Niger’s poverty, but uranium wealth for foreign companies

Niger’s uranium coup, boilingspot: 7 March 2010 On February 18, Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja was overthrown in a military coup. A military junta calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, headed by Major Salou Djibo, took power Tony Iltis | Green Left Online | 6 March 2010 “……the junta is unlikely to confront the causes of Niger’s extreme poverty: Western-imposed neoliberal austerity and the environmentally and socially destructive plunder of natural resources, particularly uranium…….……the coup ensures that political power remains with the same military officer caste from which Tandja came………….The military domination of Niger’s politics has its roots in the discovery of uranium in the then-French colony shortly before independence in 1960. Independence was conditional on secret agreements giving France preferential access to mineral resources and continued military influence……..
France is the world’s largest nuclear power generator: almost 80% of France’s electricity is nuclear generated. French nuclear-generated electricity is exported to neighbouring European countries.

France also has a large nuclear weapons arsenal and is dependent on Niger for its uranium supplies.

Niger is the world’s third-largest exporter of uranium. Uranium mining in Niger is dominated by Areva, the world’s largest nuclear corporation that is part-owned by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). Areva gets 45% of its uranium from Niger.

Exploration licences to mine uranium have also been granted to mining companies from the US, South Africa, China, Canada and Australia.

 

The neocolonial secret agreements giving Areva below-market prices mean that very little of the wealth from Niger’s uranium remains in the country.

What little wealth is left over is pocketed by the military-based elite. The main difference the coup is likely to make is changing which elite pockets from this wealth goes into.

The United Nations ranks Niger as the fourth-poorest country in the world….Niger’s poverty is worsened by environmental destruction from the uranium mining industry, which is concentrated in the arid north of the country.

Pambazuka News said on January 14 that the “use of non-renewable water sources for … underground mines and … leakages of radioactive matter, including the contamination of water, air and soil; the use of lethal radioactive scrap metal for sale in markets; radioactive ore used to build roads; and dumped radioactive tailings (pulverised uranium rock)”.

Health worker Butali Chiverain described to Al Jazeera on August 31, 2008, some of the effects the uranium has on the local population and mine workers: “There are illnesses which people hadn’t seen before. There are also skin diseases with bumps breaking out especially on the feet, which touch the soil……He said that water in the region had 10 times the level of radioactivity considered safe.

Then-environment minister Mohamed Akotey admitted to Al Jazeera that the government had no ability to monitor the mines. “Today these companies have environmental teams at the mines. At the same time the government does not have the means to make studies at the different locations.”

boilingspot: Niger’s uranium coup

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