The coup in Niger has raised concerns regarding potential disruptions to uranium exports from the West African nation, which could impact nuclear power generation not only in France but also elsewhere. Nonetheless, experts suggest that short-term challenges can likely be mitigated due to diversified sourcing and ample inventory levels.
France, uniquely reliant on nuclear energy for approximately 70 percent of its electricity, faces a situation of potential vulnerability. The country stands as the world’s largest net exporter of nuclear energy, contributing over €3 billion annually to its economy.
The recent military takeover in Niger has fueled speculation, albeit unconfirmed, that the country might suspend uranium supply to France. This development has triggered discussions about the future role of the nuclear industry within France’s energy landscape. Notably, the move has prompted opposition politicians to question the compatibility of nuclear power with President Emmanuel Macron’s call for “energy independence.”
Sandrine Rousseau, a left-leaning Green politician, highlighted the irony of nuclear power’s role in achieving energy independence, given France’s reliance on uranium from Niger. Rousseau’s comments underscore the broader debate about the sustainability and security of France’s energy strategy.
Over the last decade, Niger has maintained a modest market share of global uranium trade, ranging from 4 to 6 percent. Despite this share, the country has historically provided about 18 percent of France’s uranium supply between 2005 and 2020. In contrast, France’s primary uranium suppliers are Kazakhstan and Australia, accounting for 20 and 19 percent, respectively. Uzbekistan’s contribution has also been on the rise.
France’s energy security strategy, managed by state-owned Électricité de France (EDF), relies on a diverse array of sources to ensure resilience against significant market shocks. This strategy aims to prevent potential disruptions, such as an abrupt halt in Nigerien uranium exports, from severely impacting power generation.
Reassurances from anonymous government officials and the EU’s nuclear agency Euratom suggest that France’s nuclear power production is not imminently threatened by potential disruptions in Nigerien uranium imports. Euratom emphasized that current uranium inventories within the European bloc are sufficient to counter short-term supply risks.
The relatively low cost of the nuclear fuel cycle, encompassing uranium-related expenses, further contributes to mitigating potential supply fluctuations. Uranium expenses constitute only about 6 percent of nuclear energy costs, with investment and operational expenditures constituting the majority.
The possible suspension of uranium supplies raises concerns about Niger’s ability to replace French demand without experiencing significant economic setbacks. A substantial portion of Niger’s exports, about 33 percent, is directed to France and primarily consists of radioactive fuel.
This situation underscores a longstanding issue in Niger’s relationship with France, which traces back to its formal independence in 1960. Successive Nigerien leaders have pushed for enhanced safety measures for local workers and increased uranium prices from French-owned nuclear fuel producer Orano (formerly Areva).
Despite the ongoing volatility, Orano continues its operations in Niger and closely monitors the situation. The company, which has local employees and a majority share in Niger’s state-owned uranium treatment entity, Somaïr, maintains a heightened state of vigilance to ensure the safety of its personnel and facilities.
In summary, the recent coup in Niger has sparked concerns about potential disruptions to uranium supplies for France’s nuclear power plants. While short-term impacts might be manageable due to source diversification and adequate inventories, the situation has reignited debates about the role of nuclear energy in France’s energy strategy and the broader implications for both countries.