On March 31, 2021, the Akouta mine in Niger operated by COMINAK ceased production after over 40 years of service and 75,000 metric tons of uranium extracted. The shutdown of mining activities was decided on by the COMINAK Board of Directors on October 23, 2019 in response to the depletion of the deposit.
Philippe Knoche, Chief Executive Officer of Orano, was in Niger to pay homage to everyone at COMINAK who enabled the mine to stay in operation for nearly half a century. A new stage is now beginning for COMINAK.
A plan devoted to the assistance of employees and sub-contractors is being deployed in addition to the existing legal framework. COMINAK has made a commitment to put appropriate measures in place for each employee. A reclassification (outplacement) unit is already operational and has enabled several dozen opportunities for internal mobility within the Orano group to come to fruition, along with redeployments to other sectors looking to recruit people with trained and experienced profiles (construction & public works, the petroleum industry). Since the summer of 2020, training sessions are being deployed leading to qualifications to assist employees who volunteer for the scheme to make their professional transition.
The remediation plan also envisages a community involvement component with a transition plan drawn up in consultation with stakeholders which will extend over a period of 5 to 10 years depending on the actions taken. 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. For COMINAK, the aim is to be an integral part of a long-term, sustainable social transition that is of practical benefit for the local population.
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 a period of at least 5 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.
Philippe Knoche, Chief Executive Officer of Orano, declared:
A new era is now commencing for the COMINAK mine to which Orano is providing its assistance to ensure a sustainable social, societal and environmental transition. I would like to pay homage to all the miners who have worked here over a period of more than 40 years and right through to the final days of operation, for their professionalism and their commitment. They have passed on a tremendous heritage to us. Orano will keep this heritage alive and remains committed to Niger with investments to extend the life of the SOMAIR mining site and the development of the Imouraren project.
Since the end of February, Orano Mining holds 59% of the capital in COMINAK after acquisition of the stake held by one of the historical shareholders, the Japanese company OURD, which contributed 25% of the estimated costs of dismantling and transition upon buyback of its shareholding by Orano. The other shareholders are SOPAMIN (Niger) with 31% and ENUSA (Spain) with 10%.