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Namibia, the fourth biggest uranium producer in the world, first floated the idea of acquiring a nuclear power plant of its own four years ago. Rio Tinto and Australian miner Paladin Energy currently produce Namibia’s uranium.
French state-owned Areva's Trekkopje project in 2010 received its Export Processing Zone (EPZ) license for a period of five years after Areva reportedly agreed to develop a feasibility study on generating nuclear power in Namibia. Namibia's nuclear ambitions purportedly enjoy the full support of President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Areva Resources Namibia country manager Hilifa Mbako said only of Areva's direct involvement in the government's nuclear energy plans that there was an ongoing "bilateral government dialogue" between France and Namibia and that Areva would "gladly" help if the nuclear possibility "comes about."
Namibia's nuclear plans have resurfaced following reports in the Namibian press charging Namibian Trade and Industry Minister Hage Geingob of facilitating the process to secure an EPZ license for Trekkopje, which he strongly denies, telling The Namibian that he was only part of a "collective and elaborative decision-making process" which also involved the Ministries of Finance and Mines and Energy in granting EPZ status to Areva’s Trekkopje project, remarking, "Whilst I am not at liberty to disclose some discussions held at different levels, because of the confidential nature of those discussions, it suffices to say that all necessary consultation with the relevant parties was done, resulting in Areva being granted EPZ status for a period of five years to carry out certain studies, of which I am not at liberty to disclose at this juncture."
If it goes forward, the Trekkopje project represents the culmination of Areva’s more than five years’ efforts in the African country, which have been beset by problems, including cost overruns. In 2007, following Areva's controversial $2.5 billion purchase of Canadian uranium miner UraMin, Areva said it expected UraMin's deposits in South Africa, Namibia and the Central African Republic to produce around 7,000 tons annually from 2012. In late 2011 French Industry Minister Eric Besson said that UraMin was "bought at a very high (cost) level."
But Namibia’s nuclear efforts have also attracted the attention of the global non-proliferation community. The White House Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) is keeping a close eye on events in Namibia, concerned that Namibian uranium might fall into the wrong hands. In February 2010 the GTRI requested that Rio Tinto Rossing Uranium increase its security measures following the arrest in September 2009 of three suspects, one a Namibian Defense Force (NDF) member, for possessing and allegedly wanting to deal in nearly 816 lbs of uranium oxide. The GTRI, which operates under the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), subsequently visited Namibia’s mining facilities, concerned because the government of Iran owns 15 percent of Rossing Uranium.
Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula subsequently said that Namibia’s position on uranium supply is guided by international agreements, which it has to honor and is not shaped by calls from individual nations, remarking, “Unless an international agreement, such as with the United Nations Security Council, calls for countries not to supply to Iran, the Namibian Government treats Iran as any other country.” Rio Tinto Rossing Uranium added that it did not supply Iran with uranium, nor would it do so if approached by Iran, with Rio Tinto Rossing Uranium Manager for External Affairs Jerome Mutumba noting, “The government of Iran became a shareholder at the time when the mine started in the early 1970s, (but) Rossing’s shareholders do not have any product take-off rights.”
Adding to the political sensitivity of the issue, Namibian sources familiar with the topic, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Namibian that former Areva boss Anne Lauvergeon in 2009 approached then Mines and Energy Minister Erkki Nghimtina about EPZ status for Trekkopje, to which Nghimtina apparently agreed after getting the topic greenlighted by Pohamba.
Anne Lauvergeon was CEO of Areva from 2001 until her dismissal in June 2011 and while there acquired the nickname “Atomic Anne.” On 8 February Lauvergeon asked a French court to appoint an expert to examine the circumstances under which Areva purchased UraMin, as Areva has withheld her $2 million severance bonus.
Will Namibia’s cozy arrangements with Areva be collateral damage in the lawsuit?
Watch this space.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com
Dr. John C.K. Daly is the chief analyst for Oilprice.com, Dr. Daly received his Ph.D. in 1986 from the School of Slavonic and East European…