Chinese firm expected to take stake in Niger uranium miner

Updated: 2012-10-26 10:03

By Li Xiang in Paris (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Areva SA, the French nuclear group, is expected to reach agreement soon on the sale of a 13 percent stake in its Niger-based uranium mining operation Imouraren SA, to China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd, according to French media reports on Thursday.

The likely deal - for "several hundred million euros"- will allow the Chinese company to gain access to the world's second-largest uranium reserves with a planned production of 5,000 metric tons of uranium per year, reports said.

Areva currently owns 57 percent of Imouraren while the remaining 43 percent is held by Niger, and an investment consortium led by South Korea.

The mining company is scheduled to start producing uranium in 2013.

Areva refused to comment on the deal when contacted by China Daily, but experts were quoted in Paris as suggesting the sale could yield about 220 million euros ($289 million) for the seller based on present valuations, which will help Areva finance its initial investment of 1.2 billion euros in the operation.

News of the sale came a day after China announced it has decided to resume construction of new nuclear power plants in the country, which had been suspended since the Fukushima earthquake in Japan in March 2011.

China's nuclear industry has been actively seeking uranium mining opportunities for a while, as it looks to expand its nuclear capacity.

Some 26 new reactors are expected to be built, which experts suggest will represent 40 percent of the world's ongoing nuclear power plant construction.

Earlier this year, the China-Africa Development Fund and Guangdong Nuclear Power agreed to buy Australian explorer Extract Resources Ltd for $2.3 billion, to gain access to the world's fourth-biggest uranium deposits, in Namibia.

Industry experts say that China's decision to resume the approval of new nuclear projects has been met with relief by Western nuclear companies such as Areva, which have suffered since the Fukushima crisis due to safety concerns over using nuclear energy.

Areva has been increasingly counting on emerging markets, particularly China, to export its reactor technology and nuclear power equipment.

The French company and Guangdong Nuclear Power are currently cooperating on the construction of two nuclear reactors at Taishan nuclear power plant in Guangdong province.

"The relative importance of nuclear power will remain country specific in the future, with France or the US still having an important share of their electricity production coming from nuclear, and China remaining a very strong contributor to the upcoming development of nuclear capacity," said Charles-Emmanuel Chosson, an energy expert at accounting firm Ernst & Young in France.

China on Wednesday issued a white paper for the energy sector, which maintained its previous target of increasing nuclear power capacity to 40 million kilowatts by 2015.

The government also vowed to invest $12.8 billion to upgrade its nuclear facilities to meet international safety standards.