The government of Niger, the world's fourth largest uranium producer, is on the verge of renewing an agreement with French state-controlled nuclear group Areva, the West African nation's mines minister said on Sunday.
Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, is pushing to boost revenues from its uranium, but Areva, which dominates the sector in the country, has claimed that increasing royalties would make its operations there unprofitable.
"We are very, very close to a deal. All that remains is to finalise it. We will sign in the weeks, or even the days to come," Mines Minister Omar Hamidou Tchiana said in an interview with private television stations Labari and Dounia.
Despite opening negotiations two years ago, Areva and Niger failed to reach a new agreement before the 10-year contracts expired on Dec. 31.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou has previously characterised the expired contracts as a throwback to the post-colonial era, when France played a dominant role in the economies of its former African territories.
However, Areva Chief Executive Officer Luc Oursel said last month that the two sides had made a breakthrough in talks and that it was only a matter of time before a definitive solution was reached.
France obtains 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, and Niger accounts for more than a third of Areva's uranium production.
In the same interview Tchiana said new geological studies had given indications of potential new oil and uranium deposits.
"The future is very promising. Airlifted geophysical samples have revealed signs of oil in the region of Tahoua and of uranium in Tillaberi," he said.
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Bernard Orr)