The military coup in Niger is raising fears, especially in France, over its potential impact on the import of uranium to power nuclear plants.
Niger supplies 15 percent of France’s uranium needs and accounts for a fifth of the EU’s total uranium imports. Orano, France’s state-controlled nuclear fuel producer, is continuing its activities in Niger and monitoring the situation, a company spokesperson said in a statement emailed to POLITICO, stressing that “our priority is to maintain the safety of our employees in the country.”
The French government and energy experts were quick to stress that the tensions will not have any immediate impact on France’s needs for uranium as extraction is continuing and, should it stop, existing stocks could still cover approximately two years.
“France is not dependent on any one site, company or country to ensure the security of supply for its power plants,” said an official from France’s energy ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to be named. “The situation in Niger poses no risk to France’s security of supply for natural uranium,” the official stressed.
But the coup in Niger could be a challenge for Europe’s uranium needs in the longer term, just as the continent is trying to phase out dependency on Russia, another top supplier of uranium used in European nuclear plants.
Tensions in Niger could further discourage the EU from adopting sanctions against Russia in the nuclear sector, according to Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, an energy expert at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris.
In 2021, Niger was the EU’s top uranium supplier, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia, according to the Supply Agency of the European Atomic Energy Community.
“It could have consequences at the EU level. Uranium — and nuclear power in general — is still not subject to sanctions. If the situation in Niger gets worse, this would certainly complicate the adoption of sanctions on Russian uranium in the short term,” he said.
Meanwhile, putschists accused France on Monday of planning strikes to try to free President Mohamed Bazoum, who is currently under detention. French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France “will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests.”
Orano announced earlier this year that it was working with the Nigerien government to explore new extraction at a uranium site in the country’s northern Arlit region.
This story was updated with material from an official with the French energy ministry.
Victor Jack contributed reporting.