By Jake Clement, SFSU, 2017
The Somaïr mine extracts uranium in Arlit, Niger, from open pits over two hundred feet deep. The mine is owned in part by the government of Niger, and the French based company AREVA. This mine has become increasingly important to both parties, providing thirty-two percent of Niger’s total exports, and thirty percent of the total uranium France consumes. The economic importance of uranium is taking priority over the people mining it, as well as France having large influence over how much uranium is produced through energy colonialism.
Specific radioactive extraction sites are not left exposed, but it’s hard to contain the dust or smaller dirt particles kicked up from extraction. This dust and particulate matter is easily picked up by desert winds, and distributed through the wind’s area of coverage; meaning it travels through the town itself. This has caused a number of issues:
- Respiratory issues and cancers getting increasingly worse.
- The water supplies of the town had higher amounts of radioactive substances than the standard set by the World Health Organization.
- Radioactive waste rocks were being reused in the roads and buildings of the town, exposure to radon poisoning.
All this occurs with not much help to prevent it, as Areva does not see much of the backlash. The company does not have a strong connection to the Arlit community, and does not feel the consequences of mining since it is not occurring on French soil. The French government highly benefits from this mine, and does not have much reason to punish Areva’s business practices for issues happening in another country. This is a classic case of energy colonialism. Energy Colonialism is the use of energy resources in a developing country for the benefit of an already developed nation, with more utility being gained by the developed nation. AREVA owns sixty-three percent of the Somaïr mine, compared to Niger’s thirty-seven percent. AREVA sees a higher share of profit from this mine, leaving room for economic exploitation. This is a delicate situation for Niger. One third of the economic benefits seen from exporting goods goes solely to those in the uranium industry. If they were to negotiate for a larger percentage of ownership in the mine, they risk AREVA pulling portions of their resources and capital out of the mine, leaving more inexperienced people to try and do the same job with much less.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in Africa, ranking “186th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Programme” of the UN. Though moving elsewhere would lessen the exposure to radioactivity, a majority of people in Niger do not have the resources necessary to move whenever a life threatening problem arises.
Though there are economic benefits to the Somaïr mine, going both to France and Niger, there are large drawbacks for the community extracting the mine’s precious resource. The water supply continues to be contaminated, the desert winds will continue to blow, and the people of Arlit have no way of escaping the health risks associated with this. It is up to Niger to help their people in need, by setting stricter safety regulations around this mine, as well as AREVA to work under the health guidelines provided and ensure that radioactive leaks are kept to a minimum.
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