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Areva: Enemy of the Environment and Democratic Practices in Africa?

Posted by Dadie Loh on December 24, 2012

Since it started operating in Africa in 1967, Areva the French uranium extraction giant has proven that protection of the environment and a feasible democratic process in countries where it operates is the least of its concerns. Extraction of uranium by Areva in Niger, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has contributed to weakening the health of the local population while cultivating anti-democratic practices and corruption.  

Areva is a conglomeration of Cogema, Framatome and Technicatome.[1]  The merger of the three companies was announced on September 3, 2001. The company’s main shareholder is the French Commission á l’Énergie Atomique (CEA) an equivalent to the US Department of Energy.  CEA owns about 80% of the company.[2] The French nuclear complex depends solely on Areva to supply uranium to France 58 nuclear power plants.[3]  This huge responsibility is managed by the company with no regard whatsoever to the devastating impact on the environment that results from radioactive materials left behind.

In Niger where Areva has found a safe haven for uranium extraction, the French environmental organization SURVIE reports the following: “The consequences of 40 years of mining by Cogema and later Areva in Niger are disastrous: they resulted in agro-pastoral land-grabbing around the two mine sites, destruction of fauna and flora, air contamination by dust and radioactive gases, radioactive contamination of water resources, and short-term irreversible exhaustion of the aquifers. A conspiracy of silence reigns over the health impact of mining on people. For mine workers, access to care is provided by Areva, whose doctors never diagnose radiation-induced diseases”.[4]  In addition to this alarming report, in 2014, Areva will begin the exploitation of the Imouraren mine (Niger) which is the second biggest in the world for its expected production of 5000 tons of uranium per year.[5]  This means more bad news for the locals.   

As for Gabon, Areva claims to have rehabilitated the Mounana mine after more than 10 years of management. But many independent assessments make the opposing claim.  A significant amount of radioactive materials are reportedly found in waters and the air in the area surrounding the mine.  An alarming amount of locals are diagnosed with lung diseases.[6] In response, Areva built a medical facility in Mounana.[7] However, the facility lacks adequate equipments and well trained personnel. Locals can choose to wait indefinitely or go to a public health facility in Libreville (Capital City of Gabon) to get the medical treatment they need but this move isn’t paid for by Areva. [8]

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, corruption between Areva and the government officials is rampant.  A report published in July 2009 by the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO/ Katanga) reveals the lack of transparency regarding the agreement between Areva and the Congolese government that granted the French nuclear giant the exploration and mining rights to the

Shinkolobwe mine.[9] ASADHO/ Katanga demanded a public release of the agreement given that Areva during the same year of 2009 was cited with many violations in Niger. Instead, the head of the ASADHO/Katanga was sentenced to prison time for speaking out.

Since 1967, every head of state in Niger that dared to demand a higher price for the uranium has been overthrown. Historian Gabrielle Hecht recounts President Hamani Diori saying “If Niger could contribute to the exceptional nuclearity of France then surely France could make exceptional contributions to the economic development of Niger".[10] Subsequently, President Diori pushed for a higher price for the uranium. He was ousted a year later before the end of the negotiations by a military coup led by Army Chief of Staff Seyni Kountche.[11] Interestingly, Kountche never questioned the uranium price, thus, he died in power in 1987 of a brain tumor.

In 2007, President Mamadou Tandja allowed bids for Uranium mining permits from all foreign corporations.[12] In the meantime, the President amended the constitution to allow himself a third term in office.[13] At first, France supported Tandja in his constitution-amending endeavor. Soon after concluding the Imouraren mine deal with Tandja, France backed away from its initial support, apparently allowing his overthrow in 2010 by a junta.  

The current President, Mamadou Issoufou is asking renegotiations of the uranium contract.[14] Will Areva abide, or will President Issoufou suffer the same fate as his predecessors Diori and Tandja?  

Environmental issues and lack of viable democratic practices in many African countries are a big part of the continent underdevelopment and Areva bears a great deal of responsibility. Areva is one of the largest French corporations and major energy providers, through its association with Électricité de France (EDF). Consequently, it’s was important to appraise the corporation’s collaboration with African governments from a postcolonial France policy stand on the continent. Was the French monopoly of the uranium mining acquisition in Africa a successful campaign? You bet it was. But, as the geo-economic map is now stretching beyond the frontiers of the geopolitical map, the competition among acquirers has heightened. As a result, several governments in Africa have started using their seller’s capital for better deals on their raw materials compared to the Cold War era. However, those deals come with a huge price for the local populations because loads of radioactive wastes are dumped in waters and around local habitats. The air is highly polluted and causes serious health problems to the locals. Any government that shows a little interest in addressing these discrepancies has a high probability of being overthrown. So yes! Areva is indeed the economic faction of the postcolonial France supremacy in Africa thereby dangerous for the continent.



[1] Autorité des Marchés Financiers, “Areva Reference Document 2006” document filed on April 27,2007, http://www.areva.com/mediatheque/liblocal/docs/pdf/finances/hors-mediacenter/rapports-annuels/areva-pdf_Document_reference_2006_en.pdf

[2] (See Reference 1)

[3] Areva, “French Energy Challenges” http://www.areva.com/EN/group-1413/in-france-nearly-80-of-the-electricity-is-of-nuclear-origin.html

[4]Survie “Areva in Africa: the Hidden Face of the French Nuclear Power”, http://survie.org/IMG/pdf/4_pages_Areva_in_Africa.pdf

[5] A. Massalatch, R. Valdmanis, “Strike halts work on Niger Imouraren uranium mine” April 27, 2012, Reuters,

 http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/25/areva-niger-strike-idUSL6E8FPH4J20120425

[6] France 24 English, “Gabon: the Impact of Uranium Mining”, January 28,201, Report, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iw-igDQh8kY

[7] John Chadwick “France's AREVA monitoring programme for uranium miner health”, 13 Dec 2011,

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/content/en/mineweb-technology?oid=141538&sn=Detail&pid=674

[8] (See Reference 4)

[9] Asandho/Katanga, “From an Illegal Artisanal Mining to the Agreement between the DRC and  the French Nuclear Group Areva", Published in July 2009,  http://asadhokat.blogs.continentalnews.fr/?page=rubrique&r=59

[10] Gabrielle Hecht, “Uranium Production in Africa, What it Means to be Nuclear”, Mar 19,2012, http://www.ocnus.net/artman2/publish/Analyses_12/Uranium-Production-in-Africa-What-it-Means-to-be-Nuclear_printer.shtml

[11] Los Angeles Time, “Hamani Diori, Niger's First President After Gaining Independence in 1960”, April 26, 1989,

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-04-26/news/mn-1683_1_hamani-diori-president-kountche-seyni-kountche

[12]Radio France International “President accused of breaking his word in third term bid”, Published on May 21, 2009.

 http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/113/article_3828.asp

[13] Adam Nossiter, “Niger Senses a Threat to Its Scrap of Democracy” , July 2009, Africa, New York Time,

 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/world/africa/14niger.html?ref=mamadoutandja

[14]Jeune Afrique, Niger: « Issoufou et Areva, Bras de Fer Autour de l’Uranium », 26/10/2012, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/ARTJAWEB20121026121225/

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