areva's monopoly on uranium extraction in 2007 by inviting in China's SinoU, which now operates the Somina mine.
Development of the uranium sector has been complicated by insecurity in northern Niger. The Somair mine was targeted by Islamist suicide bombers in May, killing one person and shutting down production, in retaliation for a French-led military operation against an al Qaeda-linked enclave in neighbouring Mali. The mine resumed full operation in August.
Daniel Flynn and Abdoulaye Massalatchi, 20 Sept 2013, 'Exclusive: Niger audits Areva uranium mines, seeking better deal', www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/20/us-niger-areva-idUSBRE98J0MY20130920
'Niger mine resumes full operation', 7 August 2013, www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Niger_mine_resumes_full_operation-0708134...
UK: Derailment of empty nuclear transport flasks
During the process of moving a consignment of three empty High Level Waste flasks from the Barrow docks spur line onto the main railway line (heading for Sellafield), one of the three flasks derailed and a second flask partially derailed on September 16. Drawn by two Direst Rail Services locomotives (DRS – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority), the transport is said to have been travelling at approximately 5 mph when the derailment occurred on the main line causing a partial blockage of the line and forcing the cancellation of some main line services for several days.
The third transport flask had remained upright and, following the rectification of the partially derailed flask, the two flasks were returned to the Ramsden Dock nuclear shipping terminal for inspection. Righting the fully derailed flask took a further four days because of what was described by Network Rail as a process that was 'extremely challenging due to the location and the ground conditions in the area'. An investigation has been launched and whilst the exact cause of the derailment has not yet been established, it is understood that some repairs to the main railway line are necessary. Once repairs are completed, the three flasks will be taken to Sellafield.
The empty HLW flasks had earlier arrived at the Ramsden Dock nuclear shipping terminal from Japan on board the ship Pacific Grebe. At Sellafield, the flasks will subsequently be loaded with further canisters of HLW before returning to Japan as required under the 'returns clause' of the contracts signed up to by overseas customers whose spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed at Sellafield. Japan is scheduled to take back almost 900 canisters of vitrified waste in 35 flasks up to year 2017. To date, 132 canisters have so far been returned to Japan in three separate shipments.
The programme of returning HLW to Japan has been jinxed by a number of events. When the first shipment of one flask (January 2010) arrived in Japan, the HLW canisters within the transport flask failed to tally with the official paperwork – a number of them being 'out of position' within the holding channels of the transport flask. As a result, a scheduled HLW return to Holland had to be postponed whilst an investigation was carried out.
When the second shipment, made in July 2011 and consisting of 76 canisters in 3 flasks, arrived in Japan, radioactive contamination above Japanese acceptance limits was found on some canisters – with one found to be contaminated at almost 50 times the acceptance limit. And now the derailment of the empty HLW flasks at Barrow, following the return of the Pacific Grebe from its third shipment to Japan in January this year has further blotted the INS copy book.
A fourth and fifth HLW return shipment to Japan are scheduled from Sellafield in the first quarter of 2014 and for mid-2015 respectively.
− Abridged from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, 23 Sept 2013, www.corecumbria.co.uk/newsapp/briefings/briefsmain.asp?StrNewsID=322