French uranium mine leaves 20 million tonnes of radioactive waste in Niger

© AFP/Pierre Verdy

Niger’s northern town of Arlit has been left wallowing in 20 million tonnes of radioactive waste after a uranium mine run by French company Orano (formerly Areva) closed down. People living in the area are exposed to levels of radiation above the limits recommended by health experts.

Niger is the world’s fifth-largest uranium producer.

In 2021, it provided the European Union with nearly 25 percent of its uranium supplies, which helped produce electricity for millions of households.

The French nuclear company – formerly, Areva and now Orano – started mining the country’s uranium reserves in the 1970s. Forty-seven years later, in March 2021, the Cominak mines near the northern town of Arlit closed down.

The closure left the local population to live with 20 million tonnes of radioactive mud on the mine’s site, according to the French-based Independent Research and Information Commission on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD).

Its findings, following an investigation of the area in 2009, showed that the level of radioactivity was 450,000 Becquerels per kilo - well above the internationally recommended levels of radiation.

Pollution


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