This May 2010 Greenpeace International report focuses on uranium mining impacts in Niger. In one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking last in the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where more than 40% of children are underweight for their age, water and access to improved water sources is scarce and almost three quarters of the population are illiterate, the French nuclear giant AREVA extracts precious—and deadly—natural resources, earning billions for its Fortune 500 corporation, and leaving little behind but centuries of environmental pollution and health risks for the citizens of Niger. Beyond Nuclear colleague Bruno Chareyron -- of the independent French radiological testing laboratory CRIIRAD -- contributed to this report. So did Rianne Tuele, Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Africa/International, currently based in Johannesburg, who spoke at an anti-uranium mining summit in Richmond, Virginia in early 2010.
Areva, the French nuclear company, has been mining and milling uranium in Niger for more than 40 years, with dire environmental and health consequences. Now the company has been awarded rights there to the second largest new uranium mine in the world while the Niger government has issued close to 140 additional uranium mine prospecting rights to corporations from across the globe. Indigenous peoples, in particular the nomadic Touareg, have found their livelihoods and lives severely impacted.
Given the serious health issues surrounding the two Areva-owned uranium mines in Niger, an agreement was finalised in 2009 providing for the setting up of a health and safety observatory: medical staff, appointed by a joint committee representing the company and civil society, would examine any former miners who requested a check-up. If an occupational complaint linked to radiation was diagnosed, Areva would pay for treatment., However, writes Herve Kempf in The Guardian, "A year later there is still no sign of the observatory." Furthermore, Kempf continued, in February Greenpeace and Criirad, the independent French laboratory that has monitored radioactive contamination at the mines and in the communities, published another report alleging that there were serious hotspots in the town itself."
The German publication, Der Spiegel, has featured a strong three-part series on the impact of uranium mining upon the impoverished communities (see miner's house made of mine refuse, left) in Niger. Illnesses, radiation dispersed throughout the communities, and few benefits to the miners and their families are just part of the catastrophe. Almoustapha Alhacen, himself a mineworker at the Arlit sight run by the French nuclear giant, Areva, has fought these problems for close to a decade. Read the series (in English) and view the moving gallery of photos. Pictured is a Niger uranium mineworker's "home" in Arlit.
The reform of Niger's constitution to allow president Mamadou Tandja to remain in power beyond his original mandate and even become president for life, was motivated by the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the West African country as a consequence of opaque foreign, especially French, investments in the local uranium mines. This is the view expressed by activists around the world, as reflected in an August 14, 2009 Press Service article.
Coinciding with French president, Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to Niger the weekend of March 28, two associations have filed a civil suit against Areva and one of its officials. Boutali Tchiwerine and his association, Alhak-n-Akal, along with the German group, Menschenrechte 3000 EV, have asked that Areva representative, Thierry d'Arbonneau, and the company be asked to answer to comments made by d'Arbonneau last October when he suggested the French government helped "put down the Touareg rebellion [in Niger], these men in blue who make men dream and women's hearts break, but who are nothing but an illusion". The groups want Areva, represented by its CEO, Anne Lauvergeon, and d'Arbonneau charged with inciting hatred and violence and for discriminating against the Touareg based on their belonging to a specific ethnicity, race, religion or nation. Furthermore, to deny the existence of the Touareg denies them all rights. For further reading (in French), see the summons, the backgrounder and the press release.
The same week, the French anti-nuclear network, Sortir du Nucleaire, held a press conference to denounce Sarkozy's trip to Niger which marked the signing by the French president of the agreement to award Areva a