RPT-Areva sees no threat to Niger licence

Sat Apr 17, 2010 12:38pm BST

(repeats without changes)

DAKAR, April 17 (Reuters) - Niger's new military leadership has assured French nuclear group Areva CEPFi.PA its operating licence in the uranium-rich desert state of Niger is safe, the group's chief executive told French radio.

Former President Mamadou Tandja was overthrown by a February coup after he tried to extend his term in power. Niger's new junta has said it will not recognise Tandja-era mine contracts deemed disadvantageous to the country.

"We are not worried because it has said very clearly that our operating licence will not be put in question," Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon told RFI radio in an interview aired Saturday.

Referring to the 2009 accord with Tandja's government to develop the Imouraren uranium mine in the north of Niger -- expected to become Africa's biggest uranium mine -- she added:

"We have developed Imouraren under the same conditions as our previous permits and everyone knows that has been done in completely transparent conditions."

Due to begin producing in 2012 after initial investment of 1.2 billion euros, Imouraren's eventual production is put at 5,000 tonnes per year for 35 years. Areva has operated Niger's two other uranium mines, Cominak and Somair, since the 1970s.

The new military leadership has committed to handing back rule to civilians but no date has been set for elections yet.

(editing by Toby Chopra)

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