Orano’s Cominak uranium mine at Akouta in Niger closed on 31 March after 40 years of operations during which it produced more than 75,000 tU. Orano said the mine has now entered the remediation phase, which will include actions to address the impact of closure on miners amd local communities. Orano is the majority owner of Cominak (Compagnie Minière d’Akouta). Orano CEO Philippe Knoche said Orano “remains committed to Niger with investments to extend the life of the Somair mining site and the development of the Imouraren project”.
Orano said a new stage is now beginning for Cominak and “a plan devoted to the assistance of employees and sub-contractors is being deployed in addition to the existing legal framework” including “a commitment to put appropriate measures in place for each employee”. A reclassification (outplacement) unit is already assisting internal mobility within the Orano group. “Since the summer of 2020, training sessions have been in place leading to qualifications to assist employees who volunteer for the scheme to make their professional transition”. Measures will also be taken to support the local economy, “in particular through aid for entrepreneurs, healthcare, the education system and the transfer of infrastructure managed by Cominak to the State of Niger,” Orano said.
Operations to remediate the site are expected to last for at least ten years. Environmental monitoring will continue after completion of the remediation work for at least five years, at the end of which a review will be carried out. “These works will make it possible to hand back a site that is safe and compliant with national standards, international recommendations and Orano standards in terms of safety and radiation protection. The work will be financed in part by a fund set up several years ago by Cominak and by the company's shareholders, Orano noted.
Uranium was discovered at Akouta in 1967 and Cominak, a public limited company under Niger law, was set up in 1974, starting production in 1978. The underground mine, located at a depth of 250 metres comprises 291km of galleries and its ore processing plant has a capacity of around 1500 tonnes a year. At the end of 2020 the project provided work for 617 employees and 630 sub-contractors, Orano said.
Orano Mining holds 59% of Cominak's capital, with Niger assets mining company Sopamin holding 31% and Enusa of Spain holding 10%. Orano recently acquired Overseas Uranium Resources Development Co (OURD) of Japan's 25% share in the company. OURD at that time contributed 25% of the estimated costs of dismantling and transition. According to World Nuclear Association, production from Niger's two mines - Somair and Cominak - accounted for around 5% of world uranium output. Work to open a third mine, Imouraren, has been suspended since 2015 pending more favourable market conditions.