N-Power: Govt May Look At Africa For Uranium Supplies

Mumbai firm bags mining rights in Niger
Hindu Business Line | Jan6, 2008

New Delhi, Jan. 5 With the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal seemingly off the radar for now, the Government is likely to explore the possibility of sourcing uranium from elsewhere, directly or indirectly, for its civilian nuclear programme. The supply could be from non-Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries, especially the West African nations of Niger and Namibia.

A breakthrough of sorts has already been made by a Mumbai-based private company, Taurian Resources, which recently bagged exclusive rights for exploration and mining of uranium in the Arlit region of Niger, which is the fifth largest supplier of uranium globally.

While a direct mode of investments could entail getting a PSU under the Department of Atomic Energy to invest in uranium mines abroad, the indirect option involves sourcing uranium from firms such as Taurian Resources, which get rights to mine the uranium in non-NSG countries, a Government official said.

“NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd) has been actively looking at the possibilities of buying stakes in mining companies abroad. While any immediate move in this regard hinges almost entirely on the progress of the Indo-US deal and talks with NSG countries, which in all respects is the best case scenario, all other options are also being looked at.

“The progress by Taurian Resources is bold and encouraging. However, all such ventures are being looked at with the long-time horizon, since actual mining of uranium from such a venture could take years to yield results,” the official said.

Another catch could be that non-NSG countries such as Niger and Namibia are party to the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, which aims at establishing a nuclear-weapons free zone in Africa. According to experts, once the treaty comes into force, these member-nations could also seek full-scope safeguards for any transfer of nuclear material to non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty states, including India.

The 45-member NSG has a stranglehold on the global nuclear commerce, controlling close to an estimated 80 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves and about 78 per cent of its production. Niger and Namibia, along with Uzbekistan, are the only three non-NSG countries producing sizeable amounts of uranium. Niger has recently issued a total of 23 permits to three Canadian firms, three British firms and Taurian Resources, which is the first Indian firm to bag a mine abroad.

Uranium is incidentally the largest export item for Niger. China is already a big investor in Niger, with Chinese firms having bagged a series of exploration licences in the past.